Applications and Tools, Business in Virtual Worlds, Collaboration, Second Life

Second Life and the Web: The New Dashboard

I was starting to get a little anxious, like maybe I had placed too much faith in Mark Kingdon, CEO of the Lab, and all those adults he brought in to help run the place - the ones from Pixar and Adobe or wherever who have sort of toiled away behind the scenes doing, well, we weren’t sure what, we were told that they were smart people and things would change.

It’s over a year now that Mark has been at the Lab. And I kept saying “give it time, he seems so damned organized and to be so consistent in what his focus is, surely that MEANS something” but regardless, I’ve had a few sinking moments, like the recent post of the “New” Second Life viewer, which turned out not to be new at all, just a sort of pencil sketch of some interface things that wasn’t really meant to be released.

Second Life Home Page

Or the new Second Life home page, which I still think is a branding disaster, regardless of how it may have tested, or how many new sign-ups it generates, it lacks, well, focus or something, or a metaphor, and being a flat version of CoolIris doesn’t count as a metaphor. I wrote about some alternatives, pulling from games as my source of inspiration, and I still believe that what would make the sign-up process more powerful isn’t pictures of OTHER people in Second Life, but the chance to play a little before you even log-in, or to design an avatar maybe.

But the signs of encouraging direction were the new blogs which have ended up being useful although not always USABLE. The sub-channels are buried too deep, some of them aren’t updated frequently enough, but all in all it’s at least a nice clean look, and the people writing on it seem to have hit their stride in how to phrase things and what kinds of articles and announcements make sense to keep a sort of low humming momentum going on.

So, we’ve had little sneak peeks of what a properly integrated Second Life design might look like, although no peek yet of a new viewer, that’s coming, we’re told, and M swears they made a breakthrough, some sort of design metaphor or Aha! moment that makes all the difference. He spoke about this recently on Metanomics:

Now, M is commenting here about Web tools:

“Yes. I’m talking about it in terms of an overhaul or renovation of the current viewer. But, there are a lot of Web 2.0 tools and approaches that we want to introduce to the Second Life experiences. Those will be very much web based. Next month we’re going to launch kind of the first rev of our new website which starts to move in that direction or build a platform for further extensions, later in the year, out to the web. Social tools are really, really powerful, and we want to be able to extend the Second Life experience out to social media properties that people enjoy today. You can find a lot of photographs on Flickr. Plurk has a lot of activity. Second Lifers are definitely tweeting because I see them on TweetDeck every morning, but there’s a lot more opportunity for us there that we haven’t developed. So we have the viewer, but, in parallel, we’ve started quite a lot of work on the web side of the business.”

And on the heels of this comment, the Lab launched a Beta test of a new Web-side dashboard. (Click for larger).

Second Life Web site dashboard

Which is finally something to look at. And which is finally something to get excited about.

Because frankly, I think this rocks. (You can access this, for now, through a back channel at this URL).

And not so much because it’s perfect as is. But rather because it starts to hint at the kind of deep Web-to-world and world-to-Web functionality that may be starting to emerge, and that currently functions as a sort of community mash-up and hack, with in-world blogging HUDs and Twitter fountains.

Now, I have a bit of a benefit when it comes to Web-to-world integration, because it’s a key to the benefits of Immersive Workspaces(TM). And having seen it in action - having seen how teams benefit from a properly constructed and intuitive Web-based dashboard, I’ve seen how much this adds to the experience of the virtual environment.

Frankly, this dashboard reminds me a little of what Facebook used to be like, before it became over-run with extraneous bits. Or, it’s a lot like what I WISH Facebook was like, let’s say, because I stopped using the thing once the data it displayed became increasingly irrelevant.

It rocks because it finally brings most of the data I want to access when I’m not in world into one at-a-glance place. It integrates commerce (XLStreet) so I can manage my listings, check sales. It lets me see who’s online at the same time as I browse the event listings. It gives me quick access to tutorials. There’s the start of some social management - friends list and groups. And it’s easy-to-use, the pop-down menus work beautifully, and the content seems prioritized in a way that makes sense.

Now, is this dashboard IT? I don’t think so - I think that all it is to start is a more intuitive aggregation of some stuff that you need to hunt around for in the current Web site. But it does hint at where this might go, and it strikes me that it can go in a few directions:

Viewer Integration: Where this will REALLY rock is if it integrates with the viewer. For example, let me browse through the event listings when I’m not in world, flag some or put little stars beside them if I want, and when I log IN have them appear in my event listings, highlighted, so I can remember what I flagged.

Groups and Friends: Larger issue, but if they could ever get the group and friends lists organized, this would be another place to keep them sorted. I still don’t understand why I can’t flag or tag friends, or put them into types or categories. And I still don’t understand why groups are so clunky and awful. Groups should be ‘tiered’ - full membership, or “notices only”. Regardless, without changing very much, it would be really nice if on the Web side you could remove or add friends, remove or add groups, or send IMs or notices to either.

IMs and E-mail: While we’re on the topic of communication, what ever happened to SLim? I think I have one friend on my list who uses it. Maybe with the new voice features it will make more sense, but for now it’s an un-used widget. Integrate it on the dashboard maybe. Or, at the very least, integrate IMs - you know, the ones you receive by e-mail that have that ridiculous string of digits at the end where your reply may or may not be too long. But this on the dashboard instead with a little button that says “clear IM cache” or something so that you can monitor and purge and avoid hitting an IM cap.

API Integration: Let me integrate outside gadgets if I want. Keep them in a nice ‘clean space’ below the fold, but let me pull in a Twitter stream or two if I want, so I can load in a few of the “must follow” SL Twitter feeds. And while we’re at it, throw in a little API OUT so I can send a Twitter notice from this page. We have Twitter integration with Immersive Workspaces and it works like a charm.

Second, I’m thinking here of things like BlogHUDs or Koin-Up maybe. The ability to take photos and post them to your Web profile with cross-posting to Flickr or wherever. The ability to blog status with cross-posting to Posterous or FriendFeed or whatever.

I suppose my list is a long one so this is just a general grab bag. What’s on yours? What’s missing on the Web side of our virtual communities?

I suppose much of it depends on what the new viewer looks like and whether they’ll ever fix some of the social management and inventory tools. If it shows enough imagination to cross-integrate to things like the dashboard, then we’ll really be in business: tight integration between world and Web, better social tools, and, as M says, “further extensions, later in the year, out to the web”.


speak up

Add your comment below, or trackback from your own site.

Subscribe to these comments.

*Required Fields

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.