Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Simple Plan to Solve The Second Life Retention Problem

"Build it and they will come" seems to be true in relation to Second Life. The problem is that 90% of people who register don't stay. They leave within the first three months. It seems obvious to me that the one primary reason for the astronomic departure rate is that most people don't find something worth doing. Right now, finding something interesting enough to make it beyond the initial learning curve is left up to chance. And the odds seem to be about 9-1 against.

So I offer a relatively simple solution. Treat Second Life nubes like conference attendees. When they sign-up, have them register for a specific track. Then provide a series of classes, self-guided courses and resources to lead them from neophyte to journeyman.

The chart below shows just some top-of-mind category idea for the tracks, along with one level of detail for a few of them to illustrate the concept.

Start Right

So if someone is interested in building, have them start with building curriculum right after they are registered. Start with a small project they can build in less than an hour. And provide a place for them to display their work. Show them how to do a screen capture or video capture to share their effort with friends outside Second Life. And then offer additional education and projects so that they don't need to figure out what to do until they've built up the skills to start working independently.

This same concept holds true for more recreational tracks such as sightseeing and art viewing. Virtual art appreciation classes and self guided tours would be 101 level courses, followed by short tours of specific art styles or artists, lectures, exhibition trips, etc.

Outreach to physical world artists and musicians is another promising area. Why not advertise to them and offer education to help extend their work to virtual worlds?

Anyway, that's my lightbulb idea for this morning. Of course, there is a great deal of thought that would need to go into the structure of classes, curriculum, etc. But I think it would be a relatively modest investment with huge potential returns. Just bumping retention up 10% would have an enormous cumulative impact.


Steven Saus said...

That's a fabulous idea. I know that I ended up finding (for example) virtual art through Impossible in Real Life, but until I found it... yeah.

rorowe said...

The first thing I did in SL when I started was look for "classes" in search. 3 years ago, I found "TeaZers" (now TUi) and that's exactly what made me stay.
I'd love to see Linden Labs offer a self-guided (or even Linden guided) set of tracks like you propose.
Your mention neophyte - journeyman reminded me of WoW and achievements. What are your thoughts there?

Bettina Tizzy said...

Oh, Botgirl, this is such a smart approach. Resident experts in each field could be enlisted to help, too. I do hope Lindens who are working on the first hours of a newbie's life see this.

Botgirl Questi said...

Steve: I think most people who are now long-term residents could recount the one or two experiences inworld that first sparked their interest.

rorowe: I think the WoW achievement parallel is right in line, and doesn't need to be game-related. For instance, if you attend a certain number of art exhibitions you'd receive some sort of badge that could be displayed in your profile.

Bettina: I think that there's probably been too much attention on learning the interface, and not enough on making people interested in something enough to be motivated to learn it.

Anonymous said...

Also, SL used to have a limited form of this that could be opted for. Anyone remember it?

Chestnut Rau said...

This is a fantastic idea and I do think Linden tried to touch on it with the Community Gateways. I created alts and went through a few of the Community Gateways. Admittedly I did not try all of them but I was disappointed.

I think your idea is brilliant and holds great promise. Linden should hire you and tap into your great insights Botgirl.

Kwame Oh said...

In a nutshell you have come to conclusions that the Lab sort of came to recently with the "solution provider" program which then morphed into "Gold", and now from where i stand Linden Lab seems to be moving into the same business of high end orientation themselves.

To be fair though we have seen a steep learning/takeup of some of the uses of virtual world secondlife specifically with the debate still murmuring about whether it is a game or not.

Julius Sowu

Unknown said...

Excellent idea!

Samara Barzane said...

This is a fabulous idea! As an art gallery owner and *cough* builder I'd be happy to help develop those tracks.

Anonymous said...

I took this on as a dissertation topic last year. My own idea was to tackle orientation more as a game than a series of billboards to read, like a 3D manual. Though sadly I missed out on the chance to build it up properly, I hope one day to get around to it as you've certainly highlighted there's still a need for this sort of thing.

It may seem a little misleading to motivate people through a tutorial by gaming (quests and rewards), only to turn them out onto a non-linear world afterwards, but MMOs already take a similar approach. It's just that instead of graduating the "kill enemies, deliver food to inn, report to the capital city, now go and find your own quests" formula, people are turned out to find other communities to engage with.

Anonymous said...

