Thursday, November 16, 2006

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New World Numbers: The Trouble with Two Million

Signupstotalwithprojection

While the world keeps roiling in the wake of the CopyBot controversy, the world keeps growing at astounding rates.  In the last installment of her New World Numbers series-- posted less than a month ago!-- demographitrix Tateru Nino contemplated the meaning of a million.  In this month's column, she offers a vertigo-inducing projection of when Second Life will eclipse two million created accounts-- and the heartbreak, annoyance, and attrition it's costing to reach those numbers.  Be sure to note the point where she quotes new user retention rates from Linden Lab CEO Philip Linden-- and consider what that percentage means, to the world's long term growth.

Tateru Nino's November installment of New World Numbers, after the break.

new_world_numbers_by_tn

Two Million Steps Forward...

by

Tateru Nino

Second Life is growing really, really fast. Too fast to steer. Maybe too fast to ride without breaking your neck. Volunteer morale is shaky at best, and estimates on retention rates range from poor to piss-poor.

If you asked me, on the first of January, if I thought we'd get a million signups this year, I'd have said no. Hell, if you'd asked me that on the first of September, I'd have said “I don't think so.”

Then, I started doing the arithmetic.

So, how about two million signups, this year?

Well, yes. In 45 days at the time I write this on the 14th, we'll reach 2 million accounts close to New Year's Eve, GMT. The numbers are self-evident-– assuming they remain steady-– and the arithmetic was what they taught me when I was eight. A subtraction, an average, and a division.  45 days.

We crossed the million line about 28 days or so ago. That means a million in 73 days. I can't even have a baby in 73 days. As always, assuming the figures remain steady. Last time they didn't. The signup rate increased, bringing our millionth signup in at least a month ahead of the initially predicted date.


That's about 13,700 signups per day, in case you're wondering. Right at this tick of the clock, we're averaging a paltry 13,464 signups per day.

And the volunteers are pooped. Very few of them are active. The small numbers of Mentors and live-helpers are burned out. Help Islands don't get a lot of love from the Mentors right now. There aren't enough active Mentors to cover them anyway. And there are other reasons:

Lostandnew
An archetypal newb arrives, archetypically confused 

“Because the people that see it in the media automatically think you're standing there for sex," said one female mentor. Another spoke of how difficult it was to get away if you were the sole mentor arriving on a Help Island packed with new Residents. One mentor broke away from what she was doing and responded to a call for a French-speaking volunteer.

“I ended up mobbed by them, the guy I'd gone to help had to log after 30 minutes or so....it was closer to 4 hours later I escaped.”

Likewise, Liaisons are increasingly the sole operators answering the phone on Live Help, with gaps in volunteer coverage more and more often. It's not a matter of having enough Helpers to keep up with the calls, though that is a part of it, it's that there's not anyone doing it an increasingly large amount of the time.

I spoke to a few live Helpers. One said, “I was the only volunteer for hours.” We talked for a while about that.

“Is it normal these days for you to be the only Live Helper taking calls, when you're on duty?” I asked. 

“These days,” the Helper replied, “it seems so, yes. More than before.” 

“Care to speculate why?” 

“It seems a couple of volunteers are not active or less active and to be frank, this morning I nearly blew a gasket because one volunteer kept giving wrong answers, then closing the call. If the Helpers who do get pulled in are of the quality I've seen recently, it will degrade very quickly.” 

Another said, “I think one problem is, a lot of people are not following through with the Live Help commitments. People lose interest, and the negativity some people have towards Linden Lab that they take out on Live Helpers.”

The aggregate scorecard for Live Help, by the Live Helpers I spoke to, is about 5.5 out of 10, and while most worry it's falling off, not all of them are. They are all confident however, that Live Help is helping a lot of Second Life residents with their problems.

Pathfinder Linden said at a recent volunteer meeting that Linden Lab is working on aggressive measures to improve and support the volunteer programs, indicating that more Linden staff were to be funnelled into the volunteer system.

I asked some volunteers what they thought were the most common reasons for someone not staying in Second Life. Boredom and confusion were the most commonly cited causes.

“They're bored,” said one, “Expecting more of a 'game', don't understand the 'purpose', and find the interface too hard. Some are offended by the sex.”

Another suggested: “Confusing orientation. People are expecting to be led from step to step, even if they don't choose to follow those steps. Orientation feels too long to many, until they hit the mainland with little or no understanding, then they find themselves with no knowledge of the world they're standing in, wondering where orientation continues. And it doesn't.”

Of course, Second Life just isn't to everyone's taste. Not right now, anyway. “Some probably leave due to a lack of help, but many just don't like it,” one Mentor told me, “People are familiar with normal role-playing games and multi-player games. It can be a shock to have no instant cash and trying to work out your own activities.”

It's unknown how many new residents we're retaining. A range of guesses from volunteers average a little under 1 in 50. As you may expect this is a highly subjective number, as every resident has a very partial and personal view of the world of Second Life.

Philip Rosedale, when presented with this consensus, gave something a little firmer to work with.

“Actually, it is much higher than that,” he said. “Although Second Life is still challenging to get used to, about 10% of newly created residents are still logging into Second Life weekly, 3 months later. 10% is pretty good given the computer requirements and steep learning curve”

Surprisingly, he added, “That percentage hasn't changed much with the much higher rate of new users."

