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July 17, 2006


Oz Spade

An additional thought I had as to the "basically a visual way to indicate receptiveness to help" topic, what about a "Busy Button" or a "Do Not Disturb" button along with the "page mentor/greeter" button? Could put a graphic over the avatars head or put them into "Busy Mode" (although few people seem to care if you're Busy or not).


I spend a lot of time helping new residents as a mentor, and I think that nearly everyone forgets how confusing and disorientating it is when you first arrive. The original concept of the orientation islands was a good one... moving people through the experience step by step, and i wonder why that approach was abandoned for the clutter and confusion of help island. Things are badly signposted and adly documented, which means that even people who don't want contact can hardly avoid it if they want to understand how things work.

For a long time, things on Help Island have actually made this much worse by stupid implementation of the the things that are supposed to help new residents -- for example boxes which, if clicked to buy furry avatars, used to put the wearable parts of it onto the avatar if they didn't realise they had to uncheck the wear now box. Some of those things have been altered, but some still remain. It is still an unnecessary confusing and complex environment which doesn't help at all.

The problem for most is not lack of information, but an information overload which becomes very difficult to control, which is why I would prefer to see intelligent choices made for the new people, delivered to them in ways that allow them to understand and move on, or take their time with each stage, depending upon their learning style and priorities.

Of course I can see that LL have tried to do this, but Help Island is currently a triumph of style over substance. There are still stupidities: putting a roof over the teleport area so that new people who are just learning how to move about, fly and crash into it immediately. Does it serve any purpose except to look pretty?

It seems to me that as you allow residents to create the rest of the world, you might trust them with this. Why not dedicate one or two of the help islands to alternative areas, made by a group of volunteers? Giving them temporary management of the land, would allow them to show what could be done. I think this has to come, in the end, because Linden Lab can't ever employ the number of liaisons required for a world population of millions.

Better organisation and design at Help Island would pay dividends in the number of retained accounts.

Prokofy Neva

No, I don't want to see groups of resident cadres who are hand-picked through the biased greeters/mentors/helpers etc system being authorized to handle newbies by being able to themselves eject or ban from land, or eject and freeze them on Linden land, or remove other residents' content.

Once that happens, we have resident government. I do not subscribe to this world to have government by other residents I did not pick, and who have far less accountability, training, and knowledge than this game company -- that at least has the accurate information on the server side.

The only fair and reasonable way to do this is either to a) have Linden Lab have professional help-desk staff handle it, who are salaried/benefited/supervised/and *office Lindens* OR to b) contract it out to businesses or non-profit groups inworld, with some kind of competitive bid system reviewed by Lindens. Otherwise, you have a morass. As we do.

I'd really like to hear the real numbers on what's happening on OI and HI. Then we can assess what's happening there. How many original, new, non-alt residents per month? Of these, what percentage opt to skip OI and HI and are randomly taken to infohubs? What percentage do OI? What percentage do both OI and HI and for how long? etc. Then of these, what percentage are still in SL 30 days? 90 days? Which take premium accounts? Of these, which opt to buy land?

Even if LL considers this proprietary information they can't share with us for good reason, I hope Philip commissions such a report with the cold, hard facts to really understand what they have there. If it works to have thousands of people barrel through with a very hit-or-miss experience, then leave it alone. If it doesn't, change it. If 50 percent of the people or more skip OI and HI, why all this fussing about it? If 25 of the 50 percent who stay only zip around HI to pick up freebies and flirt with mentors because they're alts, why bother? For the sake of the 25 percent who then don't retain anyway?

The harsh story here is that the manpower and resources deployed on this operation aren't yielding the retention rates required to sustain the concept of a million subscribers. So something has to change.

The Lindens were so quick to dump this idea of having newbies rez into various interesting venues, whether clubs or the Aerodrome. They gave it less than 45 days to test. The people who benefited from it didn't know enough about it. And it wasn't fair that only those 3-6 were picked. It should be a program that rotates, is tested over longer periods of 90 days, and which can be applied for rationally against criteria like "do you have 24/7 presence at your venue", not arbitrarily hand-picked.

