Second Life, the Aha Moment, and Hair: M Linden Interview with Venture Beat

It’s all about the hair.

Image: Bettina Tizzy, NPIRL, showing hair by AVZ

I can write all I want about user interfaces, policy, rendering and other gadgets. But at the end of the day, my whole theory of virtual worlds boils down to that: give someone good hair, and you’ve won their heart.

I thought maybe it was just me. When I joined Second Life, hair was the gateway drug, the hook, the connection to community. I was wandering around the Grid looking for, well, a point. And I landed in a group of people and we got talking and they were a friendly group and helpful. Giving me landmarks. And asking me that question that stumps SOOOO many newcomers to the Grid: what do you like to do?

And I was stumped. I had no idea how to answer. I mean, even in the wider world I would have trouble answering “if you could do anything, and there were no barriers, what would you DO.” Best I can come up with, really, is watching the Godfather movies back-to-back.

So as I’m mulling it over someone says “You know, you really need to get some hair, you look like a noob” and then it dawned on me - looking around, all these other avatars had, well, hair. And YES! I needed to get some too! And finally I had something to DO, and not only that, but I had people to help me do it, and help me rez the box it came in, and help me attach it, and help me size it and position it - all that stuff that you really need to know in those first hours so you don’t walk around with a vending box in your mid-section and you don’t look like a noob.

Well, M Linden seems to agree - because twice now he’s mentioned hair, and it’s starting to sound like his major AHA moments have been a) visiting Global Kids in real life and b) attending the Hair Fair in SL.

What Stands Between You and Aha?
OK…so, the hair comment is embedded in a longer, very thoughtful interview with Venture Beat (and cross-posted to the standard) - and it’s one of the most encouraging outlines of where Linden Lab is at, how they perceive the opportunities, and where it’s headed (in the medium term at least).

And what I’ve come to like about Mark Kingdon (M) is his singular focus on trying to sort out what stands between the new user and that AHA moment. And he covers off some of the bases in this interview.

First, he has a very reasoned, and non-hype-laden discussion about the growth of Second Life, touching on the fact that it’s user HOURS and concurrency and not registrations that matter. And throughout the interview he cycles over the various adoption cycles that the Grid has gone through - dubbing what I call the CSI phase a “brand-building exercise” which I can’t help getting a chuckle over.

But primarily, M focuses on the stuff that stands between users and that AHA moment. Starting with the “tourists” who decide to give SL a whirl and then decamp, and pointing to the viewer as a possible source of innovation:

“We’re thinking about making it more accessible for people who don’t have the time to invest in it…(and) are thinking about the best way to do it. One thing we did this summer was simplify the registration process, taking it from seven pages to one page. That really boosted the completion rate starting in early July. That’s paying off now in concurrent users, we believe. We’re looking at a lot of ways to simplify the consumer proposition. We are making strides. Our latest viewer (the screen interface the member uses to view and navigate through the world) is simpler and easier to use. We’ll do more redesign over the next 12 months to make it more accessible for new users.”

Intriguingly, M notes that the Lab is wrapping up a strategic planning phase:

“My focus has been getting to know the people and the company and working with our teams to map our strategic direction for the company. We’re wrapping that exercise up.”

I’m sure we’ll all be curious as to how that will be communicated and whether there are any significant shifts planned for the value proposition (or lack thereof).

But at the end of the day, it’s getting to that aha! moment, says M:

“The excitement comes when someone spends time in the world and learns how Second Life works. There is an “aha” moment. They see the power of the experience.”

Which begs the question: what stands between the user and seeing the power of the experience.


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