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Prokofy Neva

The Chronic Problems with SL Retention

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I was interested to see in the transcript of the recent Town Hall er Lab Chat that Ebbe answered a question about the community gateways and retention:

As you mention, we are working again to modify and modernise our welcoming island and learning island with more instrumentation in place so we can have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t work and how it more quickly iterates on the experience to further improve it.

We did a bunch of testing with a number of welcoming islands created by the communities in Second Life. Unfortunately, none of them out-performed our Linden Lab versions; but it was good to get that tested at least. And if someone has something brilliant, let us know, we can do more testing; but so far nothing has been able to beat our own welcome and learning islands.

I wasn't at all surprised to read this, because this is EXACTLY what the Lab scientists discovered nearly 10 years ago when they had Community Gateways that they featured for newbies upon landing, and the reason why they eventually retired this program. So it was re-discovering the wheel, but perhaps it is a wheel that needs re-discovering every now and then.

Except...then, as now, I believe they didn't test LONG ENOUGH. These tests usually run 30 or 90 or even 120 days but that isn't enough time, in my view. I think they need 6 months to 12 months. The reason is that often when people try SL, they leave instantly because they don't have a strong enough graphics card. That was certainly my experience, the experience of co-workers, and the experience of numerous tenants I've talked to. But often in the organic scheme of things,people get new computers, and then they remember that graphics card eater called Second Life, and they come back. Or they read about SL in the news and they remember and come back. To be sure, this may not be a large percentage of the try-and-fly-away people, but it's some.

I continue to maintain that the biggest problem not only the Linden entry points but the resident-run entry points have is the failure to allow ad billboards, and the failure to have clear signage that can take people to events.

Somehow, despite all the high-powered programming and designing thinking that has gone into SL from every company in the metaverse, whether Adobe or Google, nobody has been able to do a simple thing like create the events or destinations boards with really nice, clear, quick loading graphics and a link to click and teleport to. They haven't figured out how to take things that load slowly in the viewer and put them inworld to be more compelling.

I remember years ago feeling simply defeated by going to the welcome area and seeing it was run by the usual sandbox nerds whose idea of fun was to put up a huge spinning thingie saying "F10 is now in the Client" -- something that only other sandbox nerds would understand. 

What they needed to do was to say CLICK HERE TO GO TO THIS FUN CLUB or CLICK HERE FOR A WINTER WONDERLAND or CLICK HERE TO GO SHOPPING.

Instead...they forced people into a tutorial about how to build with prims, something that 90% of people had no interest in. Imagine, if you arrived at Grand Central Station for the first time in your life, eager to go to a Broadway show, see the Empire State Building, ride a carriage around Central Park, take a boat around Manhattan, and someone shunted you off to a lecture about how bricks are made and cemented together in New York. 

At one point, the Lindens did put up some teleport boards of the sort I propose and the Resident Infohubs (of which I am one manager) were part of it, but they didn't follow up. One problem is that they didn't have load balancing. They insisted on having random landmark givers that often randomly sent people to the very same venue and then piled up and become impossible to enter in the belief that "random is better" -- instead of just having serial processing to avoid overload of each sim. It's amazing how math nerd prejudices can sometimes harm business. I saw this play out for years. I even invented a "Newbie Distributor" system which was merely a serial landmark giver but no Linden would ever deploy it. Insane. There wasn't a large enough "math sample" to have random distribution work its "magic" but they stubbornly persisted.

There's another problem at the heart of this, however.

The Lindens and their insider groups need to get over their allergy to commerce in the worst way, and allow ad boards in the infohubs and welcome areas. They can have rules about these; they need not become hardcore porn or ugly crap. They could even just use their own existing pre-approved Destinations.  But allow them they must; otherwise it's death and lack of retention at these entry points.

But what I would really rather that they did is allow people to buy ad space in these areas. The people willing to pay for such ad space are people willing to bother with newbies, giving them help lessons or incorporating them into communities.

