Destination … Unknown

Inara Prey in her blog Living in a Modem World has been exploring the new Destination Islands, and coming up with thoughts about how they could be changed and or expanded.  Inara has covered it so well that I won’t go into detail here on the basic here – go and read her blogs and the interesting discussions that have followed.

The Linden Realm Look - the best representation of Second Life for newcomers?
The Linden Realm Look - the best representation of Second Life for newcomers?

Two points stand out for me – currently (as several people have mentioned) the appearance of the islands is drawn from the Linden Realms with its almost cartoonish mesh trees.  This gives a very unrepresentative of the Second Life they will see. Even if they are passing through on their way to other destinations, wouldn’t it be better to supply content that didn’t give such a reductionist impression?  The same environment designed by Julia Hathor, or Piedris Charma, or Kriss Lehmann, or Marcus Inkpen and Sharni Azalee – all of whom could present a rather more beguiling first impression.  And those are just names off the top of my head.

The Looking Glass - the Enchanted Forest
The Looking Glass – the Enchanted Forest by Marcus Inkpen and Sharni Azalee

But, for me, a rather more serious problem was where those destination doorways led – which seemed to be potentially anywhere in the Destination Guide.  Inara, for example, when she came through the Destination Island as a new alt, found herself with a bunch of newbies (who hadn’t learned to walk, talk or anything else – these were NEW) landed in Kensington W8 London. Now, I love the London sims – we covered them recently in a Designing Worlds show.  But landing newbies in Kensington is just crazy when there’s a another sim-  London England UK (the Hyde Park sim) in the four sim London region that has special information for newcomers, and people willing to help.

Community Gateway: London - a lively turn out at 7am SLT this Sunday morning
Community Gateway: London - a lively turn out at 7am SLT on a Sunday morning

I imagine that what is happening is that people are just being dropped at locations in the Destination Guide, regardless of whether those places are designed for newcomers.  And regardless of the fact that there might be amazing help for newcomers just a sim away, run by the same people.

It seems to me that the problem here is that the Destination Guide is a sort of portmanteau, and being forced to fill roles that it was never meant to.

The Destination Guide, at its simplest, lists destinations. One of them, for example, is the Prim Perfect headquarters, and very happy we are to be there.  We have a lovely build (with a gorgeous cafe – do drop in), and we’re listed in the media section of the Guide so that people interested in media can find us easily and come and browse the magazines, watch the TV shows and generally learn more about us in a lovely setting.  But we’re not set up as an induction centre; complete newcomers to Second Life won’t get helpful tips on how to find out more about Second Life as they would at Caledon Oxbridge or Virtual Ability.  That’s not why we’re in the Destination Guide.

Prim Perfect Headquarters - photograph by PJ Trenton
Prim Perfect Headquarters - photograph by PJ Trenton

And if you just push people out to locations in the destination guide, you could end up with the situation Botgirl Questi described when she sent an alt into a roleplaying area.

Lelani Carver has an interesting post on this on Chameleonic Possessions, looking at how new users can actually target their arrival in Second life through the map (although I guess Destination Islands could eventually over-ride that). She is suggesting using it as a good way for getting to a helpful place inworld – such as Caledon Oxbridge.  But you would, of course, need to know what were good places for newcomers before you started – and I’m not entirely sure what would lead people to make the initial entry to Second Life through a slurl link – a helpful friend, maybe? Or a really fascinating post that has a slurl link, which makes someone really itch to see a location, attend an event or join in a game.

Community Gateway: Caledon Oxbridge
Community Gateway: Caledon Oxbridge

What Inara is suggesting in her second post is that what needs to happen is probably something like the old Community Gateways (if you don’t know about them, there’s information here).

But, failing that, I think that the Destination Guide needs to be more targeted.  It really shouldn’t be hard – there’s already a Newcomer Friendly section in the Destination Guide which currently has 27 destinations, including London Hyde Park.  If newcomers were directed specifically to these destinations, and this category was grown to include sims that made a commitment to supporting new residents, the experience could be greatly improved.

Community Gateway: Virtual Ability
Community Gateway: Virtual Ability

Perhaps, if the Lab wants to grow the choices available to newcomers, there needs to be a category box one ticks – not newbie friendly (everyone would say they were newbie friendly) but something like “new user information provided”.  It could even be a standard set of information created by the Lab or Trusted Sources – like Caledon Oxbridge or Virtual Ability, with a commission to update when necessary.  And then newcomers could be directed to those sims, whereas the rest of us could use the Destination Guide as … a destination guide.

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