Many people have the belief that newbies are alienated by confusing impressions or by shooting. In fact, there are probably just as many, if not more, alienated by *not enough* shooting and *too predictable* a menu. So given this varying mileage, there have to be different courses charted -- and here a sketch and a signpost is needed, not a conveyor belt.

It's baffling to me why the entry isn't a clean, surgical space. Why could any be shot or have any bad experience there? I know when I've logged on to other games where I'm killed in the first 30 minutes, I quit. No thanks. So make the entry area non-script with nothing in it but PEOPLE. People who talk, greet, help.

After all, those grabbing these important front row seats at the newbie stream should be SERVING THE PUBLIC, not doing star turns to buff their resumes.

Notecards, whatever, can come later, in the next outer circle of orientation hell.

Confusing spinning sculpture, the giant signs with tekkie lingo like PRESS F1 FOR HELP IS NOW IN THE CLIENT (!) -- this has to be cleared away. All that can be deployed later when people have draw distance down to 64, are dressed decently, and can fly.

Given how many shooters there are, the combat area has to be *right there* to track people right over to it. You can't be a little big pregant on this one -- bite the bullet. And from there, take them to SL combat areas, not other infohubs where they continue to shoot.

If the Lindens insist on advertising this as a fun game where you can make the weapons and gear yourself, then play war, not just play it with static content as in other games, then they need to provide the substrate for this matter-of-factly.

Instead, they make the war game in fact be one of "Let's see how many harried Lindens can chase how many zillions of wily alts". Just accommodate them a little more: "THIS WAY TO TEST YOUR WEAPONS".

The next game dev contest shouldn't be for one game on one sim, but a game like espionage that can take people all across sims, with very light equipment, and shooting/weapons/kills that affect/are visible in HUDS to, etc. only those opting in to play, not those civilians who don't play.

We've seen the Lindens' flat refusal to implement any kind of nuanced policy about push/teleport home (they could easily ban push without warning and teleport home and make some demonstrative arrests, then tell the top security orb and weapons makers in SL that they are responsible for the misuse of their products and will also be banned if they do not provide warnings on all use of them as security orbs and if they do not cease the use of them to teleport home).

For the sake of a handful of elevators and war games in SL, and for the sake of the windfall profits of a few arms dealers called "security orb manufacturers" we have all had to continually suffer a hugely diminished experience, being cage-bombed in our homes and even on Linden Land, and then bounced to kingdom come by the even *more* aggressive security systems deployed to resist griefing. The push function has little justification. In this vastly sophisticated technical streaming world with its many switches, I don't get why the Lindens can't set aside 12 servers where push works, and turn it off everywhere else as a land option, eventually with the aim to give that function to each owner, just as they have safe/unsafe/


I wasn't suggesting putting the mentors/greeters in charge of policy and discipline, but just the design of a different type of Help Island. There are a number of help islands now, the proof would be in retention rates, which would be easily compared.

I don't know how long you spend on Help Island, or in the welcome areas, Prokofy, but the only people I know who wail about guns and being able to shoot them are minors. With experience, they are pretty easy to spot. Most people that I have helped have wanted time, patience, explanations and some structure to the experience when arriving for the first time.

Oliver Primeau

I have also assigned myself the job of helping newbies quite a bit after I arrived myself a couple weeks ago. It's the most rewarding thing I've found to do in secondlife. Newbies are curious... they are very affectionate, and yet they usually aren't clingy - they want to explore with their hands and their eyes and their feet more than they want to ask questions.

People on the mainland, by contrast are often jaded.

