Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Critical Look at Second Life - Part 2 "Bringing Content to People"




A Critical Look At Second Life
Part 2 - "Bringing Content to People"
A closer look at all of the bugs, design issues and social problems
preventing SL and Linden Lab from achieving greater success.


Bringing Content to People

 One of the three major complaints often heard from new users and ex-users is that Second Life offers nothing to do! Long-time SL users will often dismiss this complaint as showing a lack of imagination and initiative on the part of the person doing the complaining but the fact is Second Life has some very real failings in helping users, especially new users, find content or communities relevant to their interests.

  There have been some improvements in this area in the past couple of years.

 The Destinations bar was a great start, directing new users to currently active locations on the grid, picked from among, what the Destination editors consider, the best SL has to offer. It's one of the better inclusions to the new user experience since SL's beginnings. Very useful for users new and old alike!
This is great! Maybe LL should point new users at it?
 But there's so much more Linden Lab could do here.

 First off, a new users is tossed into the deep end in Second Life with absolutely no direction. Less so now more than ever, as it just drops a new avatar into a random sim, sink or swim! I'll go deeper into the new user experience later, but for now I'll just say, use those first moments after a person logs in to point them in the right direction! Don't rely on an in-world, sim-based tutorial, at some point during a new user's first steps into the world, have the viewer itself bring up the destinations bar for them, point them at it! Show them how to bring it up themselves!

That's just one little example of something LL can do to point people at content. To really bring content to people, Linden Lab needs to start seeing the opportunities they have to blend content with the social aspects of Second Life which already connect SL users.

 When users complain about LL trying to make Second Life "more like Facebook", it is the superficial changes which provide no benefit to SL users and the disruptive (in the bad way) changes which actually interfere with one's ability to enjoy SL. These are the kinds of changes LL should avoid, while embracing social elements which draw people in-world and cultivate communities within Second Life.

 For example, some time ago, Linden Lab introduced Interest Tags to profiles as a way of connecting people with each other. Click on an interest tag and you'd see others who shared your interest. Click on the Recommendations tab of your profile and you'd get a random sampling of people who shared at least one interest with you.

 Linden Lab needs to expand Interest Tags to groups, land, Marketplace listings and events. Interest tags were perhaps the most exciting new feature to be added with the profile improvements, and yet their full potential has never been realized or even explored to any degree.

 When Linden Lab first introduced interest tags the only use they found for them was to spam SL users with e-mails recommending they befriend random strangers because they happened to share an interest tag. You can still receive these random friend recommendations by clicking on the "Recommendations" tab of your profile.

 This is a tragic waste of a potentially fantastic feature.

 Imagine for a moment that, instead of random strangers, Linden Lab recommended groups, locations and even events which had shared interest tags applied to them.

 People don't want a list of strangers who share one or two one-word interest tags, that's not how people socialize! If you instead supply them with locations, groups and events that are relevant to their interests, recommendations, both via e-mail and the profile tab, become valuable, especially to new users who are looking for just such content!

 Once people join those groups or go to those locations and events, then they will meet people there who share their interests and have the motivation to socialize with them! This works far more reliably than throwing a list of strangers names at people and telling them to make friends, because this is how we socialize in real life! We meet people first and then make connections based on shared experiences!

Now, and this is very important, to ensure that interest tags are not abused for search/traffic purposes, I would strongly recommend that Linden Lab limit the number of interest tags which can be applied to groups, land and events. Let avatars add as many as they please to their profiles, they are the ones doing the searching, but a shop or club would only be able to apply maybe three to five (at most), forcing them to make their tags actually relevant to their content.

 You see what happens otherwise in existing shop descriptions. How often are terms like neko, grunge, steampunk, sex, etcetera used in the search description for a shop that has absolutely nothing to do with those things? Simply because they are popular search terms? Constantly.

 Event listings as they currently exist are practically useless!  Being able to search based on interest tags, and having events included in the profile Recommendations tab, would be a serious boon to people looking for events!

 That's not all LL could do to bring content to people via profile features.

 In addition to expanding interest tags, adding a calendar to both individuals and groups would be extremely beneficial to cultivating community gatherings in-world.