I think that this kind of pathway into SL would also vastly improve the quality of items for sale in SL. Proper scripting classes would help to combat lag, textures would be matched and at the correct ratios. Oh the joy! sign me up.

Unknown said...

This is a fantastic concept. For those of us who are roleplaying gamers, there's a distinct resonance between this and the idea of having a "character class" or "build" as the terminology seems to be morphing into. So you could have a range of classes or career paths for people to select from when they first begin. They can pursue the development of those paths in their own time but the completion of each level of development (how that would be measured is a separate question) and once they have completed a career development path or character class or build or whatever we would call it, they could be rewarded with access to new areas of the grid or new tools or a collection of new objects which can only be obtained through this one career path's completion.

If each career path had say twelve distinct stages, each one designed to take longer than the last and requiring a certain amount of time to have passed in-world (not like in EVE Online where skills develop whether you're logged in or not) as well as the completion of certain criteria, then people would be far more likely to stay as residents in my opinion. I'm one hundred percent behind this one. If I can help in some way, let me know *cough* Herald article *cough* :)

Botgirl Questi said...

Tateru, Chestnus, Kwame, Sinyo:

There have certainly been educational initiatives in the past. I think that some of the possibly unique points in the approach I'm proposing might be:

- Pick a track at registration. Wrap basic application skills within framework of a user-selected interest area. Learn by doing something interesting with desirable outcomes mitigating learning curve.

- Short (<1 hour) classes/courses/sessions that build upon each other.

- For creative tracks, build in some way to exhibit/share work, including web-based display such as a flickr group, youtube/vimeo channel, etc.

- Provide options (or mix of) group classes and self-guided courses.

A new idea in the comments that fits really well is some sort of recognition for progress. Maybe badges in profile, access to special areas, etc.

Botgirl Questi said...

Sinnyo & senbanbabii: I think the idea of leveraging lessons learned from gaming is awesome.

Chestnut Rau said...

Botgirl, as you probably know Hamlet has been championing a system of "achievement" for some time. I think the idea has merit even if lots of people disagreed in the comments on NWN, as I recall.

Botgirl Questi said...

Chestnut: I suspect that the strategy for retention would need to be tailored to discrete segments.

For newcomers and casual users (who probably don't pay much attention to Second Life related blogs) I think that providing some tangible tracking of progress in areas of interest would have a positive impact. I think that best practices in online community management attest to the power of recognition.Since the biggest obstacle to growth seems to be retention of newcomers, I think it would be certainly worth a good test.

The challenge of "managing" long-term community members is a real tough issue, not just for virtual worlds, but for most online communities. The most prolific members tend to have pretty fixed ideas and are prone to slamming new ideas from the sponsoring organization. And they are very touchy about any sense of being manipulated.

So I don't think achievement ratings would have much impact on many of the entrenched builders, scripters, bloggers, RPers, fashionistas, etc. and it makes sense that they wouldn't be very keen on the idea. Since there aren't as yet great options outside of Second Life, I don't think retention is the issue with them, but rather moving them to be allies of Linden Lab, rather than antagonists or at least critics.

One strategy that worked for a MASSIVE community (big gaming company) was outreach to the most vocal critics. The company arranged for phone calls and LISTENED to their concerns. Then they paid to fly some of the most outspoken bit receptive veterans to a user conference and went out of their way to enlist their aid. Of course, this strategy requires really adept people on the company side and a sincere desire to listen. Often, what critics most want is the feeling that they've been heard.

Oh well, this went a bit far afield from the simple little idea I posed this morning, but I think that I wouldn't but much weight on NWN comments as a gauge of what nubies would respond to.

Unknown said...

And while they are at, LL can give them enough money to start with so that if they are interested in Live Music, they will be encouraged to develop a habit of tipping us.

'm just sayin'...

Unknown said...

One of my alts ran across a SL in-world school that provided a HUD and a series of classes to do a lot of what you recommend. Last time I went back to check, they were on hiatus.

It's a great idea and Chimera still goes to classes regularly. But how to merge it with the many, many schools that exist now (some great, some not so much)? There are a lot of talented course developers who work for tips, and I have no idea how many schools already exist, at least for the building/scripting track.

The trick is to promote connections and/or community formation along the way. And in a way that networks existing talent and resources.