To compare notes with Caliandris, my first impression when I arrived, was the very thing she mentions... that the orientation island was very nice...and the help island was a lot of clutter. In fact, I went back over to Orientation island to get the most I could out of the tutorials, before going on to help island. However... in retrospect, after spending a lot of time on Help island as well, I feel that help island is marvelous the way it is set up. The only problem is the one way door. Newbies can get off of help island in many ways, accidentally - being booted when help island's sim crashes... naively teleporting during a game of tag... and 9 times out of ten, I find that they really want to return to help island and explore the tutorials more. It's unfortunate that they can't. Although I understand that it's very important to keep a very peaceful and controlled environment - and perhaps it's ok to have the one way door - as long as it is clearly explained... and if there are also easily findable analagous places on the mainland for them to get help. Upon going to the mainland, I found that it took days upon days to finally find some scattered duplications of a few of the help island exhibits. And mostly I stumbled upon these places by accident.

My suggestion is that there ought to be a welcome area on the mainland which is a community project. Here, anybody could come and meet and greet and mentor newbies. And in one section, there would be exhibits to help people who wanted to become mentors, and in another there would be exhibits for the newbies themselves...

The general notion in ethnically european society is that people will be self centered and into their own life... and not really want to exert the effort to help others. I think that is a misconception. Given the opportunity, and the invitation, I think we could make a very lively welcome project.

Consider the kind of time and effort which goes into a project like Wikipedia. Why do people put all that work in for free? Well, they get a return on their investment. They learn how to write; they mentor each other... they network and find business contacts... They get friendship, and they get the rewarding experience of changing their world. And far from deteriorating into chaos, as people would have expected... because of a flawed belief in what human nature is... wikipedia just keeps getting bigger and bigger and becomes a better resource, every day.

People want friends, and they want community. The younger wistfully desire older friends, and people of earlier generations desire the friendship of people of the later generations. THIS is human nature.

If people are complaining about clueless newbies walking around - this is the answer... A help island with a one way door makes for a very shallow and all too quick kind of introduction to SecondLife.

Prokofy Neva

Oliver, it feels to me like you are infantalizing newbies. They're just other adults like yourself, with DSL lines, disposable income, and high-end graphics cards. Let's not make them children in a sandbox. To be sure, there is a very wide range of abilities, ages, and knowledge. But let's face it -- these are people who were able to sit themselves up at a keyboard, type in www.secondlife.com and download the client. So, they aren't incapacitated.

Caliandris, I have spent LOTS of time in OI and HI, owing to the new alt-o-rama! And it's awful stuff. The shooting is something I not only see, but find that the mentors/helpers/etc are always crabbing about. I hear them yelping about this at meetings like at Thinkers or on forums. In fact, if the shooting wasn't an issue, why are there big, dumb, signs everywhere with large graphics like the U.S. Army might put in some country they are occupying where they haven't bothered to learn the local language??!! (I think it's one of the fantasies of the helpers that all these "foreigners" in fact don't speak English. Most do.)

I've already heard mentors talk about the need for people on OI and HI to have freeze/eject powers. HELL NO. I am going to squawk loud and hard about this one, I'm sorry. I already contacted Jeska and asked her: Jeska, you talked about having "different roles" in the groups handling OI and HI now, using the new features of 1.12, in the forums. Does this mean you will start assigning the POWERS that go with different roles?

She said she only conceived of having the differently-titled people with "mentor" or "greeter" over their head all melded into one groups using different *titles* on their head, not different *powers*. Obviously, that's to make her management problem easier.

But very soon, she and other Lindens, if they haven't thought of this already, will say, hey, we have these great new tools! And we have all these great new differentiated powers! And we can now put people on Governor Linden land, but they can't sell it or steal it or subdivide it, because we can toggle all that off! And hey, now we can assign SOME of them the power to add to the ban list! How convenient! And oh, lookie here! We can also toggle others to have the power to eject and freeze all those annoying griefers! wonderbar! Let's do it! that's really making the new tools work! AND saving on our tight budget -- we won't have to hire new liaisons, *let's just have the volunteers do the freezing and ejecting*.

Except, that's the first step to resident government by people we didn't pick, who aren't accountable. At least Lindens who freeze and eject have some sort of job description; some company manual; some training; and some oversight f2f in RL. Volunteers don't.