 Let groups tag land as a group hang-out, this should not be limited to land the group owns as larger clubs and sims tend to have an invite only landowner group and a separate, public community group. It's vital that the public community groups be able to tag the land as a group hang-out, and it could be beneficial to allow groups to tag multiple locations as group hang-outs.

Then, when an event is posted for a location listed as a group-hang-out (group owned land would be automatically tagged), it appears in that group's calendar! I would also allow the group owners to have the ability to restrict the calendar to group members, or to keep it public so anyone can see group events.

 This allows group members (and random visitors if able to see the landowner or community group's calendar) to easily browse all listed upcoming events, as far in advance as SL allows people to list events!

 It gets better if you then allow people to copy event listings to their own personal calendars!

 This serves two purposes! First, it makes it super easy for people to keep track of events they'd like to attend! Do not underestimate how important that is in drawing people in-world and cultivating communities! I'd even start with the idea that when an event is added to a group calendar, every member of that group gets a prompt asking if they'd like to add the event to their personal calendar.

 Second, if a person's personal calendar is set public or visible to friends, then others who visit their profile can see what events their friend has listed and copy them to their own profile if they'd like to also attend!

 ( Of course, it would be important to give people the option to restrict their calendar to friends, or set it private entirely. People don't always want to share their activities.)

 There are still many more ideas LL should strongly consider. A full fledged group social page containing a feed wall, chatroom, etcetera. A feed wall for land locations in SL, so visitors can leave comments for others to read (LL added something like this when the new profiles were released, but then removed it some time later) and more.

 Even if LL only applied the ideas detailed here in this article, and managed to introduce new users to these features right from the start, it would greatly increase the ability of users new and old to find content, communities and activities relevant to their interests, increasing the likelihood that they will remain in SL longer and form the social ties that will keep them in SL for a long time to come.

Bringing Content to People Recap!

Make new users aware of the search tools at their disposal!

  • During the new user experience, show a new user how to open the Destinations bar and the search window. Make sure they know how to use these tools!
  • Show new users how to open and edit their profile! Encourage a new user to enter their first interest tags, explaining it will help them find content relevant to their interests!

Make Interest Tags useful!

  • Allow owners to apply a limited number (like, five) of interest tags to land, groups, events and Marketplace listings!
  • Use those tags to add land, groups, events and marketplace listings to LL's "recommendations" mailings and the "Recommendations" section of a user's profile. MUCH more useful than recommending people talk to strangers!
  • Very important to limit number of interest tags that can be applied to groups, land, events and Marketplace listings, otherwise people will cram in as many as allowed to the point where they lose effectiveness. Again, five seems like a good number. Maybe even three.
Add a Calendar to both group panels and avatar profiles!
  • Let groups tag locations in SL as "Group Hang-outs"
  • Events on land owned by groups, tagged by a group as a hang-out, will be listed in those groups' event calendars.
  • When an event is added to a group calendar, the members of that group will recieve a prompt asking if they'd like to add the event to their personal calendars.
  • Personal calendars can be set public, friends only, or private.
  • Non-members can copy event listings from public calendars (of groups or individuals) to their own calendar to keep track of events they might like to attend.
Remember! Features like these bring content to the users and naturally cultivates the kind of social interactions which give new users ties to the SL community, which keeps them coming back! Consider other ways social tools can be used like this!

~*~

Alright, in doing all of that LL can successfully bring users and content together much more effectively than SL currently does, this means the complaint that "there's nothing to do" is completely addressed, right?

Wrong!

Yes, users will be much more capable of finding all of the content SL has to offer them, but that content is still limited by the tools Linden Lab provides to content creators.

 In Part 3 we will take a closer look at the Second Life content creation tools, where Linden Lab has succeeded and where they have failed, as well as what features Second Life needs to draw users in more effectively.

4 comments:

  1. Rock solid ideas.

    I really like the idea of 3 to 5 keywords for a group or location.

    I like the calendar too. And having my own calendar auto-populate with the things of the groups I'm in would be amazing. Notices get used for this now - but don't sort by hour, and cap your IMs, so end up being useless...

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