Ebbe also talked about how complicated it was to track people and what laws there are on privacy and so forth and so on. I couldn't help feeling this is all over complexified. First of all, with inworld tools like visitor logs, you are merely tracking avatar names, not realy people, so you are not invading their privacy. Sure, if you spammed even avatar accounts with ad messages that would be a violation of the TOS, but you don't have to be that crude and aggressive -- you can have ad teleport ads and when people then voluntarily come to a venue you can offer them information or landmarks or groups, which is what already happens.

I don't have any fancy tools to track customers nor the time and capacity to do anything with this information so I don't keep it, but I just eyeball it at my little level to understand the basics. Do the newbies who come into the landing area and get free Lindens from the money tree ever buy anything or rent anything? If a newbie does rent, does he then graduate to larger parcels? If he graduates to larger parcels, does he ever buy anything more expensive in the store? If not, why not? What is in his way? Whenever people refund, I always ask them: did you have any problems? Often I found they did, and it's a fixable one, like they didn't realize they had to keep a group tag on while decorating.

At the infohubs I operate I try to ad these boards I'm proposing -- say, a Hair Fair or a Lost & Found event or some kind of special event like the recent Dias de les Muertos at the Latin American Musem which was really one of the best RL things of that type I've seen in SL. But I'm only one person, working part time with only a bit of help from a few others. Imagine what paid professional staff could do once they got over their allergy to commerce and fear of favoritism which in fact only causes them to have more favoritism in the end.

I guess I'm not understanding why this isn't possible to do with the better tools and capacity that the Lab has, and I don't agree that their findings represent the last word on retention in terms of their infohubs being "better" -- I think they need 6-12 month research.

Ideally, they would also look at which group logs on more and spends more. Maybe they need to obtain consent and offer people a small reward like a coupon or Linden dollars if they take part in consumer research, but this is all doable.

Years ago the Lindens tried to bring in podcasters; they tried to bring in Suicide Girls; they tried to bring in people who watched certain TV shows for lesbians or crime buffs; and it all flopped because it all required staff management, like an online Club Med. 

The reality is, nobody has to wait for the Lindens to wire down SLURL-keeping and all the other things Ebbe talked about. Nothing can stop you from putting a SLURL on your website and roping in your friends or customers from real life in any way you wish, via email, phone calls, whatever. They may pass through a Linden welcome area, but you can show them how to exit out of that quickly into your own realm. Few people do this because of the main obstacles to virtual worlds:

o avatarization -- people are made uncomfortable by "investing their consciousness into a toy," as Will Wright put it, and they see no reason for putting on a costume just to have a webinar

o fear of failure/fear of sexual harassment/fear of griefing -- bad press has done the work here and only better governance and management of the welcome areas could fix this, something LL has never wanted to invest in

o lack of things to do -- only some people know how to make their own fun with exploring or decorating or chatting with ohers. Most people want more stimulating entertainment arranged for them

I think these 3 factors are some of the key obstacles for virtual worlds, period, and that if Facebook succeeds in getting people to share their Oculus Rift experiences the way people share watching a videotape movie at their house, that still isn't a virtual world, and none of these three things will enter into the equation because it will still be a glorified TV show.

Virtual worlds will grow slowly, but they can only retain better when their managers tackle these three problems I just mentioned, which is in their capacity with political will, and also allow ads in the welcome areas.

 

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I wus gonna read all that and make a sensible, thoughtful reply...but, that would almost surely guarantee the time honoured gnarly Prok reply.

 Alas and alack, I have no answer. However, I am sure the Lindens are sweating under Ebbe's cracking whip to deliver the goods.

I wrote that last bit with a straight face, btw.