Philip, of course, has the advantage on these numbers to those of us in the field. Linden Lab routinely taps activity metrics for new accounts, testing for retention, and measuring the success of various strategies for handling new Residents. Volunteers, on the virtual ground, are primarily dealing with people who are having difficulties-– the residents they most often spend time with are having difficulties or are frustrated, and almost never at their best. This can lead to a prejudiced impression of retention statistics.

As more and more people sign into Second Life, the volunteer programs seem to be suffering from a cascade failure of activity and morale. It's by no means a catastrophic one, mind you. The active volunteers are really trying, and Linden Lab seems to be committed to supporting them.

Ten percent retained, however, still means 90% lost.  For every person who looks around and goes, “I get it. Wow!”, we've got nine people who walk away and say, “Blow this for a game of soldiers.”

If you want to look at that at year's end, then in 45 more days, nine hundred thousand people will have silently logged out of Second Life, with a WTF expression, never to return. They tasted the fruit and found it bitter indeed.

We can only hope that Linden Lab's planned measures are effective enough and soon enough.  Or a million gained may be close to a million lost.

Tateru Nino (e-mail her here) was a well-known Mentor volunteer and remains a marvelously insightful SL blogger.  Read my profile of her here: "The Heart of Tateru".

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Comments

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alavais

Why do we assume that user retention *should* be higher than 10%?

What if most people just don't want to use this tool that often?

Mint ice cream is great. I love it. Not everyone does.

Alastair Chamerberlin

Other than the Lindens, who is the oldest and still active avatar? anyone know?

Carmen

I'm an SL newbie and within just a few minutes of arriving in-world I "got it." Within a week or two I was a paying member and I'm currently scraping together the money to buy a new computer optimized for playing SL.

What I love most about SL is that it presents me with an arena in which I can explore and create. But that's NOT a game that many people are going to enjoy.

The loss rate of new sign-ups says more about the people who leave than any faults in SL marketing or even in newbie orientation. Unstructured, highly creative endeavors have never enjoyed a widespread support in American culture.

SignpostMarv Martin

I stopped going to Help Island as often as I did round about the same time Tateru's call box system was removed. It made it easier for me to know where to go when people needed help.

Now it's a case of flying around, teleporting from island to island constantly- having to risk harassing or annoying newbies asking if they need help, having to be rude by eavesdropping on their conversations.

I'm also constantly annoyed by volunteers ignorance of Linden requests NOT to crowd the greeter hub. Setting out dance balls and partying on the greeter hub with illegally uploaded song gestures looping round is not good.

There's a dance floor on the demo pier, if these volunteers want to get newbies accustomed to clubbing in SL (as they should), they should do so there instead of encouraging people to crowd on the greeter hub instead of getting them to go explore. Of course, it would help if there were a hi-fi stacked with creative commons tunes to help alleviate the need to use pirated material, and also so volunteers can avoid having abuse reports filed against them for leaving the pirated material out.

Getting onto abuse reports, I'm rather frustrated that every time I go to a welcome area within about 20 minutes I'm stuck in an endless loop of filing Abuse Report after Abuse Report.

I don't have a problem with the responses to ARs- not that Marv is FIC or anything, but when I file ARs against content, it gets taken care of in (on average) under 5 minutes.

I'm hoping that Pathfinder's improvements to the Volunteer system (monolithic group with role tags, mediawiki installs among other things methinx), and the new resident experience that's in the works (that I would appreciate if it was opened to a closed preview for the volunteer groups to have a chance to get familiarised with so they won't be as clueless as the newbies going through it) make it easier for myself and others to do what we got into volunteering for- helping people.

Torley

Re: "Other than the Lindens, who is the oldest and still active avatar? anyone know?"

Steller Sunshine. She's lovely, one of my original avatar inspirations.

starcomber Vig

Tateru’s striking imagery never fails to pick up the picture. The volunteers (at all levels might I add) are pooped, she says. Why is that?

Why are Mentors, Greeters and basically everybody involved in the whole Help System enchilada so disgruntled and unenthusiastic at the job they have been happily doing for years? So disgruntled that in some cases even blatantly act against the purpose?

Are helpers just stressed out from such a sheer magnitude of help requests?
Do helpers find their contribution uninteresting given the quality of current help requests?
Have helpers, at least in some cases, developed a stark discriminating attitude?

All of the above is possibly true. If we can understand why it is happening and the reasons behind this process to a fine degree then we can evaluate actions that at least mitigate the crash of the volunteering program. I anticipate that in my opinion more manpower only makes a difference for LiveHelp.

Tateru reports some volunteers complain that new people:

1 “are bored”
2 expect more of a “game”
3 don’t understand the “purpose”
4 find the interface too hard
5 are offended by sex

What do these answers tell us? Let’s read them better :)

1 Helpers are “bored”, they find the new people uninteresting, stupid, impulsive, “boring”
2 Helpers do not consider SL a game, which is, they get irritated at those expecting to find SL an entertaining experience primarily
3 Helpers believe that SL has a purpose (but that is) possibly too hard to explain or, for the new people, too hard to grasp
4 Helpers are comfortable with the current interface, which is features-rich but acknowledge the UI is difficult for new people
5 Helpers don’t like that most activities in SL are focusing, increasingly more now that in the past, on virtual sex and entertainment.

