My First Hour

I’m already on record as saying that I don’t know why SL is the natural habitat for some people and not for others. I don’t think that my introduction to SL was the common experience but I could be mistaken. I do, however, have quite a bit of experience introducing people to virtual worlds for their first time. It was part of my job for two years. What I observed during that time was that, to paraphrase Shakespeare, some people are born to virtual worlds, some people acclimate to virtual worlds, and some people have virtual worlds thrust upon them.

I had to explain virtual worlds to many people as I demo’d the collaboration tool we were prototyping. Some people were fascinated by our avatars, the office, flying, the animations and all the rest. Those people began asking questions all about the environment before we ever got to the prototype. They were strong candidates for living in a VW. Others accepted the environment, grasped that it had potential, but wanted to see the business application and learn why we’d built it in Opensim. Then there were the folks who said all of this is extraneous, creating a physical representation of data and moving it about adds nothing for me, you could do the same in 2D. When I was working as a greeter for conferences and meetings held in the virtual worlds some people came in grumbling about the stupidity and waste of this kind of meeting, meetings should be in person or on the phone. Nothing we could do for them improved their experience. Others came in a bit confused as to navigation but once we explained, they went on their way, perfectly content in their default avatar. Then there were the folks who came in, saw themselves and said – OMG! I need to look more like ME! By “me”, sometimes they meant they wanted to look like their physical self and sometimes they meant “make me look better than this default avatar”. *grin* The other greeters tended to send those folks to me for help. /me tosses hair, strikes a new pose from my AO and rezzes some custom tees.

In no particular order, these are the things that hampered either me or my clients:

The hardware issue. By far, this was the biggest complaint for the business users. Their machines were underpowered to rez SL and Opensim environments. There were too many settings and issues with getting their equipment to run SL, to work with voice, to have other applications (e.g. mail) open while they were also at the meeting. If you go back to my first posts on this blog, I think nearly the entire month of July mentioned problems with my laptop being able to run SL. Most things were gray, lag was awful, I crashed a lot. Last year when I got my new gorgeous Alienware gaming computer, there were problems with crashing and I turned to SL support. LL took great delight in washing their hands telling me “oh hey, that setup is too good for our application”. Good thing the AW folk take pride in THEIR product and took it personally until they fixed the problem.

Customizing the avatar. This was another problem for business users. Many of them wanted to look like themselves. Others of them simply wanted to look more realistic in a positive direction (they LOVED losing weight, growing younger, growing hair *grin*). If there were some simple, inexpensive, quick way to take a photo of the organic being and turn it into a skin, that would have solved so many of the problems with the people who came inworld for meetings. I think a lot of that has been addressed by the range of avatars being offered to newcomers these days.

A simple statement of What/How. I came inworld and I didn’t know ANYTHING. I was only brave enough to try because I had encouragement from coworkers and my teenage son was helping me that first moment. But I didn’t know how to move my avatar, I didn’t know how to use a camera, I didn’t know what to expect (who or what I’d see), I didn’t understand the terminology – I knew NOTHING. For me – had there been some pop-up window telling me what was going to happen and what I should do when I rezzed, it would have eased so much anxiety. DO NOT tell me to go view a video or watch a tutorial. I am NOT going to do it. I happen to like words. Maybe for other people a VERY short video – 60 seconds or less, showing that initial rez, would be good. I rezzed into Orientation Island. Except it took forever, everything was gray (see hardware) and I didn’t know what I was supposed to do and why I couldn’t put on clothes. I was tp’d off OI within my first hour because I was having problems with my screen. Except I wasn’t. I don’t know if I ever blogged this, but the problem was that I’d walked into a bush. I hit something physical and was stuck in the bush. So I thought my screen settings were wrong. But I was stuck in a bush and had no idea what to do. I’m sure most people are not as ignorant as I was, but I’m willing to bet that many have similar issues if not quite as extreme.

What worked for me? People. I loved meeting the people. I sat on the benches at NCI Fishermen’s Cove and listened and asked questions and observed. I made friends. Melissa took off to explore and shop. I still don’t care too much about exploring. It’s the people. Once I had friends and a home base, I began to explore more. I came for the social networking and I stayed for that, the live music and building.

So what’s the answer? There is no “the” answer. I’m not sure who said this (maybe Crap Mariner in comments on someone else’s blog?) but it was something akin to “ask your current users why they are here, fix their biggest problems and they will bring in more users”.

Ahuva Sides With Darwin

It seems that for the last 2 years many in the SL community have been discussing and debating user retention. One of the first discussions that *I* remember was back in, I think, the fall of 2008, or maybe it was early 2009. Gwyneth Llewelyn , one of my favorite bloggers (who seems to have been very quiet lately), talked about the SL experience in terms of tourists and emigres. Then came Mark Kingdon and Viewer 2 and the discussion roared into high gear – How to ‘make’ users survive the first hour experience. Then Kingdon left and Rod Humble, known to the SL Twitter community as Rodvik, arrived. Rodvik has been (surprisingly) communicative with SLers via Twitter and many folk have taken to tweeting him suggestions for user retention. Skate Foss in particular has been tweeting suggestions for making the first SL experience more useful, pleasant and appealing. Crap Mariner has spoken out on this. Botgirl Questi has blogged her thoughts. Tateru Nino has blogged numerous times(actually, I even commented on one of them). Lately the conversation has focused in particular on Orientation Island, Help Islands and the horrible experiences at Ahern (one of the Welcome Areas) and the abolishment of SL mentors. The most recent discussion I’ve seen was on Lalo Telling’s blog.

I believe that, come the revolution, everyone will have an avatar in one or more virtual worlds. But I don’t think that this current version of SL is that be all and end all. I find that more and more I consider the first hour/first day experience to be a natural selection process. Those of us who belong there stay despite the griefers and idiots and hardware issues. Those who don’t aren’t going to stay even if they come thru NCI, which was wonderful. Melissa rezzed into SL for the first time within 24 hours of my rezzing. She is the one who found NCI. She was an experienced chat room user and grasped the basics much faster than I. Yet – I stayed and she didn’t. It wasn’t the viewer. It wasn’t the welcome area. It wasn’t the lack of knowing about things – the NCI folk educated us both. It sure as heck wasn’t because my computer had sufficient hardware to run SL. Natural Selection. *I* belong in SL. Apparently she doesn’t.