Taking Second Life to the Masses


Megaus Gasparini (aka CannedTuna) relaxes in Second Life

I have discussed Second Life previously. It’s the imersive 3D world by Linden Labs. It’s the type of online application that doesn’t really sit anywhere that can be categorised. With Second Life, I find you tend to visit, gain interest then leave, maybe you come back from time to time, maybe you don’t. Second Life does tend to have a high attrition rate (up to 85%).

Coming back

Recently I have revisited Second Life, mainly prompted via several factors, one being a determination to reset my avatar after a nasty griefing incident and the other because of the start up of the SIM for the The Podcast Network HQ. This time with my return to Second Life was with good size group of RL friends and associates (Cameron Reilly, Duncan Riley, Michael Newby, Sarah Issacson, Nathanael Boehm, Bronwen Clune, Kathryn Greenhill, Sue Waters, Linda Gehard, Richard Giles, John Johnston, Sue Hickton, Nick Hodge, Adam Purcell, Cait and a heap more) this does to a degree change the focus of Second Life as it becomes a real social gathering.

This got me thinking, what does Second Life want to be, seriously. It’s not just a social networking site, well in fact it does this poorly, it’s very hard to find people even if you know their avatar unless they are on you friends list or your share of common group interest. It’s an online store, but only for interests within Second Life. It’s a sex shop, but again only for Second Life. So in a way Second Life is all these things and none, its very anally focused on its own walled garden. It doesn’t seem to fit the open SNS we are all looking for.

Things are Changing

However it’s been branching out into becoming an educational facility; with various educational institutions setting up with extensive resources in Second Life. With the advent of the introduction of audio in August it is now possible to have twenty or so people conversing at once. This has an interesting implication for the conducting of remote meetings, meetups or just gatherings of like minded people. And so the tech sectors of business are now exploring Second Life as a central virtual meeting place as Duncan Riley points out.

It has been interesting to watch the effect that instant social networking sites (SNS) such as twitter are having on the uptake of Second Life. This is especially true with regard to TPN island in Second Life. People announce on twitter they are in Second Life at TPN island, and usually a group of people on twitter will follow them into Second Life, some for the first time.

Still too hard

Now it is this uptake of usually technical savvy newbies into Second Life that is of interest. It is the interface of Second Life with it’s complex menu structure, HUD controls and general lack of easy reference to the keyboard shortcuts; would be nice to have them in SL. that can make Second Life an hard tool to master even for a the technical savvy. Now if the tech-gurus of the common man are having problems in the first few sessions, how can it be expected that the average person can hope to cope in Second Life, as Amy Gahran explains.

People are used to the usual web based paradigm of the form, even the drop down menu navigation systems from desktop applications. But then you bring in an element of game play, which they may or may not be familiar with and you start to cross the boundaries. Social networking sites like Facebook have now started to move into the main stream, with everyday people outside of the early adopters getting onboard. Signing up is not hard, it’s just a form a on the web, interaction with Facebook again just forms and a few buttons in the traditional web based interface paradigm that we are used to.

In Second Life however; you sign up on at web site, okay that’s fine. Then you download software (road block one), then you install the software (maybe road block two). Next you login and create the avatar and go through orientation island (road block three). Then you are left to fend for yourself, get bored or just not see the point of it all (road block four). This is especially true if you login to Second Life when the western world in the northern hemisphere is asleep; it can be like a ghost town with just tumbleweeds. Now I have not even started on the confusing menu and the other interface aspects.

Consider you next door neighbor who is not computer savvy on Second Life. Then consider is Second Life ready for the masses, will it every be ready? Maybe it needs to just have a simple signup. The how about considering maybe it needs a mobile interface, A 3D-world SNS for the mobile phone as Daniel Terdiman suggests.

What do you think is Second Life ready for the big time or is it just an early adopter toy?

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  1. Well there is something about Second Life that does grab you – which is interesting because I am not gamer and yet feel drawn to Second Life. Not sure where I will go with it – my main interest was to use it meet ups because many of the educators around the World are holding conferences in SL.

    Definitely concerned by the time issue – somehow at the moment I feel almost like a real person so I feel rude saying I have to go – instead I end up staying and chatting way longer than I would if I was on a normal phone or Skype — so that does concern me.

    For me only time will tell how I decide to use it. For the main stream people I agree there are a lot of barriers. Without a strong network of friends already it would be a very lonely place. My computers struggle to run SL so I don’t believe that my TAFE computers would manage at all.