Let’s expand this a bit more:

1 Helpers are generally residents that have experienced the golden age of SL as a community. With over 1 million registered accounts and 60-days login figures also increasing, SL is not a community anymore. There cannot be a community with over 1 million users as many properly reiterate. Those times are gone and won’t come anymore. Helpers suffer the dystopia of looking for their gone-with-the-winds values in the newcomers. They won’t find them.

2 Newcomers come to SL pushed by media coverage. The way the media see SL is “mainly” as an original and innovative MMORPG with derivative revolutionary features. LL has done an excellent job at obtaining press coverage, the fact that media disarticulate SL shaping reports on their own best interests and targets is beyond LL’s reach or anybody else for that matter nor their readers would login into SL if it was otherwise. The result is vicious and, for the older residents, shattering. LL research exposure, the media dips happily into it and ignite a phenomenal ramp up and a 360 degrees steering towards entertainment. To all seasoned helpers: cope with it.

3 To say that SL has a purpose is like saying that life has one. SL is an infrastructure and as such relies on individual choices and values interacting within. Again, answers like these show how badly helpers are coping with “the new flesh”. To the typical question from a newbie “what do I do now?” the most effective answer from an helper should be “what do you want to do now?”.

4 On the browser's UI deficit matter there is such large consent that I am tempted to skip discussing it. LL should hire (ask for volunteer service perhaps?) the staff that is in charge of the Apple Pro Apps, the very team that did the incredible job to wrap up a set of extremely complex programs within a usable and intuitive interface, with 3 levels of UI complexity the users can choose. On a similar take imagine if Explorer or Firefox or Safari were built on the same UI foundations as the SL browser. You can’t imagine that, correct? So, yes, the SL browser, a feature-rich and powerful app, needs to lie on an UI that is familiar, uniformed and usable. Right now, unfortunately, it is not so. User retention anybody?

5 Are you offended by sex on TV, newspapers, anywhere else? No? Then you are not on SL volunteer program. :)

Do I mean to be negative? No, don’t take this as negative. Don’t feel like I’m attacking anybody. I am not.
Do I suggest an overhaul to the whole system? Yes.
Do I appreciate LL foreseeing an increase in manpower as a resolution? No.

Should LL even care and continue support a monolithic and centralized system based on the premises of 100.000 accounts and of cultures long gone? They should not care nor support. Why? Because the whole system is unfocused, blurred, off target, pretentious and in the end an obstacle to getting into SL, an obstacle to SL’s growth.

Should SL outsource the whole enchilada? Yes.
To who? To the myriad of interest groups that are now the backbone of SL, with economic interests and not.

Volunteering is over. Moderate sponsoring is the only way to cope with the new. How you want to shape it, I’ll leave that to the clouds.

Decebre212012 Aster

I'm predicting 2,000,000 in 48-72 hours in the rate of turn over right now. We picked up 100,000 in 24 hours November 15. 22,000 in 3 hours afterwards.

Sativa Prototype

I've been looking for a place to unload my thoughts on Second Life for a long time, and this post seems a good enough spot. First off let me say that I have been a paying member of Second Life since September of 04, and I have been playing "online" computer games since the were just text, MUDs, MUSHes, etc. starting in the late eighties. Warning this is over 2 years worth of built up posting, proceed with caution.

I'm going to start by attempting to show that what is happening now is nothing new, it is the way of these "systems".

In the beginning, there was text. Second Life is a graphical MUSH, Multi User Shared Hallucination, a "game" with no goal other than to allow users to create and explore the system as it develops and mold the system to creative views. Everything you are doing today in Second Life was been done in the eighties, nineties and even still today, with just text, Linden Labs were one of the first to strap a graphics engine onto it, thats all. In that realm the roleplaying MUD was king. There were so many different MUDs, and still today, using the rpg system under various engines that it was and still is staggering. The MUSH systems, not so many, yet the MUSH/MUCK/MOO systems had smaller, tighter communities. LambdaMOO, TinyTIM and FurryMUCK were, in my opinion, the kings. Others tired, but those three persisted and grew where others failed. If you would like further info on these please feel free to use the google.

Clock you shuck

Out of the text realm into the graphically rich future what has changed? Nothing, RPG games still top the charts, and its really quite easy to see why. Most "gamers" just want to have fun, they enjoy the challenge of facing a system and defeating it. In Second Life there is no built in challenge beyond what you place on yourself, Second Life is to close to real life. You can do anything in Second Life to a degree, the same can be said about, well, life. People seeking entertainment do not want that, I see it as going to a movie, yet you must decide who the actors are, the plot and storyline, etc. Sure its a great creative project, sure to get those thoughts flowing, but most people just want to blow off steam, relax after a hard day, kick back and BE entertained, not think of ways to entertain themselves. You say you like dislike the "grind" of MMORPGs? We were doing this in text as well, show of hands for those who remember killing spiders for blues before you went to grind. Nothing has changed in these games, nothing, except the input to create the vision, before well written descriptions, now bump and specular mapping with shiny water.

So if these systems are still unchanged why do we think Second Life will ever be like WoW in terms of numbers? History has shown us for the past twenty some odd years that the clear winner is RPGs, Linden Labs is not going to pull those users to their system, no matter how many free accounts or other incentives they throw at them.

