Applications and Tools, Second Life

Conventional Wisdom

I was invited to speak at Train for Success yesterday and, frankly, the audience was the main attraction. Maybe there was something about the topic (the Future of Virtual Worlds) – but there was no shortage of ideas, passion and discussion….I only wish it could have gone on longer.

Much of the discussion sort of spun off from my recent interview with Rod Humble, the new CEO of Linden Lab. It felt like we all wanted to answer the question: is there still hope for virtual worlds, for Second Life, for the idea of the metaverse?

Mitch Wagner attended – and I absolutely loved having him there. His recent blog post has generated discussion: he proposes that the dream of a ubiquitous Second Life won’t happen because participating in a virtual world just isn’t convenient.

My response to that was pretty simple really: who said we need or want ubiquity? And besides – the very inconvenience of Second Life is one of its finest virtues.

By being inconvenient, it puts us in a place where we log-in with intent – something that you don’t find with Twitter or Facebook.

Social media is a river – it flows, it rages, it hits rapids and it sometimes meanders. But you can sort of keep one eye on your social media stream and one eye on reality. With virtual worlds (and platform games, and MMOs and other forms of ‘immersion’) you enter with intent, it requires your focus, and that’s the benefit…..and there will always be a place for that on the digital landscape, even if that place is small-ish and contained.

Social media is a river, and virtual worlds are an island – a place you go with intent, for context, to stop, to have rich discussions and dialogue, to participate in stories.

The Geeky Affections for Interfaces
Following the session, a discussion broke out on Twitter that Rod Humble sort of chimed in on.

Ron Blechner, who hadn’t attended the session, decided based on second-hand reports that I have erroneously prioritized content over ease-of-use, and a whole stream of discussions tossed the argument back-and-forth.

I suppose it’s enough to say that my priority is design thinking – content, interface, complexity, elegance, economics, community – there are so many dials to turn in creating great experiences that it’s dangerous to focus on any one.

I find it intriguing how often I run into a sort of geeky affection for user interfaces. Now, with technology there is ALWAYS an interface. And I’d never deny the importance of removing friction or barriers in the UI.

But there’s this sort of faith in interfaces that I find odd – community and content are only accessible because of the interface, the logic goes, and so we all need to bow down to the interface’s primacy.

There’s a sort of geeky affectation to the concept that I find bizarre, especially when someone trots out the iPod or the iPad as examples of the interface’s importance – ignoring the fact that what Apple does is design experiences and ecosystems.

Thank goodness for the geeks, the UI designers, the software engineers – but I’m also thankful that there are the Steve Jobs of the world who realize that the human experience of technology is as much about the things that you need to couple with interface in order to create disruptive change, the importance of the stories we’re able to tell, the communities we can build.

Conventional Wisdoms
There’s a mental trap with Second Life – and I’ve written about it before, and I’ll write about it again – and the trap is to follow the funnel down to an “easier” virtual world experience.

Now – as someone who sponsored a Viewer Design Contest, I’ve long been an advocate of thinking about the ways in which users interact with virtual worlds, and there’s always room for improvement.

But I’ve also long been an advocate of applying design thinking to the world and, first and foremost, to make sure you’re asking the right question. The Lab has almost religiously pursued a single question: how to improve the first hour and get people to stay.

The problem is, if you start with that as a question, you’ll follow a deductive path and you’ll end up right where we started: it’s the viewer, the download, the learning curve that’s the problem….and the quest is on for the magical changes that will make everything better.

But seriously – I don’t care if you can access Second Life in a browser and the only thing you need to do is, um, speak or something to interact with the world. You can make it as easy as breathing, and I still think you’ll end up with diminishing returns.

When the television was invented it was easy to turn on. But you only turned it on because there was a reason to do so in the first place.

But this got me thinking about Second Life more generally – and about the conventional wisdoms that have long guided how the world is managed and developed.

So I’m going to start keeping a little list here of conventional wisdoms – because maybe it’s time to question everything, or at least articulate a few of the things that maybe have been taken for granted. I mean….you tell me, is it time to redefine what we mean by the following conventional wisdoms?

- Land represents server space and is a metaphor for how we use Second Life
- Content creators are the people who make things (or scripts, or animations, etc.) and content consumers are the people who just participate in the virtual world
- Second Life is a world and both the Mainland and Regions are part of that world (aren’t regions often like their own mini-worlds? Are there different kinds of geography inside the world? How do we describe that?)
- Governance is primarily the responsibility of Linden Lab (similar to the question of regions and Mainland, aren’t there other ‘layers’ of federation possible?)
- If we link to social media, it means importing external identities, or it means exporting Second Life experiences to those identities
- The Second Life Marketplace sells virtual goods and should continue to be structured as such
- Search needs to be an algorithm in spite the fact that Second Life is filled with stories that aren’t so easy to parse
- The focus should be on attracting new users rather than attracting groups of users
- Complexity is the enemy of scale

What would you add?

Oh….and before I go….I wanted to share these really awesome mock-ups by Loki Elliot, one of the most creative people I know on the Grid (read his full post for more). Very nifty stuff. :)


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