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Prok, I totally agree with what you're saying apart from people being able to place their own ads at the info points. It would definitely become a magnet for webcam girls and strip clubs IMO. There does need to be a link to destination guide LMs at the info hubs as noobies do wander aimlessly, not knowing the variety of what's on offer... I did start helping a few and showing them around SL, showing them where to get better skins and hair, but really, what's the point when they never log back in? LL doesn't make enough of a song and dance about the creative sims that imaginative people have built so for most of the masses that log into SL for the first time, they'll never know why we've been here 8, 9, 10 years.

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They have retention issues because other MMO's cost a one time 60 dollar fee (or less) and 15 a month to give you the same experience that you get in SL for 1000 and 300 a month.

And yes, that includes user created content.

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Seductive, my main point is that they MUST have ads or die, or at least not get better retention, and it's not one that I will sacrifice because of some putative concern about "web cams and strippers".

The ads in the search list are like that, and I hate them. Every day, I have to unclick "A" for "Adult" because the ads are so graphic and gross. I'd like to get rid of their view forever, but I can't, because of the way the system is -- if I want to wait on customers in Zindra and get to my land in Zindra, or any land set to "Adult" like an island, I can't shut off the view of the ugly ads on search because then I can't go to those sims, most of which are far more tasteful. HUGELY annoying.

But I just said that the ads for infohubs NEED NOT be stripper ads. The requirement can be that they simply have to be G-rated or M if they can stand it. It really isn't that much policing because there are only a few dozens infohubs, with capacity for perhaps 50 ads at each, so it's not the monster of content control someone might imagine -- the Lindens allowed at-will advertising for free and telehubs, the precursor to infohubs, and seldom had any problems with ugly or porno ads. There are actually a lot more people who want to advertise non-porn things.

The Lindens could, instead of fussing with large Gateway programs with all their moving parts and requirements, focus on ADS -- which ads to allow in or encourage so that people can TP from the landing areas to something fun, interesting, cool, whatever. Right now, the infohubs and landing areas are clogged with lifers/griefers who take up space and heckle newbies and make the places unwelcome. A newbie doesn't know where to get out of them. In fact the first thing I have in mine is HOW DO I GET OUT OF HERE because I hear that question a lot.

I don't think the answer to retention is to make people like you willing to help wear themselves out. It's true that it is an awful lot of work and explaining never to be rewarded when the person just never logs back in.

But that's why I think newbie retention shouldn't be handled by either Lindens, who have not proved good at it, or by helpers, who tend to do this only for reputational enhancement or to sling newbies landmarks to their own stores and their friends' stores.

It should be handled by those with a vested, market, profit motive to do this LABOUR of greeting and handling newbies. It's WORK! And it should be paid, and the incentive should be a business one. 

This obstacle remains because of a key psychological hindrance at the root of SL history -- the allergy to commerce in general, the distrust of businesses outside the Silicon Valley belt, the hatred, even of those who make profit instead of "alturistically" give away knowledge. All of this should be shunted aside because it's a killer -- Steve Jobs or Bill Gates did not make fortunes -- or great products for millions -- by being free helpers to other lost souls. They charged and got money. And that's how this has to be - ads that people buy, and people willing to recruit and help newbies to whatever it is they are selling.

If strip clubs are legal in SL in Zindra -- and they are -- then part of the menu of what is on offer has to be strip clubs. But that's not everything about SL, and there should be a wide range of ads from non-profit educational organizations to rentals and clubs and stores to history or game sims. No one learns about the richness of Second Life by listening to the Wall Sitters repeat strings of tag lines and noises.

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Prokofy Neva wrote:

Seductive, my main point is that they MUST have ads or die, or at least not get better retention, and it's not one that I will sacrifice because of some putative concern about "web cams and strippers".

At one point they did have this or similar to it. I seem to have tossed my screenshot of it, but what is today the destination guide was once also a series of billboards in the new avatar starting area.

I have this screenshot from what replaced it:



Now just imagine if with those 3 signs you see there instead where 3 specific locations in SL. In the screenshot I used to have, one of them was the once popular store "Bare Rose", one was a then popular dance club, and I forget what the other was.