Yes yes, I know you can create an rpg inside Second Life, but even if Second Life ran smoothly do you think a small group of people working relatively, or completely, for free could develop a hit like World of Warcraft, sure they can pull off an rpg that is fun to those who like Second Life, but you would have to show me some hard numbers as to how many people are coming to Second Life, right now, to play the various ingame rpgs to sway my thoughts on this subject. I've looked at the various ones in Second Life, mega kudos for the attempt and for keeping them going, but you are at best a Meridian 59 killer. Hey I here Meridian 59 is free now btw, I was on server 107 when it was going back in the early 90's, shoot out to the people, I was Misery and Sharky for those who might read this.

So whats the damn point dude? Second Life will never be able to draw the numbers of rpgs, so stop worrying about it. Second Life will not be the king of Web 2.0, and I swear to god if I hear one more person compare Web 2.0 and Second Life I am going to start killing kittens and posting the pics in world on rented 5m plots.

Second Life COULD be the best damn place for creatives and people who enjoy a creative outlet for their free time, yet Linden Labs is killing it. Yes LL, you are killing it, and if you cannot see that I do not know what to tell you. My only thought is that perhaps you are looking for an easy out by raising enough hype about Second Life to sell it out to the first group with enough cash and limited vision to come along. Prove me wrong, but I'm just calling it like I see it.

You have an engine that is getting older by the day, it was outdated long ago, and you have to my knowledge no plans on updating it anytime in the near future, a Web 2.0 dream running on Web 1.0 tech. The next gen of hardware will be able to run much better graphics than you will ever be able to push with your engine, in 2 more years what do you think people will be saying about it, how about 5? You have some of the worst support, worst, and it is not the support peoples fault, people are only as good as their training in the task, so look to the trainer to find fault. You provide "enhancements" and updates to a system that cannot handle the tasks currently assigned to it, and all the "rah rahing" about how good Second Life is will never be able to explain to Joe Consumer why he can play World of Warcraft smoothly, run through larger "grids" full of people, yet lags so badly that he cannot move when in a club with more than 15 people in Second Life. Yes I know that Second Life has to push all the data, yes I know that WoW stores a lot of its data on your system, do you think the casual game player, the person who just wants to get on and have a good time, cares?

How to save Second Life.
You must fix the lag issue, period, this have be said since I started playing in 04, so those of you new people complaining, get in line. I don't care what it takes, new engine, faster servers with better drives, you must fix this. If you are serious about making Second Life the best experience it can be this must be fixed. People want to congregate, people want to go to places and hang out, they cannot do this as the system currently stands with any degree of size. And I have no idea why or when the current trend of "fuck the customer, where are they going to go?" came into business, but it is not only in your sector. I know you have a pile of complaints from people so high you can't see over it, but you are in a service oriented industry, what did you expect, to be marched around like gods, we are the customer, we are not happy with the product, want us to shut up? Fix the product, period.


You must stop worrying about the number of users, pimping yourself like you invented the system and worry about the system. Sure people have swayed some companies to try and advertise inworld, sure you are seeing a rise in population and glory in the press, but how are those retention numbers? People come to Second Life, they either get it or are intrigued enough to stay, or they hit the wall of lag and run back to the safety of their lag free rpgs. I'm sure if people could actually explore the world a bit more without it being such a hassle they would. Touting numbers like this articles original premise of Second Life to hit 2 million this year when on a thursday night, prime time in the US you have 10,000 users online is a joke.

You must help new users, you must explain to them the basics of this system. Still to this day you have created no manual to users beyond the scripting guide. I haven't tried to look at the ingame help in a while but last I tired it did not work. Here is a tip, don't tell them I told you to do this, search the web for TinyTIM, fire up a telnet client and go there, go through their new user help, its a walkthrough, it is really done quite well, it holds your attention, its humorous, hell they even get into the basics of building. You must provide the new users you are drawing in with some sort of help system that is better than the current one. I was ingame last night and was showing a two day old around to places that aren't in the most popular list that I feel are great examples of what is good about Second Life, Gibson, Midnight City, FuturePerfect, Pixel Mode, Devils Moon, Taco, Yadni's Junkyard, Cardova Sandbox, etc. Great builds, they have things to explore beyond the shopping aspect, and the best sandbox to see weird shite, I show these and other places to new people I meet who actually seem to be looking for more than sex, I also buy each new person who sticks around through the tour and doesn't run off to go clubbing a Multigadget from Timeless's shop. Now this person did not know how to make landmarks and actually had another user tell her it couldn't be done, did not know how to interact with objects very well, did not know how to purchase items, how to see who had created an item, etc. They did know how to fly and how to find the most popular list and teleport to lag pit clubs, and I find this to be a common theme with new users. So most new people we can assume come to SL, create their character, go clubbing. Is that what you want SL to be known for? And even if you do have a great event that is not dance/sex related chances are you might not get to see it because the sim will fill up, see item one.

