The final VWBPE session I was able to attend was a panel discussion, Connecting the Past, Present, and Future of Second Life. The men on the panel have some impressive backgrounds and the stated goal of the panel was “to develop a position paper which can help guide and inform Linden Lab’s new CEO on the opportunities, risks, cost benefits, and potential returns on investment based on a thoughtful analysis of the issues facing our communities of practice.” As someone who entered SL almost nine years ago and plans to stick around, this is important to me.
Because the panelists were speaking off the cuff, the talk is not as easy for me to summarize as the Rosedale speech from Thursday. There were a lot of provocative ideas that I wish I could share and when I find a better summary somewhere, I’ll link to it.
The panel began with a talk about the history of virtual worlds then moved into a critique of virtual communities and tools today, from MMOs to SL and beyond. Tab Scott had some excellent points on this front, considering the potential of SL if basic tools were upgraded but touching back frequently to the point that the most valuable asset in SL is the people. Will Burns was skeptical of the hype around integration of devices like the Oculus Rift, since it’s too early and it’s a peripheral, not the core. (I agree, but it won’t stop me from being a fangirl about the possibilities of 3D viewers and other controllers.)
I’m a big supporter of the idea of Linden Lab employees being active inworld again. Tab Scott emphasized how it was important to build up a trusting communication between the company and residents. That made me think of the decade when I worked at [largest online company at the time]. We used our company’s products, the same messaging, email, search, etc as our members. I think that made the member experience personally important to us rather than an abstract concept or something we saw in UI focus groups and testing. The Lindens need to be among us.
There seems to be strong agreement around several things:
- Residents want to be heard by the Lindens and want the Lindens to be part of the world. There is guarded hope about the future now that Ebbe is CEO.
- The basic functionality of SL needs improvement (inventory management, search, voice, sim boundary crossing, etc.). Integration with other tools/applications/sites/worlds makes sense. APIs? Mods?
- A simplified user interface is needed for new or casual users. Not like Viewer 2 (shudder), but reduced functionality for learning purposes. New users also need a way to find out, “What do I do now?”
- Restructuring the idea of Premium accounts could be beneficial for both residents and Linden Lab. In the text chat, there was debate on both sides about whether the current Premium structure makes sense, but a lot of agreement that some enhancements could be worth paying for, if they weren’t essential to the experience for everyone.
- SL still has a lot of potential. It has not been living up to it.
I got into an interesting side conversation about the new user experience, which I’m sure I’ll write more about in the future. If you’re a new resident in SL or want to be, feel free to visit the About tab here and drop me a note in email, and I’ll be happy to send some pointers.
One thing I think the SL “intelligentsia” needs to remember is that the people who visit sex sims or love breast physics or just want to socialize and look cool are also people who contribute to the economy and society. The panelists didn’t disparage these groups, but the text chat among attendees often came close. I understand that for a user at an educational institution, dealing with SL strip clubs and BDSM regions can be a challenge, but they’re part of the world.