This is a long article. I think it may shape your thinking about Second Life™ and change how you deal with events in SL. So, I hope you read it and consider the concepts. Because while everyone has their ideas about Second Life™, ranging from; what it is to what it will become, what the Lab is thinking, planning, and doing… some basic paradigms have changed and few seem to have noticed.
One area of thinking about Second Life important to a considerable number of users is what will retain more visitors, converting them to long term users, residents if you will. If you take a simplistic approach to things an answer and/or solution to player retention problems is likely to elude you forever, as humans as a whole are anything but simplistic.
When it comes to ‘company’ direction we have been able to listen to a SLCC (SL Community Conference) speech by the CEO and know something about the direction the Lab’s management was taking. It looks like that is not going to happen this year. We may get some announcement this month to take the place of SLCC, but I would not count on it. Now it looks like more and more of the activity in and planning for SL is moving into the hands of SL users. So, what the community is thinking is more important and where we will likely have to look more often to see what is next.
From the thread, If You Were a Linden, over on SLUniverse, we know that top management is still interested in how to improve player retention. I suspect it is a primary concern of management. If we read Darrius Gothly’s: Social Community, Human Beings and the Internet, which is about SL, we get ideas about how ‘community’ is the hope for SL and better player retention. I’ll get to my own thoughts on that later.
One of Darrius’ key ideas to improve community is the return to First and Last Names. (See: SVC-7125 – Bring Back Last Name Options! – the largest JIRA ever. Please add your thoughts there.) For me this idea and the whole name… debacle… reveals one of the key blind spots of the corporate analytical mind. Data was collected by the Lab on how many people entered the sign up process and how many completed it. The numbers were not good. So the sign up process was changed to require the least possible effort to complete sign up. The last name field was likely eliminated to save one entry field and user decision. There is a huge amount of study on what is needed to get people to sign up on web sites and least possible effort and fewest possible decisions are a major components of what works. So, this change is not trivial. If sign up were all there were to the issue, it would have been a good decision. Whatever it was in the sign up process that changed, removal of last names resulted in one less entry and one less decision as part of the change. The numbers got significantly better after the change. So, the change to single-names is gets credit, justified or not.
I call it a blind spot because while the rate of completed sign ups verses sign up dropouts improved; there was no way to see the long term effect on users while the idea was in the corporate mind. More sign ups must be better, the end. Corporate thinking, insight, and analysis seem to have stopped there. As far as I can see, no historical analysis has been done a year and something later to see if single-name users remain in SL longer than two-name users. Do single-name users stay for the average 2 years? Two-name users do. We have that historical data from Metaverse Business. Since SL is shrinking, single-name users probably do not. But, we don’t have the data to know. I think such information and trends are the corporate blind spot. Single-name users have not yet been around for two years. So, direct comparison for the same time frame as two-name users is not possible. But, we could still earn from an analysis of the time period we have. However, management may never relate the longevity and naming stats. It may remain hidden in the blur of factors influencing player retention.
Darrius well explains the problems new users face in terms of community or more simply; finding their friends. Basically it is impossible. Darrius thinks that needs to be solved. I disagree regarding finding existing friends. Many of us want to experiment in ways we feel are socially unacceptable to our friends. In some cases a friend finding our experimental avatar is like a closet LGBT oriented person being outed before they are ready. Our freedom is highly dependent on our privacy.
I do think that new people need a better way of finding the people with similar and activities in which they are interested.
One of the points I think Darrius misses is conceptual. He and I see several of the things expressed in his article differently. For this subject the one that matters is the idea that the Lab’s management needs to realize things and change what they are building for the community. I see that as a major misunderstanding of what is happening with Second Life and the Lab’s direction.
Since Rod’s arrival as CEO we have seen communication between the Lab’s staff and users change. SLCC is gone. Office hours are now User Groups. The number of Linden led ‘user groups’ is decreasing. The Adult Content UG is for all intents dead. We have seen user groups lead by users/residents/developers form and work with Linden Liaisons.
Consider. Some years ago the rage in game development was user created content. I have no doubt SL contributed a major part of the ‘proof of concept’ to that thinking. After all SL is mostly user created content. Most games now have a way for users to add content, to mod the game. But, what if you could get the user community to build the game’s infrastructure as well? That is infrastructure as in; the game’s user interface. Who knows it better than the users? As in; how things like inventory, groups, chat, and other aspects of the game work.
With content the game company does not have to create or figure out what the users may like, the content is created by the users and they make what they want. It is the shift way from central planning to freedom of expression. We have seen how those choices have played out in RL economies and politics and the success of those ideas were mirrored in the gaming worlds. Lots of things work better when more minds are free to experiment.
For the company to make money they have to provide something. In the Lab’s case, they are working to provide the ‘shinies’ that require considerable time, knowledge, effort, and cutting edge tech to develop. They are turning over the user side of development to users. The Lab does not really care what you want to build, just what you need to build it. As long as lots of people are building and using stuff in SL the Lab is good.
While Darrius has the idea the Lab is building the wrong things and should focus on building community, I think it is obvious the Lab has turned that community thing over to us.