Second Life has got to stop being so much about the money. Its funny that now there is an actual rpg like aspect to the system, the quest for cash. Show of hands of the people here who can, in the real world, go about and buy stuff at whim, big ticket items, at their leisure. Show of hands of those who can't. Second Life is starting to become that way and that is just fucking sad. Said new person from last night asked me how to make money. I explained to her that you can buy Linden from ingame, or upgrade your account and you will receive an "allowance", and then I explained to her the reality of what Second Life has given birth to, the cyberwhore. Now I have been playing these type games for a long long time, and never have I seen this, it might have been around, but I never saw it. Sure we had cybersex, but Second Life has given birth to the first game I know of where people pursue sex as a way to make cash, both ingame and selling the Linden they make for real cash, perhaps its done in WoW and the like, but I have never seen or heard of it, but in Second Life, hell its advertised. Funny how we never hear about the Ho 2.0. In the text realm there was no need for cash unless it was an rpg, most MUSHes used cash as a limit to building, each "room" and such cost money, but the game gave you cash as you walked around, an incentive to EXPLORE the world, what a concept! Also if you do happen to check out TinyTIM, milk Sketch for me for old times sake, you can get some cash that way.

Stop bringing in real world companies. Yes this is a user created world, and I love nothing more than to see original creations by users in the game, real world companies and their creations are a threat to this and if you cannot see this I suggest you go to any small town in the US and look at what Wal-Mart has done to small business, its been in the news a lot lately, would think you would have heard of it. We the subscriber are your customer, not them, we are your long term bread and butter if you want to have a user created system, if you want an advertising based system then go with them, it's your ball after all.

I know this was a bit of a rant, and many thanks to those of you who stuck through to the end, but this is from a person who wants to see Second Life succeed, who has been involved in this community and the greater online community since it started, and is I would say the normal customer of Second Life who you never here from, until today, yet I am not going to sit here and cheer every time a bug gets fixed or a new article comes out saying we invented sliced bread. Second Life is a subset of a system where people can waste some free time and have fun, period. If you think otherwise you are only going to make your fall to reality that much harder. Instead of focusing on either how bad or how good Second Life is perceived, lets actually work on making the system better.

Sativa Prototype

Gad, please ignore my typos ;)

SignpostMarv Martin

@ starcomber Vig:

Volunteering is over. Moderate sponsoring is the only way to cope with the new.

Volunteering is not over. Yes, it's in a mess, yes it's neglected by Linden Lab, but it's far from dead. It's one of the things I'm frustrated by is the lethargy of the system.

@ Sativa Prototype:

Yes yes, I know you can create an rpg inside Second Life, but even if Second Life ran smoothly do you think a small group of people working relatively, or completely, for free could develop a hit like World of Warcraft

Hmm.....

A free game made by a small group of people working for free.....

One with equal or greater popularity than the environment that it was built upon....

Can you say... Counter-Strike ?

I don't care what it takes, new engine, faster servers with better drives, you must fix this.

That's what they're aiming for with the Class 5 servers (and later generations as well), but it is too little too late, especially with no upgrade path for anyone already on a Class 4 server (I swear there's some Class 3 or below servers still connected to the grid).

Now this person did not know how to make landmarks and actually had another user tell her it couldn't be done

This is what I was saying about having to risk being rude and eavesdropping on conversations in order to help people.

did not know how to interact with objects very well, did not know how to purchase items, how to see who had created an item, etc. They did know how to fly and how to find the most popular list and teleport to lag pit clubs, and I find this to be a common theme with new users.

Blame the insufficient new-resident experience for that one.

Second Life has given birth to, the cyberwhore

Actually, I would blame MSN & Yahoo for supporting webcam streaming live video over the internet.

Stop bringing in real world companies. Yes this is a user created world, and I love nothing more than to see original creations by users in the game, real world companies and their creations are a threat to this and if you cannot see this I suggest you go to any small town in the US and look at what Wal-Mart has done to small business, its been in the news a lot lately, would think you would have heard of it.

Actually, with the current wave of corporate invasion, small business is kicking the ass of big business- even internal to SL.

Need 4 Speed still have a higher traffic rating than Nissan (8355 vs 4402 respectively), Pierce Portocarrero does work that's more popular than Silver Bells & Golden Spurs, Aimee Weber gets hired by the United Nations.....

Yes, as time goes on the tide may turn, but for now, the corporate invasion and their tourist cavalry are being fought off quite well by the indigenous Residents of SL.

Tateru Nino

"I'm predicting 2,000,000 in 48-72 hours in the rate of turn over right now. We picked up 100,000 in 24 hours November 15. 22,000 in 3 hours afterwards."

We had a sudden surge in numbers. MTV, GMA and copybot news landing everywhere. We have our floods and surges (though slashdot doesn't even create a noticeable bump anymore), and it's more likely we'll hit that 2 million sooner than predicted than after.

starcomber Vig

Tateru, you may be right again on this. Copybot is big in the news and set to influence registrations to an upsurge at least as big as the ID breach in recent past. Xmas's coming, Santa-loves-noobies :)

SignPost Marv, I allowed myself an emphatic closure which brings perhaps a lack of objectivity to the whole point but still it stands, I honestly believe: the system needs to refocus on disseminated, rhizomatic, moderately sponsored action. How fair, how much sanctionable, how much wrapped up around LL's Guidelines can be object of a large debate. But there is no question that is the only way.

Torley

Re: "If you want to look at that at year's end, then in 45 more days, nine hundred thousand people will have silently logged out of Second Life, with a WTF expression, never to return. They tasted the fruit and found it bitter indeed."

I do wonder who leaves and comes back long later, say a year, or two years? Or perhaps those are uncomfortable times for those seeking fast answers.