The "herding cats" problem comes into play. Bettina collected a bunch of us with NPiRL and iIRL. How can the best aspects of what exists be put into a form that new and old residents can access, tap into, and understand?

Facilitation and motivation are major skill sets. This is fab in theory, but who has the vision and talent to put it into practice on this scale? Someone, I hope.

Or does it really have to be based more in local/regional communities of practice--with great facilitators and leaders of course? Interesting questions that I think about a lot too.

Botgirl Questi said...

LDL: I was thinking this would need to be integrated in the formal Second Life registration process to really have much impact on retention.

Botgirl Questi said...

Now that I think about it, if I ran the LL marketing department I would target one group, probably RL artists and then develop something for them. Generate new registrations through various marketing channels and push them to a dedicated new user program.

SuezanneC Baskerville said...

How well do ideas that involve paid workers providing personal attention to users inworld work out with ten thousand signups a day?

Ten thousand signups. It would take a lot of sims and a lot of paid staff to provide personal attention of any sort. Seems unworkable right on the face of it.

Offering people classes doesn't seem like a good way to get the other 90 per cent to stay to me. I see people at work goofing of watching squirrel catapulting videos clips of remote controlled helicopter crashes, not learning about digital graphics or ancient art. There's not that high a percentage that want to spend their surfing time getting educated.

Anyone with the tiniest bit of oomph can find tons of info on SL in a few minutes with a browser and a search engine.

Ten thousand signups a day seems unbelievable to the point where I'm not sure I trust the figure, which I found at Tat's site, but assuming it's true, how many sims and how many man-hours of paid staff time are people expecting LL to pay for?

Also, seems like I read a while back the dropout rate is really high not at the three month point or one week point but before the first hour inworld is over. Not even long enough to attend an hour class.

Poppy Zabelin said...

I think this is a really exciting idea.

Your categories look roughly correct to me although (exercising my bias here) I'd like to see a health track and a non-profit track as well. And maybe networking/VW social skills as well. Through my involvement with the American Cancer Society in SL I see a lot of people who find our support groups early on in their SL experience (some come in world looking for us) but we don't have resources to train and orient people. Maybe your plan could kick off a dialogue where the health groups could work together to develop a joint track.

As LDinSTL points out, a key issue is how to merge it with the many existing schools, networks and resources.

If this idea develops further as I hope it will I'd be glad to help in the health/NP area particularly (just don't ask me to build ... I need to go back to school, first)

Lots of great ideas in your original post and in the comments so how do you see this evolving and how are you/we going to roll this ball on further?

iliveisl said...

nice chart but . . . when i started sl, i did so at the urging of another (subQuark) and had no idea what i wanted to do

after a time (maybe 2 months) i started building and really liked it, although initially it intimidated me. i then was awarded a project to build an art gallery for an rl Deaf artist doing a show irl and wanting a simultaneous sl show

well i thought "aha - the big bucks are coming" and that was in the big days of second life and i was paid a very nice lump for that project - enough that if i had one a month, i could quit my day job . . .

but then later, maybe 8 months - i decided that owning sims might be good. i built up and had 18 sims. until the openspace thing (12 of the 18 were openspace). so i converted down and now have 12 sims (1 openspace, 2 homestead and 9 fulls)

we never fully recovered from the openspace thing and our growth has come to a standstill (thus our venture into Reaction grid thanks to LL's Jokay smackdown mess)

but, one of the first things i wanted to do isl was become a Mentor. irl i like to give back and was a volunteer firefighter and paramedic for two years so being a Mentor seemed nice (plus my college background is teaching)

i did the Mentor thing and got in and loved it. i would spend about 3 hours a week at Orientation Island helping n00bs and offering suggestions to the inevitable question of "wanna have sex?", oops, well that did happen a lot, the question of "what is there to do here?"

and much of what you cover was also suggested by many Mentors. i love all the free classes you can find everyday isl and encourage everyone to take some and see what they like

i did that with building and now have done projects for ebay, the elearning Guild, and Sun Microsystems

so your roadmap/conference attendee thing would work but with LL just disbanding the Mentor programme, i am not sure they would have the ability to make this a reality. well not the ability, but the desire

i agree that LL needs to do something because concurrent users has been trending down (but how much of that is the bot policy)

still though, when they treat someone like Joaky the way they did and she has 4 sims and could give a flip about us (and we know 2 Lindens personally from a trip to San Fran), it's hard to see how new Premium members will make up for the eventual losses of people like us and Jokay

it takes 500 new premiums (annual rate) to make up for one iliveisl-sized customer. we don't ask for much (i think 6 Live Chat sessions in three years and maybe 8 tickets)

so let's hope they pay attention to your well written thoughts and don't just continue doing Jokay type things

i love sl very much and it saddens me to see what could have been three years ago become some seemingly impersonal corporate thing

Botgirl Questi said...

