I've thought about this some more, as only preparing 5,000 words can help one do : ) To be sure, a lot of them are pasted words from the old forums, which I continue to find a fascinating study (but I don't seem to have any company in that fascination, especially from those who bad behaviour is so exposed lol).
Basically, my premise is that SL fails to grow not because of certain classes of users, although they play their part, but because of the coders of Linden Lab themselves, and their culture, and Hamlet ne Linden Au is part of that club himself, even if he is at times on the outs with it -- as a San Francisco cynic and geek, he's more in it than most people and has staked his career on this perspective (that is, it's not even a choice, so ingrained is this worldview in these people that they are right and surrounded by idiots).
Second Life sort of fell to half its size, it seems to me, mainly for one reason: Viewer 2. Not liking Viewer 2 isn't a function of being resistant to change -- the constantly changing -- even change-traumatized -- population of Second Life, inured to anything, are not the problem, writ large. It's more about Silicon Valley Culture which sometimes makes products that are wildly popular with the rest of the world (Google, Facebook, i-phones) despite having the same traits of cultural insularity and a certain contempt for their customers and sometimes can't seem to grow beyond a niche (Second Life, Digg -- yes Digg, stuck in the geek ghetto -- and Delicious).
Why is that? Well, I think some are motivated by ego enough to want a big following and will get it by pleasing customers; some are motivated by making a profit and can only do that if they please customers; and some are arrogant ideologues and don't care about pleasing customers and think they'll sell stuff just to other geeks or something.
Second Life *was* growing pretty well -- then it stopped. It didn't stop because "it can't scale". It stopped after the big hype of 2007 when it really had no trouble accommodating 1.7 million regular log-ons per month. Now it has 900,000. The equipment is even better today in 2011 than it was in 2007, as the Lindens have bought all that dark fibre VPN whatsis stuff to make it all run better.
So what's up? (and they could, if they broke ideological ranks with Philip and Mitch and others, make stand-alone asset-servers serving only some geographical areas or themes or lifestyles or whatever if they felt like it, if scaling is the issue. They could figure out how to link them later -- or not).
1. Viewer 2. Viewer 2 has been widely scorned by the fan base, the casual user, even the accident nooblet, as briana Allen has pointed out. We all secretly tell them to load 1.23, they are much happier. I now so routinely have people complaining to me about performing the most simple functions -- joining a group that is an open group! -- that before they even finish their sentence I push them a card explaining the troubleshooting on this including leaving 2.x all together. There seems to be a persistent percentage of users for whom stuff just never shows up/works/becomes figure-outable on 2.x, old or new.
I had bitten the bullet and moved to Viewer 2.x just to keep up with new customers, be able to help newbies, etc. and found it only punished me and punished me some more. Not only did it lose forever expensive clothes (and I usually only have one expensive suit I wear as I'm not in SL to shop for my avatar), it now has a horribly nasty habit of not just knocking me off SL every 20 minutes, but totally knocking out my wireless connection, too. That's malicious. I don't like software that *shuts down my Internet connection itself, completely*.
That is not because of something "I'm doing or "on my machine". I run all kinds of stuff on two computers all day long. This knocking off of my wireless connection happens ONLY when running viewer 2. ONLY. So sorry, maybe no Linden is curious about this, many there aren't significant numbers of users with this problem who can make their way past the nasties in the forums claiming it's everything from their own ISP to their anti-virus program to global warming, but I can see there is a problem with this thing, and I'm just done with it for now.
Here's what worries me: the absolutely best brains and brawn of the Metaverse -- Q Linden and Esbee Linden -- were trying to make Viewer 2 "be better". They were trying to remove the pain points. To be sure, they were involved in this software cult named Scrum which I found to be utterly ridiculous and even sinister, but they were smart people who didn't mind the Stakhanovite collectivized Soviet cement plant approach to doing things. And they had Oz "Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain--Or Else Lose Your JIRA Privileges!" Linden to ride herd on them as "not-very-benovolent dictator" in the usual opensource...whatever it is those opensource people call their, er, awful kultur klatch.
And they quit (except Oz, about whom Sharia Court has ruled that "they hope he is typing his resume"). So -- I dunno, viewer 1.23 Works On My Machine. And there are other fancier viewers out there among the third-parties who may or many not datamine and phone home, you're welcome to play with them.