And it's wrong to have some people elevated over others able to eject and freeze. Yes, terribly convenient. Yes, a mere toggle which Lindens will not only be tempted to do, but will be *browbeaten* into doing by pressure-y resmods who hate being shot or bombed. I mentioned this concept to several mentors and they all loved the idea. People always to love the idea of themselves acquiring new powers over others LOL.

Oh, this only functions just on OI and HI you say? But group functions aren't limited to just one parcel; they pertain to that land anywhere. So if Governor Linden land is elsewhere on the mainland, that same mentor with the freeze/eject power they were "only supposed to use on the OI" can now whallop people anywhere they see Gov Linden land -- first it will be infohubs, welcome areas, then anywhere, anytime, on any Governor Linden road.

The only way to have that not happen would be to have some new entity/group come into being called Help Island Team (HIT) that owns that land and passes out special powers.

These greeters and mentors have already shown their appetite for special powers -- they have their own special internal comm system.

And abuses already abound -- my favourite story involves this brainless "mentor" -- how she ever got the title is anybody's guess -- who began to bully and threaten me in IMs when I told her thuggish boyfriend that he was over his prim limit on his rental and had to remove some of his prims. Thanks! Real nice! Just what mentors do *so well*.

Or the "Helper" who came flying up to me on my mainland island in Ravenglass, when I was just putting a price tag on it again after some offers didn't pan out, who sneered and bullied me for putting what he felt was too high a price on my own land, even though he had no intention of making any offer on it. He was just being an ass. He had an attitude and a half about land barons; he unleashed it all on me wearing his "helper" tag.

No, these people are way out of control all over, and the worst thing would be to start assigning them the group powers out of the group, so effortlessly toggled by Jeska.

If you think this discussion is premature or hysterical, come back in 8 weeks or whenever the tools have burned in awhile, and you'll see a completely different picture. More and more, the Lindens feel they are doing a great thing, "turning the world over to the residents". The problem is that neither these residents or these Lindens are really serving any higher purpose, judging from their behaviour in instances I've just cited.

If you REALLY want to pronounce on this system, tell us the numbers. How many people retain? After WHICH new user experience?

I also spend LOTS of time helping newbies since I have many rental communities oriented toward newbies. And I'm not jaded on the mainland; I'm normal and practical about helping other adults like myself with disposable income, DSL lines, and computers with high-end graphic cards. Don't forget lots of people just skip over the OI and HI dreck.

Wikipedia is not a model. Wikipedia is run by small sects of cadres. Under the guise of being open, it is closed. There is more and more open debate about the impediments of Wikipedia to authentic open debate and professional, recognized scholarship critical for a real open society, not a fake one which is just a mob all clicking on the same links.

Oliver, there's nothing intrinsically anti-communitarian about European ethnicity. Please, spare us the stereotypes, even delivered under the guise of countering stereotypes.

The Welcome Areas you describe exist. They're called, um, welcome areas already in SL in the Linden Places list. And people have tried what you describe numerous times, in things like New Citizens. The problem is the WA griefer groups, the determined lifers who crap up the WAs and against which the Lindens seem powerless -- they made the necessity for these sequested OIs and HIs.

I agree that closed areas like that are ridiculous. They keep the community from exercising restraint and oversight over these over-privileged inworld resmods called Mentors and Greeters; they leave newbies floundering with no follow up. The experience should be far more integrated into the community.

For that you'd need a community in the first place. We don't have that writ large. There are various niche groups, like furries, who can "take care of their own". But as a person comes off the boat, they may not have picked "furry" yet.

There already is a duplicate OI now inworld for those that "can't find their way back". It's underused.

I've spent long hours standing in the infohub that I helped develop; I've spent REALLY LONG hours helping newbies get started in building/placing homes/doing rentals in the half a dozen newbie areas I have as part of my rentals.

