What Could Save Second Life?

2 07 2010

OK, before everybody starts shooting at me for suggesting anything negative about Second Life, let’s review some of the recent news coming out of this virtual world:

  • User logins are flat with the level a year ago, about 1.4 million logins.
  • Several companies have left Second Life including Coke.  IBM, an enthusiastic backer, is “exploring other alternatives” now that Second Life is focusing on consumers.
  • Linden Labs, the operator of Second Life laid off 30% of its staff in June.
  • In late June, Linden Labs named a new CEO, Philip Rosedale.

Virtual Worlds seemed like a great idea.  They enable social interaction without all the nasty side effects of travel costs, security lines, lost baggage, etc.  They also have the potential for more more natural interaction and freedom of activity.  The idea is that one can go and interact with any community they want at any time over the Internet.  So, why hasn’t it caught on yet?

  • Difficult initial learning curve.  It takes a while for users to learn to navigate, talk, and interact in Second Life.  Many users are lost at this stage.
  • Even when over the initial learning curve navigating, interacting and communicating can be clunky.
  • The current version of Second Life requires a software client download.

So, what is the good news about Second Life as a virtual world?

  • The remaining Second Life users are passionately supportive and active.  Editors Note: The previous blog I wrote about Second Life was the most viewed blog I have ever posted.
  • User-to-User financial transactions grew by 30% year over year.  People are really making money in this virtual world.
  • There are still 1,400 companies using Second Life.
  • “Marketing” can be more natural and helpful rather than annoying and interrupt-driven.  People see products and events that interest them and decide to engage or not as their curiosity motivates them.  There is still huge potential for providing really useful and welcomed product/brand information in this context that is as yet untapped.
  • Travel is getting more expensive, exhaustive, time-wasting and annoying.  One alternative is video conferencing and Telepresence.  Another very interesting approach is the virtual world approach, explaining why so many large companies were interested.  It is a very different experience than a video meeting.

In retrospect, it is not surprising that the first really big attempt at virtual worlds failed to live up the initial hype.  Possibly, nothing could have.

Recommendations for Second Life and Other Virtual Worlds:

  • Pick a target market and really optimize for it.  Are you going to be a virtual world game environment or a virtual business/social environment?
  • Get rid of keyboard typing as the means to communicate.  Let people speak to each other naturally by using Voice Over IP technology.  This probably means a strategic partnership for Linden Labs.
  • Simplify navigation and interaction.  Lower the initial learning curve.  Make it easier for even experienced users to get around.  The more natural an unconscious you can make it, the better.
  • Make it work in a browser.  Don’t make people download and update client software in order to participate.
  • Look into Smartphones.  Consider tilting the smartphone as the way to navigate virtual worlds.

Second Life is such a brave attempt that it is well worth watching.  Now that Second Life  is over the “Peak of Hype” and well into the “Trough of Disillusionment.”  Now comes the real test to see if they can take what they have learned and deliver a more natural and useful SL 2.0.

7/8/2010 Note:  Please note that this blog is about business / enterprise use of SL and virtual worlds.

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19 responses

2 07 2010
Metacam

Second Life already has voice, and taking away the ability for people to type in text to each other would be catastrophic.

2 07 2010
rbnolan

Not talking about eliminating anything. I am talking about extending the options available and delivering a more “natural” human-to-human interaction model for those who want to use it.

2 07 2010
Jura Shepherd

Get rid of keyboard typing? We’ve had VOIP for quite some time now. Going by stats I’ve seen, about 50% of SLers use it. It’s likely less than that because it’s activated by default. There are quite a few bots still and they wouldn’t bother with opting out of voice.

I realize your focus is business and in that context:There ARE businesses that can benefit from SL by using it in the same social way that we residents do. I think the biz world hasn’t gotten the message that residents have developed SL into something greater than the nuts and bolts of the platform itself.

I don’t blame businesses for not seeing the value in SL as a conferencing tool because it’s a bit like choosing an elaborate walkie-talkie over more elegant solutions. LL may develop some practical business tools but for now, the real power is not the platform, it’s in the residents that are using it.

