First hour experience… more daunting than ever?

So I created (or “rolled up”, as we ol’ D&D players say) a new SL person (okay, an alt) the other day, for the first time in a long time. As usual I tried out the whole Getting Started thing rather than just flitting out and doing the thing that I made the alt for, just to see what it’s like these days.

I was… somewhat surprised.

As I mentioned in my Third Rezday post, my own First Hour experience, back on the old 2006 Orientation Island with the path and the parrot, was confusing and chaotic, and I loved it for that. But I can understand why less neophilic folks might find it somewhat offputting.

As I mentioned somewhere on the web that I can’t find right now, the First Hour experience of my “for giving business demos” alt, a year or two later, was in pretty much every way worse: it was in that new HUD-based Orientation Island, where the new user was supposed to interact with a confusing and laggy HUD to solve puzzles that didn’t seem to actually work, and which included an urban startup zone notable for having vehicles that very confusingly also didn’t work. I haven’t seen anyone talk about that version of OI lately, so perhaps it was abandoned (although I notice that everyone still has the “Torch!” object in their library, which was some part of the HUD-based thingie).

One of the things that the New Linden Management has stressed over and over has been improving the First Hour Experience, so I thought it would be kinda interesting to see what it’s like now.

But judging from what it’s in fact like now, whoever is supposed to be working on the First Hour Experience seems to have given it up as hopeless.

The first rather offputting thing was that the signup page on the website insisted on having my real first and last names, and my RL gender. I mean, ffs, why does it care what my RL gender is? Obviously I can lie about any or all of that, but the fact that the Lab considers it mandatory information was really distressing. Gathering personal information just for the sake of gathering personal information?

Frankly if I’d never played SL before, that part of the signup page might well have prevented me from ever getting to the First Hour. The place that I most often lose interest in new online products is at an overly-nosy signup page.

So anyway I told it some stuff there, and then I picked a starting look. That part was nice; a decent collection of looks, some of them normal and some odd, and a promise that it’s easy to change once you get inworld. I gave it my email address to send the validation link to, and it did that. Then I fired up a browser, and went inworld for the first time.

I found myself dumped directly into Help Island 361 or whatever, wearing the “girl next door” AV (which was not the look that I’d chosen on the web page), with a nine-panel popup on the screen with the very basic basics (how to walk, how to look), and nothing else of any kind. A couple of other newborns were standing around. One said “Hi”, and I said “Hi”, and after that no one said anything.

Well, okay, that’s not too too bad. There were instructional signs around, slowly rezzing, and interesting-looking things like stores and demo areas in various directions, and not too many people so not too much lag. I walked over to one of the instructional signs that said something like “things to do” or something, and clicked on it, which seemed sensible. That opened a landmark. Landmarks have big obvious “Teleport” buttons on them, so I pushed that.

And my First Hour experience was over, maybe ten minutes after I first rezzed.

I was now off Help Island, on my own, and could not get back. I had had no warning about that, no “Are you sure you want to teleport off of Help Island and into the dangerous outer world?”. An actual newborn would be pretty clueless as to how to get back and investigate any of the interesting freebie stores or demo areas or anything; the blue popup that says “Now that you’ve left Help Island, you can get to places like the Warmouth Infohub by [terse explanation of how to use landmarks]” has no clue how to get back to Help Island itself.

A lucky newborn might have the chat history open, and notice the “teleport completed from” with a link after it, and click on it. I did that. You get a TP failure, and a note that if you want to “return to the tutorial” (what tutorial??) you can go to Help Island Public. I brought up the map and found Help Island Public (which again it seems unlikely your typical newborn would be able to do), and went there.

It was pretty awful.

It had all the same interesting things in the distance as that nice Help Island 247 had had, except that they were all grey, and it was nearly impossible to walk over and explore them, because the place was so packed with AVs that the lag was like thick molasses. No one was saying anything, some people were Away, most people were grey or blurry, some people had very odd tags on.

I did eventually make my way to the Freebie Store. The stuff in it was impressively 2006; in fact I’m pretty sure it had less stuff in it than it did in 2006. The Free Smoke Machine was still there, but instead of the Box of Wings that I remember there was just one pair of black wings and one pair of gold wings. There was the Free Tubular House and the Free Alpine House, both tried and true. But nothing there struck me as having been worked on recently, in any sense.

I wandered around a bit, and clicked on a kiosk with some computer code floating over it, and floaty text saying “Scripts in Second Life”. This brought up a notecard window that said “Loading…” for long enough that I lost patience and hit Discard. (On my original Help Island 249, it might have actually arrived, I dunno.)

So what exactly does M mean by working hard on the First Hour experience? As far as I can tell, what it means in practice is doing nothing at all. This is exactly the same Help Island that was there four years ago, with perhaps somewhat less useful stuff. There is no orientation of any kind, no tutorial (although at least one of the messages thinks that there is). If you accidentally leave, or even crash out of, the friendly newborns-only Help Island that you arrive on, there is still no going back, ever. (Hint to the Lab: how about if a newborn can still get back to the Help island that they first rez onto as long as they are still under a day or two old? How hard would that be?)