In a mirror of the OI and HI experience, I would estimate only 10-20 percent of the people hitting the infohubs actually want their hand held and actually want socializing, questioning, help. I deliberately wanted our infohub to be a self-paced tutorial you could absorb as much as you wanted to -- and come back later if you liked to get more.

I find a fair number of people coming in, even non-alts, have a friend they want to get to who is inviting them into SL. They might have one or two qustions, you help them with, and they are on their way. That friend will take them to a home or club and help them adjust. These newbies who get "home-stays" like that are probably the percentage that retains the best. Therefore the Lindens should think of other ways to incent and help them -- offering people very simple orientation stations that they can adapt for their own home/club (the ones in the library are clunky).

In RL, it often happens that you find a mentor and approach and ask someone to be your mentor -- you aren't assigned one.

"Mentor" should not be a title conferred by Lindens, and upheld by those only keen on circling the wagons. "Mentor" should be a title a newbie who actually gets good mentoring service confers on a person who actually really helps him. If there was a way to click on a person and rate them as to "mentor" and not just "builder" that might work (though these systems are always gamed). My point is merely to try to think how the system could be more *user driven*. Right now, I'm not sure that the referrals $1000 or $2000 is even working. I've had people land on my head who made me their friend merely because they read my blog or something and came to SL -- I've never seen any $1000 lol. This system was gamed, too, of course.

I can only say to all those who have bright ideas for helping newbies: *go do it yourself before prescribing more methods for LL*. Those of us really doing this understand the really high percentage of crap you must endure from people who are often deliberately clueless because they don't want to bother focusing, or who are even abusive and ungrateful. The small percentage who aren't make the work worthwhile.

Ryu Durragh

Prokofy, if there were a button here to "rate" someone, you'd get my vote.

The entire "help the newbies" by doing it ourselves is why I bought my island. Not *all* newbies, for sure, since I am only one person, but my friends, their friends, and so on.

I myself might still be considered a newbie, not to chat/mud/irc and such, but to the whole "driving around in an avatar" motif. I still bang into things and people (writing a simple "Oops, sory!" gesture with a hot key :P) and flying is tricky.. hard to find the right balance of sensitivity settings on my mouse :)

But, the upshot is I agree wholeheartedly in not giving powers and titles out in an uncontrolled and unaccountable fashion.

Their would need to be "police" and "juries" and "judges" and all the other SL versions of RL institutions implemented. NIGHTMARE!

And, yes, it is a lot of fun to watch others have their "Oh, WOW!" and "LOL" moments here for the first time. And making a few worthwile friends along the way is also very nice :)

Oliver Primeau

Well... Prokofy... It's interesting that you bring up the idea of children and infants. That's exactly what people are on the introductory islands. On orientation island, they're like infants... and on help island, they're like elementary school aged children. They have trouble with coordination. They can't walk... or fly smoothly. They don't know anything about teleportation. They are foolish in how they talk to eachother. They can't even dress themselves, sometimes.

How long has it been since you were a newbie, yourself?

I think you're painting a much darker picture of help island than is warranted.. Maybe you're trying to be dramatic. Actually it's quite a nice place... I have never seen people shooting over there... once in a blue moon only.

Because you're painting such a gloomy scene - you can justify going on and making a mountain out of a molehill with the ejecting/freezing thing. As far as I'm aware of, that really isn't a thing being discussed in any serious fashion - although it might be if more people with the kind of eloquence you have, keep giving the issue such attention..

It's true that the mentors need to be more engaged with the new entrants... Half the time, people there aren't aware of the fact that they are mentors. Mentors will oftentimes just hang out like teenagers and chat. Or one day I found them all over in the sandbox doing excercises with helicopters.

I understand that they are volunteers... but the Lindens have to have a way of better discerning what motivates people who want to be mentors. I was working with this woman for a couple years, locally - putting together concerts and theatre events... and that was the one thing she said to me. She looks for "what motivates people" - that's how she would cast people in a children's play... or arrange roles for people who wanted to help her out in a concert.

