Monday, November 24, 2008

Reuters Left Second Life... and I still can't get into it at all

On Reuters leaving Second Life...

Exclusive: Why Reuters Left Second Life, And How Linden Lab Can Fix It: "It's hard to say what, if anything, Linden Lab can do to make Second Life appeal to a general audience. The very things that most appeal to Second Life's hardcore enthusiasts are either boring or creepy for most people: Spending hundreds of hours of effort to make insignificant amounts of money selling virtual clothes, experimenting with changing your gender or species, getting into random conversations with strangers from around the world, or having pseudo-nonymous sex (and let's not kid ourselves, sex is a huge draw into Second Life). As part of walking my 'beat,' I'd get invited by sources to virtual nightclubs, where I'd right-click the dancefloor to send my avatar gyrating as I sat at home at my computer. It was about as fun as watching paint dry.

But here's how Linden Lab can make Second Life more fun and a better business:

1. Build good newbie-oriented content. Linden has always taken the position they're in the 3D platform business, and can't be expected to build anything with their own tools or even know what others are doing in Second Life. That argument didn't fly when the gambling scandal broke and it doesn't work now. Second Life has a monster learning curve, and Linden Lab needs to hold new users' hands through every step of their first five or six hours. A big content push isn't even that expensive: the company has proven it can pay Second Lifers $10/hr to do these things and have skilled content creators begging for the job.
2. Acknowledge that Second Life's reputation is now a liability. This isn't the worst thing in the world, but it does mean Second Life can't sit back and hope word-of-mouth brings in hordes of new users like it did back in 2006. Second Life needs to advertise, and the ads need to be hip. New CEO Mark Kingdon has an ad background and should have the right résumé to pull off a makeover.
3. Radically simplify the user interface. The Second Life UI is a mess, and there's been no major changes to it in Second Life's 5+ years. Making the Second Life experience easy-to-use, even graceful, isn't a nice-to-have, it's a business imperative.
4. Abandon the idea that Second Life is a business app. I wasn't in Second Life to play, I was there on assignment for Reuters. The login server would crash. I'd try to reach sources, but Second Life's IM window would hang on 'waiting' all day when trying to figure out who was online. 'Teleports' -- the ability to move from point to point anywhere in Second Life -- would stop working and I'd get locked out of my own office. These weren't one-offs, they were my daily, first-hand, happens-all-the-time experiences. For all its bugs, Second Life is tolerable as a playground, but enterprise users will never and should never use it for business. Re-focus on the core mission: Keeping the hobbyists happy and converting potential recruits into hardcore (read: fees-paying) users."

Have to say, a lot of the above resonates with my experience... or lack of... using Second Life. Okay, so, for point 4 substitute education for business and that's more or less my way of looking at it. I like the idea in principle, but the reality I find difficult to use, it has made previous laptops overheat and shut down, it's confusing, unreliable and generally frustrating. The learning curve to get to grips with it is pretty large - and if we're talking about anything more than wandering around lost and vaguely bumping into stuff, then we're talking about a fairly significant investment of time.

Let's put it this way. I turn on my computer and I want to interact with others. I open my e-mail, create a new message, type away, hit send... that's about it. I 'tweet' by typing a short bit of text and hitting the return key. IM - pretty much the same. Most stuff... the same.  Second Life and you're confronted with a whole host of gubbins that you need to get your head round to use it as an effective tool.  You chose a name for your avatar.  You create an outward appearance.  You appear in a weird 'not quite right' looking landscape and meander around aimlessly... occasionally harrassed by another avatar... unsure what to do or where to go.  I've tried to get my head round it, but it just hasn't intrigued me enough to engage me.  It's ever so slightly unsettling.  Do I 'know' the people I'm talking to?  Do I know their real names rather than the made up ones?  'They' seem to know each other, but I don't know anyone - and I don't even know how to get to know them because I can't seem to control my own feet let alone communicate on any level!  I don't feel comfortable in my avatar's skin.  I feel comfortable in mine.

Second Life seems to be its own barrier to adoption.  The argument that we haven't time for second life because we're too busy dealing with our first one isn't deep enough.  Engaging with something which is frustrating to use, unreliable and resource intensive... coupled with the need to spend hours to engage... well, I can see why although those who have overcome those barriers are loyal... I can also see why it would fail to become truly mainstream.  Not least because so much of effort required to cllimb the hill to real engagement is a personal investment of time spent outside the office.  A quote from a recent report on the use of Second Life in HE -  "Personally, I spent over 1500 hours being in-world understanding social interactions between October 2006 and May 2007, to get to grips with how SL works to hopefully help realise the full potential of what we/I could achieve." (Kirriemuir, 2007 - UK HE and FE Developments in Second Life) - and this describes an investment in time... in his own time!

1500 hours?  An ouch too far!

1 comment:

  1. Hi, thanks for your post about this. I definitely sympathize with your experiences with SL and understand that it's a medium that just doesn't appeal to or work for everyone, and that's ok. My interest in Second Life is in viewing it as a prototype of what's to come, both technologically and socially, and trying to understand not just how the technology itself needs to improve to be more functional, but also how society will adapt when these tools become more widespread and the tech is easier to use.

    The experience of Second Life itself can often be tremendously frustrating, but it's a fabulously rich petri dish of human innovation and endeavor, and that's why I find it so interesting to work in and study.

    If you ever get the itch to try it again, I can definitely help with the "I don't know anyone and I don't know where to go" problem. We have a community in Second Life called Chilbo, we're just a group of people who happened to find each other and appreciated "other signs of intelligent life" in the metaverse, so we made a spot for ourselves. :) We offer little houses for newcomers to use so they have a safe place to explore from (they're free of course), and besides learning about all the interesting people and the stuff they do in Second Life and in real life, everyone's pretty nice and willing to help folks who are new to the experience.

    In Second Life, we're located at and our website is if you want more information.

    (I don't generally go out and recruit people on the web, honestly. :) It's just that I enjoyed your post and thought it was a shame that you never a found a good starting place in world. It can seem terribly pointless without any context, but when you start seeing some of the things people are working on, it's pretty eye opening.)


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