Monday, March 7, 2011

Escape Plus: Secondlife.com's Need to Turn a Page


Location: Linden Lab's Public Face

Before we ever create that first avatar, we visit a Web page. Think for a moment about how Linden Lab presents its product.

This post rehashes a complaint that AJ Kelton made, who gave me permission to use his name. The issue shows why LL is chasing a certain type of customer at the expense of others. That is certainly a reasonable business proposition, but as Lindy McKeown replied at the SLED list discussion begun by Hiro Pendragon, Linden Lab has an excellent alternative to beginning the SL experience as they do.

My post to SLED:
A damning moment came up in our weekly VWER meeting. AJ Brooks had a few colleagues wanting to try SL. They did not get further than the SL Web site. One look at the Valentine's Day video on display, however, ended their interest.

Sorry, Mr. Humble; tattooed love-boys with their Celtic ladies-fair might work for grown ups who want The Sims Plus, but whatever actually goes on in-world, you'll lose your remaining educators with marketing like that.

So perhaps LL can have a less romance-and-escape-oriented front page with a page that manages to promote the service with prominent links to "What sort of second life do YOU want? Gaming? Education? Roleplay?"

Show a video with some shopping, but then show visitors getting into the Titan II / Gemini Stack at the Spaceflight Museum. Show visitors in the virtual Sistine Chapel, then show them racing cars.
Lindy's reply is brilliant:
I have to say the messages on the front page of http://secondlife.com seem pitched at a single (and maybe extremely profitable?) market. People who want to make social connections that may lead to "relationships" (of one kind or another).

Sadly business decisions by non education-specific vendors of products and services impacts education use of those services. Comparing it to Blackboard is like comparing not just apples to oranges, more like candy bars to oranges. Blackboard is designed as a learning management tool. Second Life is designed as a social tool that has been adapted for use in education and after that happened, Linden Labs made some mileage off that.

I am left wondering how the education community might influence the "front door" policy to be more inclusive *nudges the business educators in the ribs for ideas* so that it isn't a turn off for newcomers from other potential markets like education? What a shame this page isn't the front page! http://secondlife.com/community/?lang=en
That video includes education.
I like Lindy's idea, and that community page a lot. Without too much difficulty, LL should pitch SL's amazing content at a broader audience. The "kiss on the fake Eiffel Tower" began before the new CEO arrived, and it's up to him to change it.  There's nothing wrong with a kiss or a Valentine in a virtual world. As for adult content, Linden Lab has done a fine job of zoning and moving it to age-verified regions or behind closed doors on private land. Too many SLED respondents took my complaint to mean "oh, that sex is wrecking education in SL." Nonsense.

Sex is elsewhere on the Internet, and these Web pages about SL are not about sex. They are, however, about a narrow perception of a virtual world--an "escape" to use the Lindens' own words--that could be marketed far better to a broad audience.

So Linden Lab, change that front page to something more inclusive than "escape": perhaps learn, explore, play, connect, invent, love, build, and (most importantly) return?

Update 3/7/11: Hat-tip to Sheila for noticing the Freudian Slip in my original "location." Corrected after many guffaws.

3 comments:

Don said...

I think we educators are maybe being a bit hypersensitive in our criticisms of Linden Labs. As someone who uses SL both for social and business/educational uses, I don’t really mind the advertising slant. Frankly, I would not just blindly send any colleague to the website or even into Second Life itself. It is a world, and in many respects a unique culture to learn and be indoctrinated into (just like higher education is a unique culture – we don’t often step outside and realize it). There has to be some context provided, and I don’t think it is necessarily up to Linden Labs to provide that.

Linden Labs has to make money. They are trying to market their product to customers they perceive to be income-producing. I’m not saying that education does not provide them a level of income, but I’m betting that romance and social opportunities provides a lot more.

I would never judge any website or platform by scanning the landing page, whatever happened to “don’t judge a book by its cover?” Before we criticize too much maybe we should look at how our organizations market themselves. I looked up University of Richmond’s website – it featured smiling frat boys, the basketball team, and semi-naked Japanese drummers. A look at Montclair State University’s page which featured the ice hockey team and the opportunity to network with “Rocky,” who appears to be a giant red bird (or a college student in a giant red bird costume). What should I assume about these institutions based on these images? They are fine schools – I can recognize that they are using images that appeal to their primary customers.

I think you have a valid critique to a point though – how hard would it be for Linden Labs to have an “Education in Second Life” webpage – with targeted information for educators? If I Google “Second Life Education” first hit is the Second Life Education Wiki Page. It is (was?) very professional looking and targeted toward the academic. Unfortunately, it also seems to be in the process of being replaced by the community platform. Clicking on the community platform link takes you into an information abyss – not very helpful. If Linden Labs could use the format and content of the wiki page and use that as an education portal, which might help all involved.

Addison Greymyst said...

I think we educators are maybe being a bit hypersensitive in our criticisms of Linden Labs. As someone who uses SL both for social and business/educational uses, I don’t really mind the advertising slant. Frankly, I would not just blindly send any colleague to the website or even into Second Life itself. It is a world, and in many respects a unique culture to learn and be indoctrinated into (just like higher education is a unique culture – we don’t often step outside and realize it). There has to be some context provided, and I don’t think it is necessarily up to Linden Labs to provide that.

Linden Labs has to make money. They are trying to market their product to customers they perceive to be income-producing. I’m not saying that education does not provide them a level of income, but I’m betting that romance and social opportunities provides a lot more.

I would never judge any website or platform by scanning the landing page, whatever happened to “don’t judge a book by its cover?” Before we criticize too much maybe we should look at how our organizations market themselves. I looked up University of Richmond’s website – it featured smiling frat boys, the basketball team, and semi-naked Japanese drummers. A look at Montclair State University’s page which featured the ice hockey team and the opportunity to network with “Rocky,” who appears to be a giant red bird (or a college student in a giant red bird costume). What should I assume about these institutions based on these images? They are fine schools – I can recognize that they are using images that appeal to their primary customers.

I think you have a valid critique to a point though – how hard would it be for Linden Labs to have an “Education in Second Life” webpage – with targeted information for educators? If I Google “Second Life Education” first hit is the Second Life Education Wiki Page. It is (was?) very professional looking and targeted toward the academic. Unfortunately, it also seems to be in the process of being replaced by the community platform. Clicking on the community platform link takes you into an information abyss – not very helpful. If Linden Labs could use the format and content of the wiki page and use that as an education portal, which might help all involved.

Iggy O said...

Don/Addison,

I feel for AJ and his colleagues. How else do most of us create our SL avatars if not through LL's Web site? Perhaps AJ might have used one of the portals such as New Media Consortium for avatar creation.

I'm not hypersensitive about Linden Lab's emphasis. I do know that while educators already in SL probably care less about the slant of the front page, our colleagues who might not have avatars will.

If this platform is to be used for serious academic work, Linden Lab needs to have a page such as the Community Page for its landing spot. The relentless "be a vampire" or "kiss on the Eiffel Tower" will not endear the platform to many of my colleagues in higher ed.