2 07 2010
rbnolan

OK. I agree. “Get rid of keyboard typing” is too strong a way to put it. See my earlier replies.
My point is, for business use, make conversation more natural. And quicker btw.
I agree that, as you say, the power of SL is in the residents not the platform. This is a very dedicated community.

2 07 2010
Ciaran Laval

They’ve had voice for years, they have a strategic partnership with Vivox for this, however getting rid of keyboard typing would be plain wrong, many people have hearing difficulties and they can happily communicate in Second Life, the options are there now for voice or keyboard, that’s the right balance.

I don’t think they should pick a target audience, that’s one of the beauties of Second Life, you can make your own environment.

However a browser based option and engaging with smartphones are definitely good suggestions, even if many Second Life users get the heebie jeebies about talk of browser based access, having it as an option is sensible and the rise of mobile access is going to keep on rising so it is very definitely a sensible move.

2 07 2010
rbnolan

Good point about Vivox. I am talking about integrating a voice solution more transparently into the environment. You make another good point that should not be to the exclusion of text communication for those who have a preference. My point is to make human interaction as “natural” as possible. Thanks for the input.

2 07 2010
hexx

Why save SL?

2 07 2010
rbnolan

Interesting question… Ever since I first read “Neuromancer” I have thought that virtual reality is a really interesting idea. If not SL than somebody else needs to do it.

2 07 2010
Indigo Mertel

Roger, getting rid of keyboard typing would cause an uproar with angry mobs scurrying the virtual streets of Second Life with pitches and forks.

Nobody uses voice chat in Second Life, other than business reasons or where it is necessary, as with talk shows. Only new users more or less use voice chat, just because it’s there and don’t know any better. Many new users approach Second Life as a 3D chat room, so using voice chat may come more natural to them. It doesn’t last if they proceed with their virtual experience.

Most people refuse to use voice chat. It’s highly ineffective for everyday uses in crowded ambients. It causes several issues as for privacy and language. It’s a lot easier to understand written English than communicating over voice chat with people with very different accents. Also, many do not like to hear the real voice of their friends, it breaks the mental image they associate to the avatar of that person.

I say: not a good idea 🙂

2 07 2010
rbnolan

OK. “Get rid of keyboard typing” is too strong. The better way to put this is: Make voice the default means of communication and integrate it cleanly into the environment. Thanks for pointing this out.
The feedback I am getting is that there are several good reasons for text communication: For people with hearing issues, for people who speak English as a second language, for situations where simple “chat” style communication is good enough, where the voice might not fit the avatar. Excellent points made by you and other people.
Bear in mind, I am focused on business use and what would drive increased business participation in SL.

2 07 2010
Wizard Gynoid

my patron in second life Georg Janick is a philosopher in RL. he regards something called “ambiguity of identity” as being integral to the second life/virtual world experience. (i would argue that this is really not that different from real life, perhaps only a matter of degree.) the point i’m trying to make is that ambiguity of identity is not a bad thing. most of us hardcore users like the fact that we don’t know much about the real lives of our friends. our friends are the avatars. our friends are the conscious creative creation of our friends’ real life typists. we don’t like to hear the real life voice of their typist. we don’t like to see the head shot of their real life meathead. this is why the preferred name used for the real life entity behind the avatar is “typist.”

3 07 2010
rbnolan

You bring up a key point here. “Ambiguity of identity” is precisely what does not work in an enterprise/commercial context. This may be the single strongest reason to have different virtual world for different uses.
If you want to have “cool” events to talk about your cool products, you don’t really need to know the identity of your audience (although it would help a lot in terms of being able to talk to them about issues they really care about). The problem is, to go any further, businesses need to know who they are talking to.
One of the strongest arguments I have heard for focusing on text as the primary means of communication is that it masks the true identity of the SL participant. One person mentioned that the voice might not match the avatar and ruin the effect.

2 07 2010
Josh

Appreciate you approaching the topic.. And i often stumble across posts that report “Second Life is doomed to failure unless they do X”..

I’m of the mindset that the thing to do is to segment and focus on the EXISTING customers, facilitate everything they need to enjoy and use Second Life the way THEY want to use it..

Linden should focus on living the brand and let THE CUSTOMERS become the ambassadors of the brand.. Let the growth occur organically.