This was back in 2010 or 2011 or so...

In the screnshot here, one of these boards caused the spot you see on the map to open up for me... but its been too long for me to remember how this one worked.

They had the idea of ads, but they long ago scrapped it. I do recall at the time wondering why they would ever take me to Bare Rose - as it, at least back then, had no freebies and no info on what was going on when I got there.

 

I personally think they should look at the MMO market in crafting a new user experience... A highly scripted "questline" for about 1-2 hours of "play" that caused you to do basic common things in the UI.

- This IS where they started, but as you noted, they did it all wrong by having that "questline" be about building with prims... and most users never do that.

They instead should have it be about doing some social things, wearing a new outfit, maybe using teleport and fly, sitting on some furniture and clicking some "common kinds of items" like a dance ball and a 'drink machine' (I dunno, I find those a lot, specially coffee giver items, but that's probably just me).

I'm sure we could all come up with our list of the '50 most common things one does in SL', compare them all, find what is truly common, and then create a simplified version of each for a short questline...

And at the END of that 'questline'... you'd get someone ready to 'teleport to somewhere busy' - and use a system that mixes your notion of ads with another that looks for spots that currently have 10+ people in them...

- Plus a final 'let me be alone' option that lets a person just go off on their own.

 

They might even do this as a "pick your path" adventure model... starting it out with 3 choices:

I want to know about socializing.

I want to know about exploring.

I want to know about gaming.

- and you or anyone could go back and run/rerun these at any time.

 

Socializing could run you through 5 tasks that teach you things like chatting, using dance balls, using an AO, and recognizing things you can click on to 'get info or do things'.

Exploring could have you go on a specially crafted 'hunt' to find 5 things that have clues to them - and thereby teach you about the map, flying, underwater, teleporting, etc. Exploring would take you through at least one LEA build, one linden realms, one old mainland mole build, and 2 sponsored places owned by residents.

Gaming could teach you how to use 'experience HUDs', how to use 'SL combat', how to wear a roleplay avatar, or whatever... Gaming should also take you to at least one resident sponsored 'roleplay' spot.

I think business and building should both NOT be on these lists because they're both better things a person should not do until they've been around long enough to have a feel for SL.

As for picking which resident builds got used for these things... you either let the newbie pick from a random list, pick from a paid-sponsor list, or select for them either random or paid-sponsor... (whatever seems fair here).

 

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Prokofy Neva wrote:

 

But I just said that the ads for infohubs NEED NOT be stripper ads. The requirement can be that they simply have to be G-rated or M if they can stand it.

If strip clubs are legal in SL in Zindra -- and they are -- then part of the menu of what is on offer has to be strip clubs.

Quoting this seperately so my two points can be debated seperately... :)

 

I actually think any paid ads should include the XXX stuff... BUT as an option. Present me a bilboard(s) and the option to select what kind of content I want to see it spam at me...

Some people do some to SL for the XXX. Quite a few actually. And they pay a lot of the bills around here. Its time to not be so ashamed of them that we cost the place revenue.

I do agree with the annoyance of the gross ads one sees in A... I'd love it if we had more nuance to the ratngs... But what bothers me a LOT more is I keep getting the top central ad on search to be the Southerner's flag of treason and genocide...

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Pussycat Catnap wrote:

They instead should have it be about doing some social things, wearing a new outfit, maybe using teleport and fly, sitting on some furniture and clicking some "common kinds of items" like a dance ball and a 'drink machine' (I dunno, I find those a lot, specially coffee giver items, but that's probably just me).


I understand none of you have started new alts recently since you're not familiar with the newcomer entry sims Linden Lab are using nowadays.

What Pussycat describes here is pretty much what Linden Lab have tried to do with the Learning Islands and Social Islands. The haven't completely succeeded. With no pedagogues at hand for the job, they made three fundamental mistakes that greatly reduce the effectiveness of the system. A few minor tweaks there would significantly improve the retention rate.