Tateru Nino

"never" of course is an arbitrarily long, but finite time in human terms.

Some of them will be back...eventually. Some of them are people who are trying things again after a first stab at it in our prehistory. Some will probably go to other worlds. Some to none at all.

Eric Rice

Torley: While my current account is a bit over a year old, my original account (which I have back, yay) is over 2 and a half.

The new user experience, hardware requirements and such was so awful, I just forgot about SL. Some of my friends forgot about it until they read a news story about it.

I'm seeing two versions Second Life emerging: Second Life the World and Second Life the Software (SLW/SLS).


SignpostMarv Martin

It's not so much two versions of software, as having the one set of software, and Linden Lab have a grid everyone can log into, but you can easily teleport between other grids- http://slurl.com/sl.example.com/Example/x/y/z/ etc.

Gwyneth Llewelyn

starcomber, one day, someone at LL, probably someone in care of the "new resident experience" (*pokes at Jeska*) or the "volunteer programmes" (*pokes at Pathfinder*), will wake up, take a deep breath, log in as an alt or be invisible while watching what happens in the Help Islands or on the Live Help system.

They'll be there with a notepad and a pen, taking notes. And then after a month or so, they'll patiently ask to all those people "not getting it" why they left Second Life (a few of them are often helpful enough to explain why).

And then they'll come to the same conclusion as you (and Tateru). Things are simply not working as they should. SL might scale well technologically, first to a million users, then to two millions, and very likely to a hundred millions... but... the human resources can't keep up any more.

My own "emergency procedures" would start simply by restricting free technical support to Premium members. This would mean drastically reducing the number of calls to 1/6th of the current ones — ie. setting back the clock a year or so, when we had just 150-200,000 users and things were "barely" starting to get out of hand.

People who don't pay anything won't have any argumentation to complain against not getting anything in return :) Understanding that is the first step in dealing with the issue — "there is no such thing as a free lunch". Put in other words, paying customers should not be paying for freeloaders to completely absorb LL's resources.

The second step, of course, is to outsource the whole "new user orientation" experience. There are so many possible ways to do so. With a bit of evangelising effort, you'd be able to get the companies working now to bring more virtual presences into SL to have these sponsor the orientation areas, and their own "live help" system. Imagine that when you logged in, you'd get a choice of what orientation island you'd wish to go. "Let's see... should I try IBM's, Microsoft's, Sun's, Dell's...? ... or rely instead on Harvard's? Ah, there is also an orientation island run by residents — let's try that one."

For the privilege of getting new residents routed to *your* orientation island, you'd pay two fees — one for the space, another to get listed on LL's site as an "alternative" orientation island. Thus, another source of income for Linden Lab.

On the other hand, companies easily spending a million US dollars on their virtual presence would very likely pay "Sponsored Mentors" a few L$ for them to help "their" newbies. And these would be trained properly — not the current mess of "if you've been around more than 60 days, you qualify as a Mentor". Not at all — RL companies sponsoring helpers would definitely ensure the quality of those.

But very likely these companies would not have time and motivation to do their own training and quality assurance. They would hire SL groups instead to do the helping bits. And these would, in turn, compete among themselves to provide the better services. Better than that – this would be an alternate way of earning some L$ beyond dancing on a casino or sitting on a camping chair.

Linden Lab would not need to spend a single cent on this. As a matter of fact, they could release the 60 or so orientation/help islands they have — and place them in the hands of private groups instead. All they would need to do is to give a few guidelines on what an "orientation experience" should be — not much, since it's prety obvious these days that LL has completely lost their magic touch. The orientation island in 2006 looks the same as in early 2004. It is totally and completely inadequate. And no matter how often residents (mostly now former volunteers!) present LL with detailed specifications and documentation on what exactly an orientation island *should* look like, LL is deaf to all pleas. With 14,000 new users per day, who can blame them, if 1,400 are still going to stay, in spite of everything?

There is no "SL community" anymore. LL has understood that very well. There are *lots* of communities in SL instead. And people, when joining for the first time, should get a *choice*. I have seen pictures of a few games where the equivalent of the orientation island is deeply sponsored by all sorts of groups and companies. They're another source of potential income for LL — and it also means less Liaisons.

Why doesn't LL implement *anything* except a model that barely worked well for 10,000 users, and clearly is impossible to deal with 1.5 million.

I have no answer to that, except for stubborness, idealism, and simply don't caring any more — and, with 14,000 a day, perhaps one can understand why it's not a priority...

Eloise

One of the implicit, but often overlooked things is the expectations produced amongst mentors. If you look up mentoring, it's about pairs of people X mentors Y. X may also mentor Z, alpha, bravo, charlie etc. but generally speaking NOT at the same time. I tend to avoid HI these days because you just can't mentor like that at any time of night and day. You're lucky if you're only mentoring 10 people at once.

There is a job where we do that IRL of course... it's called teacher with children and trainer in work. But that has different things associated with it, like times and structure.

Mentoring is the *right* answer to introducing people to SL I think. I still a mentor although I avoid HI: I tend to find the time I spend on the main grid I meet more than enough new folks and end up mentoring them in a situation where it is mentoring them rather than herding them that it cuts into the time I'm willing to consider spending on any of the help islands.