2. Works on My Machine. (See the story of this amazing badge program!) Did I mention that there is a problem with this thing? Yes, Amanda, you're telling us it Works On My Machine. I don't give a good goddamn. I doesn't on mine, and lots of other people. Somebody mentioned Torley burbling about his 8 core computer. Most Lindens have blazing machines that they build out of that site egg.com or whatever. We get it. They are cool, we are not. I am uninterested. I have a Gateway or I have an HP or whatever I buy at Best Buy or Datavision for $850 or something. So if you can't work it on that, well, don't expect SL to grow, full stop.
Lecture me all you want about graphics card. You will never, ever reach the level of gentlemanly kindness that Will Harvey of There.com and IMVU did, God bless him. He saw early on in trying to get There.com to grow that the biggest problem he had was potential users' *insufficient graphic cards* and the second biggest problem he had was that the very female population he had larger numbers of among the sign-ups was not educated in adding computer graphic cards -- or willing to fuss with buying a graphics card and get them installed. They were simply less likely than the male gamerz to already have a computer or a card, or install one.
So he said any female who wanted a graphics card and could write in pledging that they didn't have one could be get one. And he mailed it to us for free under an experimental program. I shall treasure it always.
Can you believe that?! I mean there's a guy that wants to grow his platform. This is not a guy who sneered that his customers weren't tekkie wiki woos who should go buy the politically correct machine. Let this be a lesson to all virtual world makers: if you are not willing to make the software Work on My Machine, then be willing to send me the fucking graphics card like Will Harvey did.
3. Bad Press. Some of it seems to get ham-handedly arranged by the former CEO and founder himself, Philip Rosedale. But even with his best intentions, there little toxic mediocrities like Wizard Gynoid who come into a thread like that help reverberage the bad press that the Lindens themselves arrange. What's funny about SL is that even when someone does good press and means a good deed, like Dvorak, (whom I've always loved because he's the only tech writer I've ever found critical of Creative Commons and open source software), it doesn't quite come out as good press and of course Sharia Mobile Court @Sluniverse.com ensures that the comments can get snarky.
I'm all for a free press, so I don't really blame a free press, as I think this belongs in the "no bad press is really so terrible" -- because some of the really stupid snarky tekkie dumps, like the infamous Time.com piece about the guy who got hit by a dick and shanghaied by a ho in the welcome area only led to a flood more of traffic.
BUT it does mean that other kinds of longer-term more serious people don't come, and develop bad attitudes about virtuality and this particular version of virtuality. Pity, that. It will never be fixable until, well, as Andrew Linden sort of explained it, enough people on Earth (yes, as in THE ENTIRE PLANET) find compelling reasons to log on to SL. Andrew thinks literally this will be about a feature set. I don't. I know that people will log on the 2-d scrappy Sims Online if it gives them a certain fix and it's not about features. Many millions more will log on and play World of Warcraft even though it's hard and expensive and too time-consuming. Still gadzillions more will play something simple like Citiville where you can't do stuff except basically click a bunch of times on some stuff happening for you by the game mechanics.
As much sneering as the TechCrunch sort do about Farmville type games, as much snarking as the geeks do about Facebook, so many hundreds of millions of people are doing something different and don't care what they think that...we should not care what they think and try to get the Lindens to not care what they think.
4. Griefing. For the first time in their history, the Lindens appeared to be polling the user base on their experience being griefed, as possibly a factor in explaining why people leave or don't log on. Imagine that! It must have deluged them with a ton of feedback. I sure could give them an earful. Because they have gotten 280 percent more alacritous about stopping griefing faster and more thoroughly. They say they are moving to an improved griefing report system -- well, I don't believe them. That is, sure, maybe it will be more streamlined, but until there are these three elements, we will never see a curb of griefing and the beginnings of justice:
o a report of the complaint attached to the SL name of the person who filed it
o a report on the findings and punishment by the prosecuting Linden with their name attached.
o the name of the guilty party and the sentence
These three things, available in real life for the most part (except for places like Mexico or Uzbekistan) without any complaints like "but that will cause revenge!" or "but that will call people to retaliate against the prosecutor!" or "but that will harm my privacy!" help build up justice. They make people stop filing frivolous, vengeful complaints at the get-go as their name is attached; they are forced to make their case valid; the prosecutor is on the record and his reputation matters and he has to appear fair and impartial;and the accused is forced to appear publicly in the docks which is a deterrent on his future misbehaviour.