But even with those flaws it's still in a different league than any other welcome system for beginners I've ever seen or heard of in Second Life or on other grids - except possibly for Linda Kellie's Conference Center sim. Ebbe said they had done some testing and found that no privately run welcome center was able to match the retention rate of the existing system and I'm not at all surprised.

Optimizing the Learning and Social Islands would probably double the retention rate but even that would not be enough. I don't know how many newcomers SL receives but judging by the traffic on the Learning Islands I would guess it's about 15,000-30,000 a month, including new alts for old-timers of course. It's easy to see that will never ever be enough to maintain SL at its current size so we definitely need better recruiting.

But we also need to figure out why newcomers leave right away.

 


 

The first answer here, the by far most important factor, is the user interface. We are all used to the Second Life Viewer. We're even quite at home with the even more complicated interfaces of various third party viewers. We like it that way! We love to have as many bells and whistles as we can. ^_^

Newcomers aren't. What they need is a clean, simple interface focusing on the three basic functionalities and with all the distractions cleared out of the way.

 


 

The second most important factor is lag. Render lag. Nobody but nobody says to themselves "Oh, Second Life? That sounds interesting. I better go and buy myself a new computer with a powerful graphics card so I can check it out and see if it's something for me."

Having to wait for a minute or two for a new scene to render is a huge turnoff and undoubtedly a major reason why people leave before they're properly hooked.

I've heard that SL is four times as render heavy as WoW and I don't think that's an exaggeration, quite the contrary. Some say that SL is so much more complex it has to be heavier and that's true but it doesn't need to be nearly as heavy as it is and I think we all know that.

Some blame this on the content creators others on Linden Lab and the truth is somewhere in between. Second Life is full of content that is far more render heavy than necessary and that is of course because so many builders don't know how to build efficiently or don't care (or that their buyers don't know and/or care). But that is to a large degree because LL never has encouraged building efficiency or even provided proper documentation how to do it. To reduce the problem, Linden Lab and the content creators will have to work together. I asked a question about that at the Lab Chat, unfortunately Ebbe misunderstood it so he never answered - maybe some other time.

 

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ChinRey wrote:

The first answer here, the by far most important factor, is the user interface. We are all used to the Second Life Viewer. We're even quite at home with the even more complicated interfaces of various third party viewers. We
like
it that way! We love to have as many bells and whistles as we can.
^_^

Newcomers aren't. What they need is a clean, simple interface focusing on the three basic functionalities and with all the distractions cleared out of the way.

Have you been here long enough to remember the fiasco LL created the last time they tried to simplify the viewer?  The dreaded Basic Mode.  I understood the reasoning behind blocking access to some of the more complicated areas of the UI, but whoever's brilliant idea it was not to let newbies access their inventories should have been fired if not slapped about the face and head. At the time, anyone trying to help a new person figure out what they were doing had to first direct them to turn off Basic Mode and relog.  (Yes, you actually had to relog to get out of it.)

It was around that time that I suggested at some LL user group that the viewer should be tied to inworld tutorials, that way, once a new user completed a tutorial only then would they have access to that particular feature in the UI.  And arrange them according to level of difficulty so that users would get the feeling that they've accomplished something.

Of course, they'd want it to be easy to switch out of Tutorial Mode (without having to relog) and back into it if they either wanted to start back where they left off or retake a tutorial if they needed a refresher.  At which point they could be sent back to where they were inworld at the beginning of whichever tutorial they chose to do next (which would all be easily accessible in the viewer itself).

I remember whatever Lindens were there telling me it was a good idea, then not hearing a thing about it afterward.  But then, I am a big nobody... so it's not surprising they didn't take it very seriously.

...Dres

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Darrius Gothly wrote:

Maybe this is a DUH thing but ..

Why doesn't LL make
Experiences
.. that are
Tutorials
?