That doesn't, of course, mean there is an easy answer. Picking up 100,000 new residents in 24h would require several thousand mentors. Let's make some estimates: 50% of the people that log in can't read the minimum specs, can't get the bandwidth etc. and so leave before asking for help. Although Tateru did insane hours, let's pretend you can mentor for 8 hours a day (that makes it longer than a full time job in Europe by law). Oh, and 7 days a week of course. In an ideal SL you mentor one at a time. Let's say it takes on average 2 hours to get someone comfortable enough to move on. (Of all the estimates that's the one I feel is weakest, it's often closer to 8 hours, but there you go.) So, each mentor manages 4 a day, we need 12,500 mentors. That's assuming no repeat business (and there most definitely IS repeat business).

So, there's about 1,000 mentors. Even if we're all active (which we're not) and all active only with brand new residents on HI and OI (which we're not), and we're all prepared to make it a full time job and more(which we're not) - we're about 8% of the size we should be to do the job properly. Maybe that 100k is an unusual peak, although it won't be if we carry on like this... let's pretend it was, but this time next month it's normal. If you want the mentors to be treading water AND mentoring, you need to recruit about 12,000 more in a month...

Interfect Sonic

Live help certainly needs more volunteers. I was on the line with them for 15 minutes with no response. Live Help is suposed to be faster than phone support. People shouldn't be on hold.

Tateru Nino

The problem with bulking the numbers in any of the volunteer groups is an issue of quality. In the past the groups have taken on a lot of people quickly, and that just hasn't worked well. More harm than good and all that.

Eloise: Yes, everyone's an individual. Some people only need a little help. Some need a lot. Some only /want/ a little help, regardless of how much they need. An advantage is that you can often handle several at once.

After initial contact, though, it's nice to be able to hand them off to a longer-term mentor. A guide who will look after them for a time, until they find their feet. The 'first contact' people can rarely afford to do that. People need help right away, and if they don't get the assistance they need within their expectations of a 'reasonable' amount of time, they go.

Why do I bother at all about retention numbers, you might wonder? Because everyone is unique. Everyone has the opportunity to bring something to SL. Skills, talents, philosophy, personal outlook, knowledge, or just general coolness. It enriches us all.

SL's not for everyone, but when we lose someone who would otherwise be a good match with SL, we /all/ lose.

Eloise

I suck at politics. I have these pesky attachments to things like truth, precision, statistics with confidence intervals, clearly spelt out assumptions.

I whole-heartedly agree that recruiting 12,000 mentors in the next month is undesireable. There are a number of assumptions in my numbers, and they're all up for debate - at least they are there to debate! It's *a* solution to the numbers that I've used, it's possibly the least desirable one of the lot: getting rid of mentors completely might just be better.

What I hope it will do is give those people that can think and reason, and are in a position to think and make recommendations about "should we do something about the current situation?" a set of numbers to use. Sure, plug your own numbers in to my assumptions. Expecting volunteers to give up 56 hours a week (even on average) is incredibly unrealistic and in the list of assumptions. Hoping that they can mentor in the true meaning - a one-to-one relationship is also unrealistic, but in there too.

Let's be nice... I'll trade you an average of helping four people at once in the environment of HI (you'll be lucky to get that few as we both know, but if there are 20 people going at it at once, it's very hard to actually check if you are helping 20 of them, and sometimes hard to help one through the floods of chat) for a volunteer being expected to give up on average 2 hours a day, 7 days a week. The undersupply of mentors stays the same. Is it any wonder they're burning out?

Something needs to change. The one bit of politics I have learnt: present a foul tasting solution as the "obvious" one. People won't like it and anyone worth having in the role will look for something better. They'll also feel they own it, it's their idea, and so they'll strive to make it work better than if you give it to them. I don't know who is leading the "aggressive measures" to improve things, but I sure hope they're worth having in the role and just maybe I've given them an extra bullet to shoot the naysayers and get the job done *right.*

starcomber Vig

I am glad that clouds at times not only move but also take shape nicely. It is up to LL to cross the line and ignite them with some of their famous grenades.

Albeit delicate to touch, the problem as defined finds its obvious solution within the lines of Gwyneth's post almost entirely. I'd re-emphasize from that post that:

1 external commercial entities will drag from the existing, experienced, in-world resources, in their own best interest. Where this does not apply existing "orientators" have plenty of room to position themselves as consultants towards these entities

2 an orientation-experience subset, definied by LL along with a small group of experienced resident Mentors, must be delivered within-the-package

3 such system (with an eye on consumer's psychology as opposed to small-community-citizenship's mind) can rely on localized hubs like the Help Island(s) but spawns its values on the streets and on disseminated locations. Consider the attention-span of new users is well below 6 seconds, as defined by ISO 9126 for the web. A Mentor dealing with "consumers", as you easily define recent registrants, will need to employ a number of techniques that are not in most Mentor's book. For example, a Mentor's figure is by definition a paternal/maternal figure, as seen by his/her avatar's aspect and style. The approach is always comportamental. Mentors need to understand that their first answer aims at reversing this relationship. It is not by accident that I mentioned before first question: "what do I do now?" first answer: "what do you want to do?". This aspect is crucial with registrants that will skip you within 2-3 seconds.

4 if Premium has to have exclusive access to orientation and help put a set of basic NCI classes in the package, funded with Premium money :)

What ensures that such a spreader stays ethical?

