Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rosedale's Milkshake

Rosedale's Milkshake

Last week, a couple of articles in the mainstream press weighed in on why Second Life hasn't fulfilled it's initial promise to be the next big thing. 

Why Second Life Failed, by Chip and Dan Heath, used a story about building a better milkshake to illustrate why a successful new technology must perform a tangible "job" for customers that it does better than existing alternatives. It postulated that Second Life didn't expand into the mainstream because it never clearly articulated what purpose it served. It didn't answer the "Why bother?" question.

The Heath's analysis sheds light on Second Life co-founder Philip Rosedale's comments in a recent New York Times interview: 
“The problem with creating an immersive 3-D experience is that it is just too involved, and so it’s hard to get people to engage,” he said. “Smart people in rural areas, the handicapped, people looking for companionship, they love it. But you have to be highly motivated to get on and learn to use it.”
For the groups he mentioned, Second Life not only has a clear job it performs, but does it in a way that is significantly better than alternatives (or even not possible in real life). It allows those who feel constrained or disadvantaged by atomic world limitations to project themselves into a virtual world with an even playing field. Instead of being stuck at home because of a physical disability or a half day's distance from interesting nightlife, they can log-in and teleport instantly to any destination of choice.

That said, I think Second Life's last few years of stagnant growth are more due to Linden Lab's inability to articulate the jobs it can do, rather than the platform's inability to deliver tangible benefits to a wide variety of people. As the graphic above illustrates, there are many jobs Second Life does very well. Unfortunately, although marketing messages such as "Be Your Avatar" may induce people to log-in a few times, they don't give them a reason to keep coming back.

 As I wrote in January 2010's, 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.
The other main problem area that stands in the way of Second Life's growth is related to a host of endemic technical problems ranging from a kludgy interface to long-standing bugs and performance issues. Together, they create a steep learning curve for new users and prevent the platform from excelling at the jobs people want it to do.

Recent initiatives sparked by Linden Lab's latest CEO Rod Humble are working to improve the user interface, fix critical bugs and increase platform stability. Hopefully, they'll deliver some substantive improvements. What I'd like to see is an equivalent level of effort to articulate and publicize the most compelling use cases for Second Life and make it easier for people to figure out how to leverage the platform to actualize their desires.


Unknown said...

aside from the obvious technical problems with Second Life, I think a major factor in the "failure" to catch on is the expectation of the masses for instant gratification. fast food culture demands tangible results RIGHT AWAY, which Second Life doesn't deliver when you log in for the first time. it's kind of a sad commentary on our world, in my opinion. the best things in life come with some effort put forth on our parts...something the Facebook generation seems to have little interest in investing into.

Botgirl Questi said...

Carrie: I agree that people are used to instant gratification from software these days. On the other hand, after 8 years of development, I think it's reasonable to expect a software platform to have refined it's user interface, documentation and functionality to the point that new users can figure out the fundamentals pretty easily.

Like just about anything in life, there is a relationship between our willingness to put time and effort into learning a new skill, and the benefit we believe we will gain when we master it . . . the pain vs gain concept. So to increase the percentage of people who make it through the learning curve, Linden Lab can either decrease the pain of learning, or increase the perception of the eventual value of proficiency.

Joey1058 said...

LL absolutely needs to increase the perception of the eventual value of proficiency! I've come from a VRML world where they promised to shoot for the moon, as long as you paid for it. After many years of paying for it, the only improvements were server upgrades. The world is stagnant and moss covered now. "But don't the servers work nice!"