Really good new-user experiences are hard to design. However, new-user experiences that are simply not completely clueless are much easier. You get someone’s Mom to come in, you sit her down at the registration screen, and you encourage her to express her thoughts aloud as she goes through the First Hour. Then you fix the most obvious thing that got in her way or confused or annoyed or offput her, and you bring in someone else’s Mom and do it again. And sometimes for variety you bring in a Dad or a Nephew or even an Annoying Geek, and do the same thing.

The one thing that I can’t imagine would result from actually concentrating on the first hour is an experience that’s basically a subset of what I went through on rezzing for the first time back in 2006. I mean… what?

(Now I know that the Lab sometimes does “A/B testing”, where they give different experiences to different customers, so they can compare results. Someone may suggest that my poor new alt just happened to get randomly selected for the “minimal subset of what we had back in 2006” experience. But surely if they were actually focusing on this stuff, that one wouldn’t even be in the test set anymore.)

I tend to roll my eyes at the ubiquitous “what the fleen is the Lab doing??” posts. But really…

What the fleen is the Lab doing?

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What does your SL look like?

Contributing to a meme I first saw on HeadBurro Antfarm’s weblog, here’s a screenshot of what my SL (at least sometimes) looks like:

What my SL looks like

(Also availlable in larger size.)

Answering the questions that seem to go with the meme:

1. Name: I always have display of nametags and grouptags turned on. Mostly because I always want to be able to see who’s who and what amusing tag they’re wearing (it’s a great icebreaker), but also just because I seldom remember that it can be turned off, or how.

2. Group tags: I usually have some group tag or other showing, and this only leads to embarrassment once in awhile.

3. Chat bubbles: I never turn on chat bubbles, I even tend to forget they exist. Do other people use them? Are they useful?

4. Mini map: On when exploring, or even just moving around, off otherwise. Used extensively for dot-chasing.

5. Camera/Movement Controls: Never have either of these on; I am pretty good with the mouse-based camera and the arrow keys for moving around. And for really tricky navigational situations I can sit on my hoverdisc and use “teleport to camera position”. :)

6. HUDs: I hardly ever wear any HUDs at all. The only exceptions are my swimmer (which hasn’t worked since the latest Havoc update and I really need to upgrade) and Girl Dale’s special elegant-lady AO (which I use only at really grand affairs). Oh, and the occasional trick-skating controller or something. My equivalent of MystiTool / MultiGadget’s AV radar (a HUD thing that shows you who is around) is my magic bracelet’s radar, which is a command-line thing (i.e. I say something in chat on a particular channel, and it answers me via chat-to-owner).

7. Text colours: Pretty much the defaults, although I’m unhappy enough with the current default of “unreadably dark blue” for stuff that I say in chat that I might actually change it.

8. Selection Beam: On, and either the default color or whatever I last whimsically changed it to. :)

9. Hovertips: Always on, on all objects. (But not on land, for some reason.)

10. UI windows: I have the IM window open at the top most of the time, because I seem to be in four or five (or seven or ten) personal or group IMs most of the time. I will occasionally close it, but not usually for long. I have the Local Chat window open on the lower left if there’s local chat going on that I might want to scroll back in. And I have inventory open in the lower right if I’m, um, doing things with inventory. Other stuff gets opened temporarily more or less in the middle. Ah, and the edit box replaces the local chat window when I’m building or inspecting.

11. Search area: What search area?.

12. UI Size: 1.0, I think? And running in a window. I don’t even really know what the “UI Size” control does.

13. Bandwidth and Cache: Bandwidth at 500, I think, and cache at 500MB.

14. Graphics: These vary around alot; I sometimes turn them way down to (try to) reduce lag, or way up to see things pretty. I used to turn off Avatar Imposters, but now I’ve gotten used to the little paperdolls. At friend Bamika’s suggestion I’ve turned Video Memory down to like half of what it was, and that SEEMS (touch wood) to have reduced my really horrible sub-one-fps problems in crowded scenes (yay!).

15. Web links: open in the internal browser, just ’cause why not. I don’t click on web links much anyways.

16. Logging: all chat and IM, and new chats start up with previous log tail showing. The more information the better!

17. Camera constraints: disabled, always.

18. Away: pretty useless, as one always pops out instantly anyway.

19. Busy: I never use it, as (a) I don’t know quite what it does, and (b) I believe that one thing it does is if someone tries to give you something, you don’t get the thing. Hello??

20: Look at recent chatting person: wow, I always forget we have that! That would be a useful feature to use. :)

So in the screen shot, the windows on the sides (local chat and inventory) would often be closed in practice, as would the minimap sometimes, but that’s where they show up when they’re up. And the fact that my camera is somewhere off to the side of the default view is typical; I’m always camming around here and there and around and through.

What does your SL look like?