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Second Life - How Hard Can It Be?

Second Life - How Hard Can It Be?

  • Just thought I'd see how hard it has been for people to try out Second Life. We just published a TechSoup GreenTech blog post called <a href=""> 'Second Life, a Second Opinion'</a> in which our Monica Skinner struggled to get situated in the virtual world and start doing constructive things there.

    Have you found Second Life hard to use? Easy to use? Fun? Nerve-wracking?


    -Jim Lynch

  • Interesting question Jim...

    My own experience with SL pretty much matched that offered by Monica with the possible exception that I didn't find the technology too difficult to use (I have constructed a few VRML 'worlds' and understand the nuances of the language) - however once I was in SL there seemed little to really keep people motivated to stay - I'm not really into virtual dating or the game of creating outlandish fantasy avatars :-)

    As a place for NPO interaction... In truth I would be unlikely to return or use it for this purpose... too many negatives in terms of high bandwidth utilization, technical barriers to entry for novice computer users, limitations of the virtual language itself, unlikeliness of employers to allow access to this type of content from the workplace... and the simple time it takes to get to and attend anything in SL (by comparison to more traditional 'virtual' conferences and seminars held on line - eg: this event hosted by Social Edge held a few years ago).

    I'm not going to totally abandon any possibility of my using VRML worlds for virtual interaction - after all, the concept and language has been around nearly as long as the HTML language itself... but these newer worlds still seem hamstrung by the same old barriers of entry - time consuming, hard to navigate, very high bandwidth and computing demands, and a user experience and interface that's really designed more for on line dating and games than non-profit interaction.

    Cheers, Don

  • It's a bit hard for me to say if I found Second Life hard to use or easy to use.  I started my time in Second Life before I began there with my nonprofit so I had completed the steepest part of the learning curve in advance.  I will say that at that time the endless help I received from friends and strangers alike made getting into Second Life much easier.  The fact that every single person was a noob that didn't know anything at one point tends to make all your foibles insignificant.  The interesting part about Second Life is that often, if done with grace, you can ask almost anyone for help.  You just have to be willing to reach out and do it and sometimes that takes getting over our fears of looking dumb.  A bit of good humor goes a long way with that.

    As to being difficult I can't help but compare Second Life to any new social media or computer tool I've used before.  Watch people who aren't computer literate get onto the internet for the first time and you'll see that they are just as frustrated and confused.  When you are completely new to anything it is difficult and overwhelming.
    As far as what makes people stay, it's what I've always said about Second Life... life is what you make it, in Second Life or real life.  What makes me stay is the interaction I have with people I would have never met if confined just to the web or face to face interaction.  The fact that perfect strangers are willing to spend time helping you get started is amazing, and I'm not talking about volunteers here, just random avatars you pass on the street.  In fact it's that helpfulness and compassion that inspired me to create my own nonprofit, Seattle Free School which is a nonprofit run completely without cash donations of any kind.  In Second Life I eventually realized that all these helpful people weren't some strange helpful subset of real life but just a large cross sampling of real life.  People are helpful, willing to give their time if they can and it's not terribly inconvenient.  It's a good lesson to learn.  Thanks to Second Life I have free website hosting for my nonprofit Seattle Free School from a good friend of mine in France whom I've never met in person.  If that isn't randomness and beauty I don't know what is.
    As for what to do there's far more then virtual dating and fantasy avatars.  Explore the incredible artistic talents of so many of the people in this alternate world.  Connect with other people like you- I can't help but think of the vets groups in Second Life and how wonderful it is for these men and woman, many of them suffering extreme mental and physical trauma, to be able to log in any time of the day and night and find people that actually understand what they are dealing with.  Learn a new skill.  The list goes on and on and on.  Again, it's up to you what you want your Second Life to be.  Like life it will be as limited or expansive as you are.
    As for nonprofit interaction I've found a number of great people to work with in Second Life and helped spread the word of my other nonprofit, Community Voice Mail, through this world.  We've had interest in starting new sites, new agencies have signed up and a number of CVM champions have been born thanks to Second Life. We’ve had interactions with folks who offered to volunteer for the nonprofit and interaction with employees of one of our corporate grantors, showing that we’re as interested as they are in discovering how to get the most out of these new technology tools. All in all it’s definitely worth the small amount of time we actually spend maintaining our Second Life presence.
    "time consuming, hard to navigate, very high bandwidth and computing demands, and a user experience and interface that's really designed more for on line dating and games than non-profit interaction" 
    The same was said of the web not all that long ago.
  • jessicadally
    The same was said of the web not all that long ago.

    Hi Jessica,

    For parts of the web, yes, but remember VRML 'virtual worlds' have been a part of the web from (almost) the beginning... these technologies in particular were those criticized throughout web development history for difficulty of use, high bandwidth and computing requirements etc. -  Other web community elements (chats, email groups and forums etc.) were, and remain, a lot more accessible by the larger web community. 