  2. I only got back into a few nights ago after not touching it for a year because ya’ll were talking about it on Twitter and I felt left out, plus I knew I’d be able to get help from you guys once I got in instead of trying to figure it out on my own. It’s totally not intuitive. I’d wasted hours in there previously trying to get out Orientation Island, and then got frustrated with changing appearance, and getting stuff, interacting with things. Very much an exploratory style of navigation – too much so IMHO. Needs more structure before it can be useful for any real-world application.

  3. Hi, you need to look for the SEARCH button at the bottom of the screen then go to the top to use PEOPLE to find other avatars; PLACES to find places of interest to you, etc.

    To characterize this as a place where you can’t find avatars or things outside of the sex scene is absurd. You just type search terms in the browser. It’s not some anal walled garden; in fact, you could even use the search box on the web site and start to come up with some SLURLs, which are addresses that open up SL and pull up a map, where you can press on the target and go there.

    You need not face some of those roadblocks if you bypass the orientation island, simply going to the large, marked kiosks all over these islands that give you landmarks to go to infohubs, from there, again, use SEARCH PLACES and…go to the locations of interest.

    You wouldn’t expect to parachute into Grand Central Station for the first time and suddenly make fast friends and have rich, rewarding intellectual conversations. You have to search on the events list, fly around, etc.

    And decide what you are there for, and why you want to use it, just like real life. It will not be entertaining you, just like real life, until you put some things together — in real life, you have to figure out at least how to turn on the TV, pick up the phone, or go to the movies if you want entertainment and socializing, and it’s really easy to do the same thing in SL.

    If you came there with such a dynamic group of friends, why don’t you *make* the thing you fail to find in SL?

    That’s how it works.

    Millions of kids do not find downloading software from Blizzard to play World of Warcraft an “obstacle”. Not on your life. This idea that everything has to be a web browser and not a download is just a geek obsession. People walk around it.

    And people without technical backgrounds, like me, land there and learn how to use it fairly quickly, it really isn’t that big a deal if you just explore and fly around and find something to do, and not set yourself the task of building the Taj Mahal the first day.

    It’s always seemed to me that there’s reason tech gurus don’t take to SL and hate it — it’s been made for people to use without them. That’s basically the story that prompts tekkies to claim SL isn’t so ready for the masses, because quite a few masses did come there *without them* and start socializing and making businesses.

    Does that mean the interface isn’t clunky? No, of course it has its issues, but the viewer is open-sourced, so you’re welcome to make a better one.

    There is no kind of “asleep” time now in SL now that there are far more Europeans than Americans, and a booming population of Latin Americans and Asians. Sorry, that kind of comment just reveals lack of actual showing up and studying SL.

  4. @Prokofy You have assumed that people are going to know that they can use the search button. Also placement of the search button in the middle means less people will “see it” due to visual ergonomics on the user interface. That given from memory the default is to have your presence not searchable anyway.

    Also I’m not characterising SL as focused on sex. But like the web before it, SL has been founded on the two vices of commerce sex and gambling. There is nothing wrong with this, its human nature.

    Capturing a Teen or Gamer market is not going mainstream. Getting the Mums and Dads and young twenty-somethings on board is going mainstream.

    You are making the assumption all tech people are into socialising, this is very bad stereotype. One that I think we can dismiss.

    Asleep time, yes there is, with the defined language belts there are dramatic decreases in the people with that language being on SL responsive to the level of population and the time zone.

    @NathanaelB – Yes the UI does need more work, its just to complex, it needs a radical simplification.

  5. I think SL is a platform, probably one of many 3D platforms we’ll experience in the next decade, and the fascination for me isn’t so much SL in itself but what 3D platforms mean for the future of human interaction.

  6. […] Man with no blog – » Taking Second Life to the Masses “The interface of Second Life with its complex menu structure, HUD controls and general lack of easy reference to the keyboard shortcuts; would be nice to have them in SL. that can make Second Life an hard tool to master even for a the technical savvy.” (tags: virtual+worlds usability problems mycoverage AmyGahran) […]

  7. hi, these are really timely questions for me. I have not yet taken the plunge and decided to investigate Second Life.

    Why not – well, for many of the reasons you have listed –

    1. I do not have enough time – the loading, downloading and general technology requirements of getting in in the first place have stopped me playing.

    2. I’m scared of how much time it will eat up when i’m there. Blogging, twittering and other occupations already take heaps of time, and I’m not sure that my children/husband/friends would survive yet another computer distraction.