(Note that all I'm going for here at the start is at least the basics of a magisterial system that doesn't even have a proper court or anything like that -- little better than, say, the Soviet Union. But that's a start.)
Yeah, alts and all that sort of mess up a nice justice system like this, but it's possible to put in aliases in court records just like real life.
The Lindens will likely never do this because a) all the divas who AR all the time would squeal that their privacy would be violated b) the Lindens simply delete a lot of accounts without even complaints and this would reveal the extent of that practice c) there would be so much to publish even on actions taken that it would seem like GriefWorld. Even so, after the first 10,000 cases subsided, a sense of justice would begin to reign that will be so remarkable that they will wonder why they didn't make virtuality like real life before.
Of course, there's another problem, which is this bunch is happy to use divas' ARs, Twitter, Plurk, mobile sessions of Sharia Court @sluniverse.com and their own geeky intuition instead of due process, but we can work on that later after items 1-3 are published on a lot of cases first.
5. The Web Site. Even in the low-budget NGOs where I work where the website is from hunger, there's a sense of the management, even not very technically inclined, that you have to keep updating the front page. Constantly. With what we call "news".
The Lindens' website has always suffered terribly. Maybe it's because they follow the approach that Philip is following to get his web design done at the Love Machine: he's going to wait until a kid comes in the door who will do it for free for just some coffee and pizza.
Or maybe it's because some tenured/sinecured Linden has had this job for a long time for whatever reason and they can't change him.
Or maybe because they think the real attraction is the world itself, so the objective is just to get people off that website and into the world, and the website should actually force them to do that and not linger.
Whatever the "ideology" behind this problem, it's very deep. So for months -- years -- on end, they never refresh the crap on the front. This idiotic girl in the frumpy outfit and the stupid hair is still embracing the doofusy guy on the Titanic, or wherever they are, and plunging to look at something rusted under water (look, is this REALLY the best we have in this virtual world?!) or else twirling in a sort of meh dress while a guy in a too-sculpted looking metrosexual outfit looks at her -- if it was ever fresh and innovative, that was last year, and it should change.
It doesn't. You would think with the VAST OUTPUT of machinima from this world, many by people who would be happy to have it showcase for free or some modest sum, that they could refresh this way more often. And also with how simple it is to record an inworld scene, that they don't have more basic refreshing more often, enabling you to watch a scene, click and land right in that sceen. Like the Tai Chi at Japan Tempura. Look at the scene of people doing that, click, land. Like sailing in Nautilus. Click, go there, like jumping into the painting of the scene in the Narnia books. To be sure, it can be disconcerting if people click and arrive and there are no people in the scene or the boat isn't there, but you can figure out how to work that. They can still explore. They land on a dock with a card about the next sailing race. Whatever.
More to the point, given the huge rich trove of screenshots that are all at other properties like Koin-up and Sluniverse's Snapzilla (where Cristiano saves them along with your SL name and a copy of your sign-up email -- er, sorry, which discards as it lands on his site), why isn't more of this on the front page. Is this lawyers worrying about copyright and liability and ruining things again? We used to have loading of screenshots from the world on demand; naturally that ran into problems. But why not load to a Linden who then curates it and posts it? Like The Sims Online. Why can't this be done? Why are there Flickr groups advertised or shown, but the content is not on the front page at secondlife.com?
If people felt like their pictures and land they work so hard to make could be on this website; if it could have that thrill of a contest that the story featuring at The Sims Online or various other game and fan websites have, they would participate, they would enjoy seeing the content change, etc.
