After a couple years of development, Linden Lab is unveiling its revamped "first hour" user experience today. Now after new Residents create an account, they'll get an updated suite of base avatars to choose from, then get sent to two new isles accessible only to noobs and Lindens: Welcome Island and Discovery Island. The Lindens were nice enough to give me an advance look last night.
My quick take: It's a definite improvement to the existing on-ramp experience, and should improve user retention rates to some degree. As you would expect from a Linden executive team counting veterans of design-centric companies like Adobe, TiVo, and Pixar, it's a sleek and streamlined presentation. At the same time, I think it still doesn't address many of the fundamental frictions noobs have with Second Life, and the overall result is a beautiful frame added around those more vexing UI issues. Or to put it another way: It feels like walking into an Apple Store that's selling Microsoft products.
Maybe I'm being overly skeptical. Let me show some highlights from the experience, and you can judge the results for yourself:
The Welcome Island is a series of sphere-shaped instructional rooms connected by a narrow pathway; this pretty much insures the user will never feel lost or confused about what to do next. That's a big improvement. The original Orientation Island very much looked like a tropical island, and it wasn't uncommon for noobs to fall off the trail and wander into the ocean. However, some traces of the early Island still remain in the new user experience, like bizarre cultural artifacts of a lost time. Since 2003, Lindens have used an object resembling a talking parrot to teach noobs how to text chat. The parrot has migrated over to the new orientation, but given the setting, he sorta looks like he's been kidnapped by aliens:
There's a number of human bots with basic chat functions, as here. Maybe they'd serve better at this point than poor old Polly? Anyway, onward:
In my experience, teaching a new user how to zoom the camera on a specific object has been the most frustrating part of an SL tutorial, requiring them to do three things simultaneously. (It's roughly as aggravating as teaching someone to drive stick shift.) The new user experience has not changed the focus UI. You still need to hold the Alt key down while also holding the left mouse button down while also moving your mouse in the desired direction within a three dimensional axis. However, now at least you have some pretty fish to practice zooming on:
After passing through the teaching nodes for basic avatar movement and interaction, the new user has the option of proceeding to Discovery Island, an attractive, open air artificial island with video screens arranged around the edges:
The videos continue the teaching process (often narrated by the every-enthusiastic Torley Linden) -- how to search for content, how to use voice chat and IM, and so on. (I started one video on buying a Premium account, then wandered over to a communication tutorial video, and wound up with both videos playing at the same time.) As you can see from the screencap below, the tutorials get pretty involved, and it's doubtful new users will retain much of the firehose of information thrown at them:
PR guy Pete Linden tells me that in closed trials, this new first hour experience has significantly improved retention and usage rates, and I believe him. I tried this new onboarding without the help of Linden assistants who'd presumably be hanging around to offer advice. In any case, my opinion is not what counts -- it's Second Life's concurrency and monthly unique user rates that matter. Now that this new first hour experience is up, I'll be watching to see where those numbers go. My guess is we'll see a small but not insignificant increase in both. But from my view, big adoption numbers will require a few more iterations.