    3. I suppose I’m a bit intimidated – I’m not used to feeling like a total newbie any more – and am not sure I can cope with it! – probably all the more reason to do it….. remind me of what an uncomfortable place it is.

    4. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with the idea of a second life – given the complexities of life 1.

    So I’m currently watching, listening and learning people I admire and respect explore in the hope that something will go ping and I will need to explore.

    Is there a future for it – almost certainly – but probably not in exactly the same format – I agree, it will need to be more intuitive and less intimidating.

  8. Agree the current interface and user experience is not intuitive. It would help if a couple of the big obstacles could be removed eg orientation island – what about a simple “room” with an orientation trail featuring the essentials with a teleport feature to orientation island for practice or place of your choice.

    In regards to dressing your avatar, I found this experience to be GREAT! It helped me to discover the controls, I met people who showed me places so discovered the social side, synergised with my avatar as I created “Jazzydee”. I still love to shop there 🙂

    I find the only time of day SL is lacking in residents due to geography is mid afternoon. I rarely have time to get into SL that time of day anyway so it is not a big issue for me. Most of my SL contacts are from overseas. People tend to be flexible to meet late/early and some of the funniest conversations are when it is late morning here and the US team are dog tired :p

    I believe SL has been adapted for a mobile interface a while back – will try to find the link.

    Downloads? Not a big issue for me. Think they have resolved the huuuuuge regular download with smaller upgrades.

    So yes there is lots of room for improvement, HUDS tend to look positively awful. However out of all the virtual worlds I have looked at, SL seems to be most intuitive in terms of controls. I am not a gamer – too confusing (I drive automatic, not manual!) but find it easy in SL now I am used to it.

  9. @harriet – you are not alone in your views, your are in someways a very typical example, thanks for the comment.

    @Jasmin Tried to find details on the SL mobile edition, but if this does exist this would be a major more onto the upcoming future web platform.

    I agree once you get into SL, and start to understand its all good. But that initial nOOb experience is the major roadbloack.

  10. >Also placement of the search button in the middle means less people will “see it” due to visual ergonomics on the user interface.

    I guess that’s why Google puts their search box right smack in the middle of the screen, near the top?

    No one wants the Lindens to put the search button on the *bottom* — it’s great to put it at the top. The problem is that the Sheep viewer defaults at the top to a small box that says SEARCH ALL, which produces junk — it requires “just knowing” that you have to drill down to see the other tabs where most sales occur — classifieds and search PLACES.

    And frustrated, the newbie looks right to see the SHOP button where he goes to only the ESC shopping site.

    The web wasn’t “founded on sex” lol. This is one of those myths people perpetrate and backdate to “fit” SL. The web was founded on pictures of people’s cats. So is SL.

    SL’s greatest number of user hours are put in by the 50 years or older set.

    And you’re making a very grave mistake if you look through the Geek Keyhole and assume that only your socializing/lack of socializing habits matter for a platform like this — I don’t know why you’re jamming on me as suffering from this problem of not understanding that not everyone socializes the same way — you need to hear it too.

    The majority of people — even those there for education or business, socialize. They don’t stay welded to an open script and fiddle with LSL for 10 hours. That’s a percentage of people; it’s not the typical user at this point.

    The presence of your friends is immediately visible in a list. If you want to look for other people, that’s in a tab.

  11. @Prokofy Search button, I’m talking about menu systems with all like colours and no contrast. then people tend to visually move in circle around the outer edges of the menu. Anyway just because someone else has done it that way and others have followed doesn’t make it the best way for a UI.

    I was on the web in the beginning, it was all university info, some personal home pages. But some of the early e-commerce sites where based around sex and gambling as well as early leading edge adopters.

    How do we know that the SL frequent hours audience is really 50 yrs and over.

    The search for friends function needs to be on the friends / contacts tab, KIS, I don’t want to have to click onto another tab to find people, where can’t I do it where the people are listed. Still you have an added SNS problem of not knowing their SL AV name.

  12. I agree with Sue as far as government (TAFE) computers are
    concerned. They always buy bulk of the lowest common denominator (cheapest) computers they can find. They wil struggle with Second Life and most people will get frustrateded and give up. As for our ‘broadband’ speed. We have a top speed of 17kbps in our office. Dosn’t matter if Coonan gets Australia lightening fast Koreaband. If the government still insists on throteling the bandwidth (due to costs) then whats the point.

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