    Second life is an interesting game but I'm afraid the barriers of entry to virtual worlds have not changed - eg I'm accessing the 'net right now on a notebook and 256K mobile connection... throughout most of today I'll be online through my PDA - I can connect here to TechSoup with both; I can participate in email and web-based community's and discussions on both... yet I cannot connect to SL with either of them. Similarly, I can connect to just about any web community on my workplace computer yet I cannot connect to a virtual world requiring that I install software for entry. These are barriers that just don't exist on other web community's.      

    Please understand I find your testimonial fascinating and thank you for sharing! - I also don't doubt that some people are able to achieve value from participation in virtual games - I do however think you will find that the same (or perhaps even higher) degrees of help and support exist on any online forum - that you don't need a 'virtual world', an avatar, hours online at a time in a fantasy world simply to achieve this. I also find other forms of online community's less intimidating and possibly more welcoming of larger numbers of less advantaged people.

    Cheers, Don

  • True enough, but you're able to access the web at work because nonprofits no longer see the web as unnecessary.  It wasn't that long ago that many of them did and had computers that reflected that (if they had computers at all).  And because of that change in perspective they now have invested the money into the tools necessary to access the web, all pieces of hardware they didn't have before.  And you most likely could access Second Life through some of it's alternate viewers on most any machine.  It will not provide the same experience but it allows a person to get "in world" on a machine of almost any quality (almost).

    "I do however think you will find that the same (or perhaps even higher) degrees of help and support exist on any online forum"

    I have to say honestly that I could not possibly disagree more.  As a participant in many online forums I can tell you across the board that there is a connection in Second Life that goes way beyond text and way beyond any forum I've ever participated in without question.

    If we're talking getting tech support then yes, go to a forum.  If we're talking about building champions for your organization, really telling a story and making people care and understand what you do then there is no tool like Second Life for it.  Even Facebook can't compete... there's just something about a purely written world that tends to have us skimming for content instead of searching for meaning.

    I can assure you that if I met someone I knew from a forum it would be unlikely that we'd hug, go have dinner and chat like old friends, even those people I've seen on the forum for years and years.  Having met numerous friends from Second Life in real life I'll tell you that our first meeting was dinner, hugs and great fun, open communication.  Forums offer a way to share information, but in general you are not encouraged to share larger pieces of yourself and it is that connection that builds something special in Second Life.  The ability to play, to create and to explore solo and with friends is something that pulls us in as humans and causes us to see bigger meaning.

    As for those advantaged or disadvantaged people one of my friends in Second Life is homeless in real life.  He accesses Second Life at his local library.  And it didn't take me hours to meet him or get to know him.  A few minutes of conversation and I have a new friend and know more about his life then anyone I passed on the street today or chatted with casually.  Certainly more then I know about anyone in any forum I've ever frequented.  And now, thinking about it, I haven't ever called someone in a forum a "friend" and yet I have many many friends in Second Life.  That to me (and to my nonprofit) is the big difference.

  • Hi Jessica,

    Once again I find your testimony on this fascinating and don’t doubt for a moment that you are getting tremendous value from your experience with this virtual world – good for you and your NPO! However nothing you have written counters or dispute’s the barriers of entry presented by virtual games for a majority of people. These are still real issues and (unfortunately) I suspect that most people would not get the same value from this as you.

    I.e. – It’s really incorrect to suggest ‘you most likely could access Second Life through some of it's alternate viewers on most any machine’… The few release candidate viewers that are available suffer the same pitfalls as SL itself – it is still a game, still overly time consuming, resource and bandwidth expensive, and still prohibited on most (commercial, Government and NPO) workplace networks. Plus it’s still extremely difficult to use (sorry, but this is reality! not virtual reality :-) )

    On the warm and fuzzies of building champions, having dinner with online contacts , open communication, hugs and sharing etc.… I can really offer some hope on these aspects for non second-lifers as my own online interaction has taken me around the world. I have most definitely met (and dined, hugged and shared etc.) with many of the wonderful contacts I have met online; so much so that one day I plan to write a book about it all  - There is just something really special about flying half-way around the world to be hosted in New York to tour Ground Zero by a wonderful person I never actually met in the physical world until that point; to travel to and present in Sri Lanka at the invitation of people I only ever met and worked with online; to be invited to Harvard U by professors I only ever conversed with online; to dine with a marvelous couple in Boston, to meet in flesh the 'Pancake Man' of Thailand!…  these are just small snippets of a world solely created and inter-connected by my own online interactions (notably none of it through virtual gaming).

    I’m a little sorry you were unable to experience these sort of joys and maybe this explains why you enjoy SL so much – it does depend on the personality of the forums you populate. The underlying technology is simply an enabler (unfortunately it can also be an inhibitor which is what we are discussing here).

    Again – No doubts about the benefits you are achieving - however for most of us I think we do need to incorporate and accept that (just a little) reality must creep into this virtual world of yours – yes it’s fun; yes it can be beneficial, yes it can be addictive… but we are also discussing real people with real lives and issues. It’s not for everyone. Most of us are locked out of this game for the majority of our time.

    For most of us, traditional online community’s are simply more accessible. I really don't think it's any more complicated than that.

    Cheers, Don