Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Poor Choices for Second Life Web Viewer Destinations

Like many of you, I was curious to test drive the web-based Second Life viewer made available through Gaikai recently. I tried to view the sample through the eyes of someone with no virtual world experience, or at least someone who had never visited Second Life before.

While the viewer itself worked fine, and likely provided potential new users a sense of life in the virtual world, I was pretty surprised at the sim choices offered as destinations. I don't think the viewer made the type of impression Linden Labs intended.

At one infohub I visited, for example, the voice conversation consisted primarily of racial slurs, sexual conversation, and other such drivel, and the text chat was only slightly less off-putting. I was largely ignored as I moved about the group there, and so quickly left to explore other sims that were beautiful to look at, but largely empty of avatars.

Infohubs are notoriously odd places that appeal to a narrow audience, but why Linden Labs decided to expose potential new customers to such places is hard to understand. Imagine a parent, a potential business user, or a potential builder/creative visiting Second Life for the first time and immediately hearing the "N" word tossed about and people describing their sexual prowess. What a ridiculous first impression.

If anything, such an experience feeds directly into negative stereotypes of virtual worlds as populated by a fringe element of society that lacks the social skills to function in the real world. I personally disagree with the stereotype, but I can see where others would form the opinion, at least based on my experience with the web viewer.

As for the empty sims, that's only slightly better than listening to people engage in inane and insulting conversation. I was bored by it and left the viewer altogether after hopping to only a handful of sims. There was little or nothing to engage me, nothing to "do," nothing to experience. There were pretty things to look at, but no context, no guidance, and nothing that made me feel that I wanted to see more.

As I consider this experience from a beginner's viewpoint, I'm actually not surprised that Second Life's growth has gone flat. If I was truly new to virtual worlds, what I experienced through the viewer sample last night would have done nothing more than confirm all of the negatives I'd heard.

Maybe I'm off base here, and I'm curious what others thought about the experience.

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