1 competition
2 group policy enforced and aggregated within an external agency

LiveHelp, Eloise, is part of the client and as such LL's responsibility. So, yes, I agree embracing Fordism re this particular matter as a consequence of #4.

Tateru Nino

The only two sensible solutions that I see are for Linden Lab to seriously take charge of the volunteers, or get disband them and let someone else do it. Neither of these have much in the way of near-term effectiveness.

Steve Read

Just a short note. This whole thread, article and comments is an inspiration to a newcomer like me.

I did "get it" - I spent about 2 hours on the intro stuff before going in-world.

I love it, I love the ingenuity, friendliness, helpfulness that I have encountered in my short time there.

Things do need to change - perhaps you should all move to Europe the world is a lot less crowded when you others are all asleep - and you still meet nice friendly people (oh yes and some nasties too - but whats new!).

Do have a good moan, do hope that little by little the experience starts to improve. I will be there (at least I expect to be, on current showing).

I read around a lot of stuff and I recognise so many of your names here from reading all over the place - hang on in there, I need you, we all need you. All those suggestions, so much to do, but so much that can be done, lets do it.

Yumi Murakami

I've introduced quite a lot of people to Second Life. Of them, about half have stayed active. Of those who quit, the vast majority later told me that they did so because of lag, heavy machine usage for (relatively) poor graphics, or other performance issues.

Often new folks do ask me "What do I do here?" and my usual reply is to ask them what they'd most like to do. And usually at that point, they flounder. I think that many of them feel that they are giving Second Life a try, to see if they like it or not; but this is really, really hard when the underlying ethos of Second Life is that if you don't like it, you can try and change it until you do. But of course, you have to have the skills (but maybe you can develop them) and then other people have to be interested. As a helper I like to be encouraging about this but obviously it's not possible to give guarantees, but the result is that they are left with no idea how to judge SL, or will only really know how good it is when they see if their project which would take 4 months to build takes off. Unfortunately, it is then in competition for their real life time with other activities or games that they can and have judged to be good right now, so it loses out.

The statistic that has always terrified me is that upwards of 60% of people who competed in my New Citizens Show and Tell at NCI are either no longer active in SL or no longer creating anything. These were people who were keen to make things and show them off, and who you would have thought would have been keen to stay in SL and develop that, but they didn't. Strangely enough there was almost no correlation between how well they did in the Show and Tell and how likely they were to stay on. Several of them were exceptionally talented, but instead of developing it further, they just disappeared.

The only clue I got to that was from another friend who I met through Show and Tell and who now runs a successful business in SL. They commented to me once that they enjoyed running their business but it wasn't what they had planned to focus on. Equally I had another friend tell me she was giving up a role-play related activity she enjoyed and focusing on building instead because "it's the only thing people pay attention to here".

A few weeks back I decided to try out one of the few remaining classic text-based MUD games (Achaea, for anyone who is interested), and although it was tedious, the feeling and idea that I could eventually get the same abilities and control over the world as the highest ranking other players was suddenly very exhilarating, and I think some "game" players will actually go in expecting this, whereas in Second Life you usually have to accept that this isn't possible (most people will never build as well as Starax, or design a land as big as Anshe, or make games like Kermitt, and even if they can make one of those things, they'll lose out because of network effect) and I think a lot of people aren't happy with that, but that can't possibly be removed from Second Life without destroying it.

Or can it? One thought I did have when people were talking on the forums about corporations coming into Second Life was that people tend to more naturally seperate them from other people. The excitement I felt on Achaea wasn't dulled by the thought that I couldn't ever control the world as much as the game administrators, for example, and I'm sure the typical player on Everquest or Guild Wars doesn't feel that they're limited by the fact that someone else got to draw the landscapes and design the monsters and they don't. So the logic would be that, if content creation is going to be way over the heads of the majority of players anyway (and the results would suggest it is), then we may as well haul it up right into the stratosphere (by corporatising and professionalising it), so that it doesn't influence players' own estimations of their role in the world anymore. But does corporatising and professionalising content creation constitute "destroying" Second Life? It feels to me like it would, and I'm sure it feels that way to quite a few people (based on what I saw on the forums), but who knows if it feels that way to everyone?

r-r

It's been a weird week as a new user...

i guess i've never been into role playing at all but as a long time geek i was drawn to SL because of the market factor, the copybot stories, etc. I thought that it made SL into something that it is not. I was hoping for a new communication platform that could have some advantages over the web (I'm really into alternative protocols). But unless you see avatars and movement as a real improvement over chat well you end up within a world where casinos doll playing seems to be the rule. I'm a bit disapointed and i'm still going to log in from time to time but i really can't get the point beside trying to make money off of people illusions and dolls game.

I was also at the townhall meeting and i really don't understand why people would object to the ability to enhance their clients to copy objects, i mean it's all virtual, get over it, the same rule musn't apply... anyway, i'm very impressed overall by the whole architecture and i'm sure i've missed something...at least, i hope.

Mitch

I created another acount today just for nothing! I mean I wanted to play in browser (firefox) but was redirected to download software.
If rest of users make it once or twice to enter that "beta", no wonder that LL will hit 2 million soon. But why? Whats the purpose of cheat people this way? to have new logins ?
Information is very very poor!

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