LDinSTL: The more I think about the HUD plus community idea, the more I like it. If there was an integrated learning HUD built into the client with some sort of API or whatever technology would be appropriate to allow it to pull in external content, then interest-area content could come from multiple sources.

Botgirl Questi said...

SuezanneC: I agree live human instructors would not scale. The live classes would need to be automated through a HUD like LDinSTL mentioned. The difference between the live class and self-paced training would be that in the first case, groups of people would go through it together.

I haven't checked the actual daily numbers. I think registration is when someone signs up on the web. I'm guessing many of those who register never actually install the software and login.

I agree that the first hour is critical. My hypothesis is that if newcomers would be able first select their primary area of interest and then receive engaging step-by-step instruction that leaves them with a sense of accomplishment or at least a positive impression of SL's potential, a higher percentage would stay.

Botgirl Questi said...

iliveisl: Yeah, I have a hard time discerning the master plan behind the various decisions that Linden Lab has made over the last year. Their revenue model is probably mostly based on tier and I'm not sure how raw active residents translates into land acquisition (via rentals, businesses, etc.) versus full sim owners.

The new free home program seems to point to the basic premium account upgrade as a target for revenue growth...the conversion of active free members to paid, rather than reducing the retention rate of nubes.

That said, the simplified client that is supposed to come out this year will probably ease some of the frustration-based first hour bailouts and will benefit new users, rather than the current 100,000 or so core of active users.

Anyway, I had not give this stuff much thought before having the idea come out of nowhere this morning, so it was meant to be food for thought, rather than a clear plan of action. I've been thrilled by all of the comments and hope that there's at least a seed of something that ultimately proves useful.

Unknown said...

Yes, I did think the HUD concept had promise. There were also points of some sort involved, and a sequence to progress through. Now I have to remember which alt found it so I can get the LM and see if it still exists. The developer would have very interesting things to tell us.

Another thing to check out is the Global Kids free SL curriculum that they developed for teen second life. It's free on the web, and I have one of their kiosks on the NW corner of Jokaydia (I). It's got writing on it and it's big. Jeremy Kabumbo (San Jose State, Jeremy Kemp) has done amazing work on it, as have others.

= Chimera Cosmos =

Anonymous said...

Frankly I fail to see the point of this discussion when it is clear that Mark Kingdon is working through some roadmap he obviously presented to the LL board and was ordered to proceed and what LL's customers have to say is and will remain irrelevant unless it happens to coincide with Mr. Kingdon's plans.

You can delete all the paths except the one leading to corporate plutocracy and you will have all you are going to get out of LL unless huge human changes are made in Linden Lab. It just ain't happening period. We have seen how the new Linden Lab operates during the xstreetsl fiasco that is still underway. LL made a decision. They do not care what anyone thinks about it. This is how the new LL operates. Accept and endure the unannounced plans or leave. Your choice.

Nice try though. Is this some sort of attempt to make amends with the community after you were promoting use of counterfeiting viewers to commit TOS violations not too long ago right here on your blog? Nice try. Just shows how short memories are around here.

Anonymous said...

@annotoole: I think you really fail to grasp the purpose of Botgirl's blog, here. With one hand you dismiss all attempts for the community itself to offer SL users something new, yet on the other you seem to be institutionalising someone who clearly only wants to hold and spark debates.

The point of this discussion is that community leaders are making efforts to invite new users in all the time. Linden Lab may only give a select few the spotlight, but landowners everywhere surely have at some time met these sorts of obstacles. Not all of the new arrivals at their doors have been properly introduced to the platform.

jeremy said...

I wish something like this would resolve the problem, but I doubt it will. Retention, I'd argue and I think LL data will support this... is a matter of people finding friends and participating in a community of those friends.

sororNishi said...

Well, I would just like to add my voice to the many, yes, I think this is great...

