Second Life

Second Life Home: Redesigning the User Experience

Second Life Home

Linden Lab has been hard at work redesigning the user experience for Second Life, and its recent launch of Second Life “Home”, a perk for premium account holders, is an exercise in simplicity and elegance that had me remembering the torture of my first plot of land, the frustration of buying my first virtual house, and the agony of understanding parcel borders and rez boxes.

I’ve been a premium account holder since I first logged in to Second Life. But I’ve never once, well, understood WHY. There was some kind of monthly stipend of Lindens, the right to buy Mainland and access to support or something, but then I buy my own Lindens on the exchange and own estates and don’t have trouble getting support and only ever rented on Mainland rather than buying parcels directly. Having my own little house doesn’t change that – I suppose I keep my premium account out of a sense of nostalgia or something, or waste, or maybe because I believe I SHOULD pay to be in Second Life, which is a kind of ridiculous notion, but there you have it. Maybe they need some kind of ’super-premium’ perk like, um, inventory cleaning services or something.

Introducing a product like Second Life Home has all kinds of implications for the in-world market: it competes with in-world land owners who rent parcels, it siphons users off of existing Mainland, and it cuts into “new home” sales.

But having said all that I applaud the move, primarily because it was executed so beautifully. And if new users can be made aware of the ease with which they can have their own little piece of real estate in Second Life, maybe they’ll stay a little longer, and for all the furniture makers out there the program my open up a nice little stream of new customers.

Participation in the program started with an e-mail announcing I was eligible to be part of the “Home” program (in beta). Clicking on ‘yes’ or whatever took me to a Web site where, with a few clicks on ONE page I had myself a new home. I simple had to browse four ’styles’ (modern, chalet, Shire or elf or fantasy or whatever you want to call it, and Japanese), name my home, and bingo, I was done. All within less than 30 seconds (or longer if I wanted to more thoroughly browse the photos of the standard houses).

My initial reaction was that the builds weren’t, well, top of the line. Simple stuff. Fairly common looking actually. But on reflection I thought that this wasn’t a bad thing. The home could become the backdrop for all the stuff I could put IN it, and the experience was enhanced with little pings to go shopping.

The icing on the cake was an instant e-mail with a SLURL and, something I thought was a very nice feature (whether you use it or not) the ability to share the SLURL with Facebook and Twitter – while not everyone will want to do this, the Lab is being very progressive in embedding social media as a way to create a more viral ’sharing’ of Second Life experiences. Finally, Governor Linden dropped me a landmark in-world.

While Linden Lab is clearly focused on changing the new user experience, this is also leading to a de facto re-engineering of the way that land and other goods are purchased and will change the culture of Second Life. With more consumer-focused branding and lots of “buy” buttons everywhere, the Grid is moving towards a more packaged and more purchase-oriented environment.

What users learn when they go through the pain of buying their first parcel of land and trying to rez their first house also created benefits: more deeply understanding how SL works, and more inter-connections between people, as they ask each other for help, create real estate businesses oriented to new users, generally creating a sense of collaboration and sharing. However, the attrition that ALSO results from this, from frustrated newcomers not knowing how to get ’situated’ in the world and a wide and varying number of practices for doing so may be mitigated by the Lab’s focus on the user experience (at the expense of the existing culture). Whether the possible increase in users and home owners outweighs these changes remains to be seen – Second Life is clearly becoming more of a ‘packaged good’ and is losing some of that frontier feel, the one where we all had to just kind of stumble along and figure it out.

But as a user experience, Second Life Home is a stellar success.


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