Imagine this: you come to the secondlife.com site, you see bubbling up like boiled pelmeni people's locations where they are ready and waiting to take care of a newbie. You click and land on them. All those people who get so much reputation enhancement/vanity reinforcement/whatever out of helping newbies would have them drop more strategically into their thematic laps. Like furry/steampunk/beach whatever. On somebody's land, they would a) get more care if they were worth it b) get less coddling if they were assholes. That's the problem with the anonymous newbies landing on welcome areas -- they have every incentive to be assholes to the various freaks -- oldbies and newbies alike -- strutting around the welcome areas -- and no incentive to be decent, as they might if they landed in a place where there are more organized people with more identifiable activities.
Not everyone would enjoy this. I wouldn't. I wouldn't want to land in some insular smarmy community with somebody smothering me -- that's how I'd look at it. I'd rather land on a rock and then try to go from there. But that can be one of the sites:
"Land on this remote rocky promentory and dress yourself without anyone looking at you and without anyone bothering you whatsoever then pick from a menu of suggestions where you might explore discreetly without anybody hustling you."
I love that idea, don't you?
5. Destination is Too Unmanageable. I've been saying that Viewer 2 may not work but Destination does. And it does, up to a point. I do find things if I'm patient and paw through it all on the website or even more patient (masochistic) and paw through it all on the sidebar in Viewer 2 inworld.
But something about this is all just way too much of a mess. Again, there's something about it that I can't find fast enough. The categories are too pat and don't quite work. Or they work, but there's too much in them. Well, if this was something that the user base was invited to have input into, it might be better. There's something mysterious about the whole process about how you get listed there, and one of the problems is that it requires making a good screenshot (see problesm 1, 2 to find out why I don't submit it -- at this point, I can't make good enough screenshots On My Machine).
So my concrete suggestion here is have people recommend sites, make top 10 sites, make featured themes, make something that has user input so that they are motivated to be involved. Rotate it ferociously so that it does not become the property of any one forums clique, etc. Yes, I realize there's a lot there now, and a lot of it is already organized by themes, but it has a very sterile, remote and fixed feeling to it, as if made up by one Linden who doesn't really so much live there as just collect a lot of postcards.
6. The New User Experience. If I type one more word about how badly this has been for 7 years, I will be guilty of spamming. So I won't. You know what to do. Brinda suggests having people call her. That's a good idea. I do worry that asking newbie helpers how they would run things is not the best idea, however, because there are very opinionated notions among very aggressively competing groups about what constitutes the best experience. As we know, oldbies might think it's learning how to build in a sandbox or the route to apprenticing to a diva.
I have a poll at my rental office with this question: Are you renting at Ravenglass?
1) no, just looking
2) yes, I intend to rent
3) no, it's too expensive
4) no, the parcels aren't large enough
Then I put right next to it a sign that says "Low-cost Homes" for the no. 3s and "Large Parcels" to see if I can snag any of the no. 4s. My rentals are very cheap so I can't really help someone who still finds it too expensive, they can go find one of those subsidized outfits.
I wish the exit sign at Second Life had a big sign that says WHY ARE YOU LEAVING?
1) people behaved like assholes to me in the welcome area
answer: teleport to this nicer place with more decent people!
2) my graphics card isn't up to it
answer: here's how to dumb down your computer but come back soon we're making an SL lite!
3) I couldn't find anything to do
answer: well, here's some stuff!
etc. The Lindens have thought about all this already. Oops, I promised I wouldn't write all this again.
I'm fairly certain that Hamlet *doesn't* mean the people "in the way" are cool machinimists that want more features for machinima, or cool designers that want jointed animal avatar legs or something, but he means people who are more ordinary, settled, and tired of change because change is something they've adapted to far, far too many times, never with very good results. Which brings me to:
6. Search is Broken.
For me, the entire brokenness of search isn't the hobbling of Darius Gothly's SEO tricks, or any of that stupidness, or the Lindens strange algorithms that help their friends -- I can skim off the fat.
For me the entire thing comes down to the stupid interface that can't accommodate a set of nice and neat returns -- 50 would be nice -- to make it worth bothering with. It wastes precious real estate, not only with ads (I could handle a few of those) but with needless repetitions of lines and 3 lines per item, which isn't needed -- I know how to click. If the Lindens would just make that return form cleaner and neater, it would remove 50 percent of my search pain. And by "my pain," I mean the pain that happens when I refer people to search many times during the day, and they don't find it useful and don't like it and don't use it and therefore drop out.