(and BTW.. If you take a peak at the 2009 Garnter Hype Cycle Report you’ll see Virtual worlds are about on schedule my.gartner.com/it/content/…/august12_hype_cycle_final_jfenn.pdf)

JC

3 07 2010
rbnolan

Thanks, Josh. I am getting the sense that SL is going to focus more on their existing customers. And I would have to agree that this is probably the best strategy for LL right now.
They also have to recognize that this strategy will probably make SL less attractive to commercial use — something I don’t think the majority of the SL community would mind very much.
I blog about enterprise use of Web 2.0 technology. It probably makes the most sense to have separate virtual words for enterprise use.

3 07 2010
Moni Duettmann

Roger, what’s left from your article? Almost nothing. There *is* voice OIP, and many think it is *too natural*. It spoils the fun. Nobody wants SL to be as real as real life. That’s why recently voice morphing was introduced. You still have to pay for it, but it should be part of the client. At least 50% of the users still prefer typing, and why not. You do type in Facebook and Twitter, don’t you? Simplify navigation and interaction? Hm… what do you mean? Using a search engine like Googel and steering an avatar with curser keys? That’s what kids learn today before they even go to school. It’s like recommending to simplify driving cars, because using the steering wheel and gas and brakes is too complicated. Make it work in a browser. Why? Really: why? You have a browser window in your SL client and you can use the browser externally. You can link between the two. Anything you’re missing? People download programs all the time. It’s really no effort at all. Smartphones. Ok. There are first test clients to make SL run in phones. Since the demands on the graphic cards are quite high even in computers, you will probably haver to wait for better chips a little longer. Sorry, Linden Lab cannot do miracles, that are beyond their own sphere of influence. Nobody can, even Apple can’t. But since there are laptops, you may want to use SL with them for a little while until smartphones are fast enough for a reasonable price. Thanks for your input.

3 07 2010
rbnolan

Good points. Bear in mind that my blog is about enterprise use of Web 2.0 technology.
I understand from your perspective why you would not favor the use of voice communications. That is leaving me more and more convinced that consumer and business uses of virtual worlds will need to be in separate universes. Thanks for your input!

3 07 2010
Juanita Deharo

Make it work in a browser? On a smart phone? Make it like Facebook or Twitter? Dumb it down for new users and totally alienate your current clients?
This sounds exactly like what they’ve been trying to do, which is why they’re in so much trouble.
Virtual worlds have a point of difference – they should capitalise on that and not try to be all things to all people. If some clients don’t have the time or intellect to learn how to use the platform why lose those who have taken the time to learn it and are committed to it. The point of difference is why they came and why they are there- and it’s not because they wanted a browser or a smartphone experience.
Voice has been available for a few years. Lots of us prefer not to use it because we are used to having up to 6 conversations at a time in IM as well as building something, changing our clothes, cleaning our inventories etc at the same time. Voice is a slow and cumbersome way of communicating and demands your attention. I never use it, and I don’t want a ‘more natural’ experience in a virtual world- I want something different, new, challenging. I can talk on Skype any time, why be in a virtual world to do it? If I want a ‘natural’ experience I turn off the computer and go for a walk.

3 07 2010
Josh

I think perhaps one of the things that’s making this such an interesting and complex topic (for you and those of us who are commenting) is that Second Life isn’t ONE thing.. It’s multiple things. Like we’re always saying “Second Life is what you want it to be.”

To reinforce that point with a metaphor: Second Life is not one puzzle with a missing piece, it’s multiple puzzles with potentially all the pieces already there.. just not put together.

The one problem, such that there really is one, may be outside the scope of your enterprise and 2.0 technology blog, and occurs not just in virtual worlds, it’s also there when organizations are working on social media, team development, brand management, etc. etc. etc.

The problem is one of lack of imagination.

Being afraid to try things differently than the case studies report. Looking for the “safe” and reliable solutions. (Hint: Both large enterprise and small virtual companies rarely write case studies about the tools they successfully use.)

I don’t know the cure for lack of imagination.

7 07 2010
rbnolan

Got it. My point is that voice is not the “preferred” method of communication. Also bear in mind that I am blogging about business use of Second Life. I do understand that there are many reasons to keep keyboarding communication around. My statement of “Get rid of keyboard typing…” was too strong. Thanks for the feedback.

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