Any actual PLAN would be welcome, and this seems to be as good an idea as is necessary.

Botgirl Questi said...

anneotoole: I think the point for most of us is to think about the topic and share our thoughts.

Sinnyo: It is true that I enjoy sparking discussion, but I seldom can predict which post will spark conversation. This post for instance, was just a quick Saturday morning idea and ended up generating more comments than any post of 2009.

Jeremy: I agree that social aspects of Second Life are probably key factors in retention. But I think that having help finding an area of interest and getting up to speed would increase the chance of finding like-minded individuals and develop relationships.

Loki said...

All fine and dandy as long as the option to not participate in any part of this "guidance" is left open to the newbies. After opening my acount, I rezzed straight inworld to a nice looking sim I saw on Showcase, without stepping foot on Orientation Island. (Didn't even find out till later I was supposed to go there first!) I learned everything on my own and had a blast wandering around exploring at my leisure. Some of us like it that way. It's called independence, and there is not enough opportunities for it in RL, which is why I insist on it, along with anon/psuedonimity, in SL. Sure I had frustrations and bad experiences, I had the same growing up in RL. But I like the anarchy of SL and don't want to see it turned into a mandatory Girl Scout summer camp, or see how much "flair" we can all paste on our name tags.

Botgirl Questi said...

Loki: I agree that there should be no mandatory participation for those who just want to head out and explore on their own.

Brinda said...

The solution to retention is invovlement,yes absolutely. Staying here requires finding a passion that speaks to you.
For the last two years I have personally taken one or two hours everyday to actively seek out new people...either at the so called *welcome areas* {which so often aren't!} or via alt accounts on the HIs. I tell them welcome :-) dress them up with a few freebies...answer a few questions...and offer them landmarks to safe nooblet sites such as NCI or Hyles or info hubs. I leave a notecard with my name and instructions on how to search for me...and an offer that I'll gladly answer any questions if they get lost/confused/etc.

I can introduce anyone interested to several people today that will tell you that if I, {or likely someone doing the same thing}, hadn't made a personal effort with them, they would not have remained in Secondlife.

Instead of waiting for *some one*...or *some program*...Why not personally get involved? The benefits to me are well worth the time...And the benefits to this platform that shines so brightly for me are inestimable.

Anonymous said...

Maybe if Linden Lab deleted all of their "welcome areas" people might want to stay. To wit a fine video recorded at ahern by one of the great machinimists of SL:

iliveisl said...

well i think your roadmap is brilliant and would certainly be well received by users

perhaps put into play with a younger and less bogged down virtual world - i imagine many LL decisions are based on the current hardware, upgrade costs, and many factors inevitable once you become of a certain size

the Jokay thing spoke to that point - becoming so big that the core principles get lost

like working at a small company -when you are really little, you still have beer on occasions and maybe half days in the summer, but you hit a "corporate" point then you no longer are a core group of passionate friends working towards ideals

like now, Kyle from Reaction Grid (CEO) works directly with us via Skype on a weekly basis, and sometimes it's 2 hours at a time - there will be a day where he won't be able to do that anymore

brava on your diagram, i like it, but imo it is misplaced on Linden Lab (you should connect with Justincc and start your own VW) =)

Lalo Telling said...

I think some oldbies might be interested in a set of learning programs like this, too.

Gwyneth Llewelyn said...

An awesome idea, very much in line with the idea of "accomplishment badges" that some people like SignpostMarv Martin have suggested a long time ago — but with a much more practical approach!

Botgirl Questi said...

I just issued a new post on this topic with the catchy title: The Paradox of Choice as it Applies to Second LIfe User Retention.

Grace McDunnough™ said...

How did I miss this great post?

This is part of what I tried to concoct - not nearly as elegantly as you've done - in this post

I wish you had thwapped me and pointe me here!

Botgirl Questi said...

I must be getting senile. For some reason I thought you had commented previously on this post and that I had commented on the one you referenced (which I enjoyed very much.)

Demonkid said...

I believe communication between LL and the residents of SL is crucial to even Botgilrs idea working. Improve the way we communicate inworld, i dont mean by just typing or voice chatting to each other, i mean communicating what we love to do, what we are interested in, what we've discovered and what we have to offer. Someone really needs to sit down and re-write the way we communicate the world and in doing so open it up between the newbs, Linden lab, the oldbies and those who have never even heard of SL.