The main problem I hear vocalized so much by the old timers here at SecondLife, is that the quality of social interaction on the mainland is going downhill quite quickly. And the fact is that because people who just enter SecondLife for the first time are very much children in a very real sense, they can be gotten at that point, and molded. If they are given a proper introduction, and proper tutoring and mentoring, the social life on the mainland will get a lot more gentile.

Another problem on the mainland, of course, is the slum expansion wherever there are the "First Land" areas... and just like Robyn Miller said in his essay, ( http://tinselman.typepad.com/tinselman/2006/04/a_pattern_langu.html ) it's very important that the Lindens reserve space for public infrastructure - parks.. city halls... roadways, and such things...

There shouldn't be an option to prohibit overflight on property. The skies are the public sidewalks of SecondLife. I understand if they say they are "selling land" to people, you have to cater to the desires of those buying it... but one still has to preserve social standards and the integrity of the community.

Looking at the section of your essay where you talk about how gloomy help island is, I can't get over your fatalistic attitude, Prokofy. That kind of worldview is really poisonous... and given the incredible skill you have with words and ideas... I would really hope you would reassess your fatalistic view of "human nature." I have met several talented writers on the net who have fatalistic outlooks on life... and it really weighs them down... and they end up exerting influence in a way that isn't always good, because they don't think that people can change or learn in any substantive way. A teacher like you or I, needs to be in tune with his students (writing this kind of text is a form of teaching).

I have to beg to differ with you about Wikipedia. The people who design any internet social environment have to consider what kind of person they want to join up and be a part of the project. How they set precedent... and how they cater to different kinds of writers are both very important things to consider.

Wikipedia got the way it did because it was a magnet for a certain type of person. It doesn't need to have exclusivity... or closed doors, to build a community with very high social standards. To address your compunction about wikipedia changing the face of the way scholarly pursuits are endeavored in our nation... I have to laugh. I think it's much healthier to have open conversation with many perspectives about these things.. than to have colleges where pharmaceutical companies are funding most of the research in the biology and medical departments. And other special interests are funding research in other departments. Everyone's a specialist in something, Prokofy... and most of the most talented and deep thinking people across the globe don't have a college degree.

To address your straw man portrayal of my depiction of ethnically european society... Again I have to chuckle. There is a different flavor to different cultures... those differences are fading in some sense... with the word becoming smaller... but people who come from latin american countries to the usa will always say that people here are very distant and cold. I have to agree that by comparison, it's true... But that's only because we haven't made the social institutions which would change the flavor of our society. SecondLife is a great opportunity to draw up some ideas about new kinds of social institutions.

I have seen the duplicate Orientation Island... that's nice... but I haven't found the building tutorials anywhere on the mainland - those three big books... I just found the ivory tower - which isn't nearly as comfortable an environment to study in.

To briefly address your other assorted comments:

How interesting, your comments about the furries... I'll have to change costume and go socialize with them a bit. How fascinating!

Indeed I agree with you where you say only the 10 to 20% of people wanting to help. That's good.. it means we can set up a system where only those who are really motivated to help will seek to do so.

I adore the ethic of the person who designed Orientation Island. It is certainly very perceptive. People do want to explore with their own hands, eyes and feet, more than they want to ask questions. This shows profound insight into the workings of naivety. The same thing is true for children in the real world... they require opportunities to get their hands into things, more than anything else.

As you say... in real life... it is true that mentors are found when they are approached by those naive people who want one. However... again in our ethnically european society... we're trained from birth not to be socially outgoing. Children are taught not to initiate conversations with people around them. And so... people DO need to be forthright who can offer mentorship.

I love your idea about being able to click someone and rate them as a mentor...:-)... although you're right about the gaming of those rating systems.

To respond to your assertion about people trying things out themselves, before suggesting them to the Lindens... well hmmm... a lot of people with the best ideas, Prokofy, are quite poor, as well. They have chosen to use their time to develop their skill base and to write and to think. They wouldn't have the $300 a year to lease an acre... let alone the $2300 a year to lease a small island sim.

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