Sounds like a good idea to me... but then, I know practically nothing about Experiences.  They weren't around when I made that suggestion.

...Dres

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Dresden wrote:

Have you been here long enough to remember the fiasco LL created the last time they tried to simplify the viewer?  The dreaded Basic Mode.


No but I think the name alone says enough. That was a textbook example how not to implement a good idea, right?

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Darrius Gothly wrote:

Maybe this is a DUH thing but ..

Why doesn't LL make
Experiences
.. that are
Tutorials
?

The current newcomer reception sims do use Experiences although in a limited way. Actually, I think they even used it there before it was publicly launched.

 

Oh well, this is all just idle thoughts of course, it's not as if any of us are going to do anything about it. I just wanted to mention that the welcome areas for newcomers today are very different from and much better than what people here seem to think.

If anybody from Linden Lab want to know how to make the Learning Islands and Social Islands even better than they are today, please sen me an IM ^_^

Chin Rey decides not to hold her breath

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The destination guide is the best thing LL ever did for retention, but it is not successful because...

1) They pick things that are pretty. Pretty things are interesting only briefly. People need people to talk to, activities to do, and they want to know where to find high-quality things for their avatar.

2) They pick things run by friends, or things that really are decent places. They *should* cherry-pick things. But they don't put enough effort into this. They don't actually know where to send people.

3) They pick things that residents suggest. This is gamed. To appear fair, they allow it to be gamed. They should try harder to reject things that are crap.

The events list should be another indispensible tool for users, but suffers the same problems. It could be cleaned up by punishing people who game it or flood it with crap. LL has never been willing to punish people who poop on their platform.

SL needs human-curated lists of things to do, places to go, and good stores, and only LL can make such lists visible to large numbers of users, particularly new users. It will never be fair, so people won't let them do it, and it has to be done by people deeply involved in SL, so LL couldn't do it themselves, even if they were allowed.

So, SL suffers from people coming, not finding anything useful, and leaving.

In 2008-ish I tried to create a system that would scan the map for activity at known venues so I could report where people were hanging out *right now*. I hand-picked interesting social venues, mapped them, and automated monitoring them. Problem is, before I was ready to launch, it became clear that this was a losing battle. Interesting places were disappearing faster than I was adding them to the list. So, I gave up.

I had planned to make the data available through an API so that people could curate their own lists and publish on their blog or website. Despite this, I don't think I or any other resident could really save SL with a working destination guide because only LL can make such a list visible to enough people, and there's no way they'd do that for a list that wasn't allowed to be gamed. And there's no way they'll endorse someone else's cherry-picked list.

And then they launched the destination guide. I had high hopes, but like everything LL creates, it was pooped on and LL let people poop on it. And it currently doesn't have enough interesting places to report.

 

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Please check out the 8 Welcome Islands. LL has set them up to be exactly alike so there is no confusion for the new residents. And each island contains a landing point, a chat area, a beach, a dance club, an underground cave (among other things). There is also a huge open building with portals to Second Life Destinations. They are labeled 'Art'; 'Music'; Chat; Roleplay; etc. and change often. 

All the new member has to do is click and walk thru the portal to be taken to a SL destination.  I've gone through them on numerous occasions and they seem to be rotating destinations.

Of course there also are dozens of older members at the social island who give out landmarks and advice. 

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The chronic problem with SL retention is that 99% of signups are use-limited alts of existing users, created for nefarious or otherwise purposes, or  minors, who get bored very quickly when they see the stupid way in which sex is depicted in SL.

LL has failed to realise that nobody is interested in anonymous virtual societies any more (other than the illegal ones) whatever "Welcome" they might try to offer.

***Call me on my fantasy football forum; it's much more interesting.

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hi my name is Devin  i am a guy that  just playing around on sl  and this guy  keep  call me a  b   but i pose as a girl avatar just being stupid but i wont do that again and he  keep mess with me and he say im under age but im really am   30  his name is  draggon something i know it start with a c first   

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