My top 10 Pet Peeves about the “new” SL experience

My top 10 Pet Peeves about the “new” SL experience

After being in-world for 5 years and teaching new users in Second Life for almost the same amount of time, I have seen a lot of changes. Some for the better… some for the worse. This list is based on many years of directly observing and supporting thousands of new users (mostly college students and faculty) over the years, and also my own experiences being an involved resident, educator, instructional designer, professional development trainer and content creator within SL.

For this post, I thought I’d start with the things I am not overly fond of and continue later with a new post on a more positive note :-). By the way, well argued contradictions… corrections…. and of course *your* thoughts on your own peeves are all welcome.

My top 10 Pet Peeves (in order of my most to least disliked):

1. The giant Camera Controls

I use my camera controls constantly. Ever since Viewer 2 came out, SL’s camera controls have covered half the darn screen. Some alternative SL viewers have figured out how to make their camera controls very functional without being so obtrusive. Why did you make yours so large, Linden Lab? Your new “click and drag” on the screen camera control function is an ok alternative, but is not easy to control and is very imprecise compared to some other MMOs.

large camera controls in SL viewer

Large camera controls in SL viewer

Please LL, reduce the camera control size so that I don’t have to reduce ALL of my user interface to do so. While you are at it, could you please make it a little more transparent? Basically if you can just look to Phoenix viewer for an example – theirs is the perfect size, shapen and transparency.

2. Increasingly steep system requirements

Quite simply put, every year, we have less and less students that can actually meet SL’s steep system requirements. “It’s too hard on my computer” or “I tried and tried but I just can’t run it”… they say. They get frustrated, because even if they can get on SL, often things stay grey (or sometimes pink), or their avatar remains as a cloud, or they can’t move or teleport without crashing. So they have to come to campus to use the lab (which defeats the idea of Distance Learning). And even our campus, with its fairly decent computers, can’t run SL’s current viewer easily. Some users can run some of the alternative SL viewers much more easily on their own systems by the way. So to get students in their SL class on time without further delay, sometimes I have to recommend an alternative viewer if all else fails.

By the way, I don’t want students on different viewers. This causes its own set of problems. But it’s better than having them missing class, getting too far behind on assignments or becoming overly frustrated with the technical issues.

Second Life System Requirements Webpage

3. “Upside down” menus?

Seriously LL, where did you get the notion that clicking on a menu that starts at the bottom, and dragging to choices that then appear from the bottom up, is a good idea (such as the one in Inventory where you can change how things are sorted, etc)? It is even hard for me (a 5-year SL veteran and “power user”) to do that, much less a brand new resident. It is hard to even simply find the settings and the little gear is non-intuitive. What was wrong with the old top-down menu?

Inventory Settings

Inventory options “bottom-up” rather than “top-down”

4. The Destination Bar

Since the destination bar was invented I have had a love/hate relationship with it. I know it’s great to have the destinations handy, and there are many good places to see in there. But does this bar have to be so persistently annoying and come on at startup?

I regularly teach large lab-fulls of 40 or 50 new SL users. I am able to stand right in the back of the room and see exactly how they interact with their screens. Guess what… 90% of them leave that huge destination bar up (even upon their 6th or 8th foray into SL) as though they assume it has to be there all the time. They struggle along with it on their screen (which is sometimes small especially if in a campus lab), not realizing it is preventing them from seeing what is going on in right in front of their virtual faces. When I mention to them they can just close the destination bar and bring it up at will later, they are SO relieved that that large block covering most of their screen can come down. That is why so many of my videos point that out. At least make it so that it’s not there by default.

Destinations bar covering large portion of screen

Destinations bar covering large portion of screen

5. Dividing the Edit My Shape and Edit My Outfit

We used to be able to edit shape and clothing all in one interface. What was the purpose of changing this and separating those two functions? If you select Appearance in the upper left you also only get the clothes changing interface. Really, there may be a good reason for separating these two functions, but if so, can someone please explain? Once again, I feel that to make things more complex and less simple is never a good idea… especially if one wants to retain new users.

Edit Shape Interface

Edit Shape Interface separate from Edit Outfit

6. Instant messages and notices being too “subtle”.

New users almost NEVER see their instant messages. They also don’t tend to see their group invitations, or find and be able to “keep” things given to them from a “giver” object. Why? Because these things hide in the far upper right of their screen, almost as soon they are sent. I know LL was trying to cut down on annoyance from spam, and there is a lot of that. But for an educator (and of course many other groups and individuals as well), some of the messages we send are actually important. Taking away levels of usability by making things less obvious is never a good idea.

Subtle Instant Messages in upper right

Subtle Instant Messages in upper right

7. Profiles in general & the Feed tab

I miss the old Profiles. They were easy to manage and view, loaded far faster, you could see and add all your picks and classifieds easily, it was more intuitive and navigable for yourself and for others, and the real world part was a few steps removed. I don’t like how Feed is the first thing people see, or how all one’s Groups (if you have many) go to several pages now. Additionally, the Feed tab is able to be publicly posted on by ..well … people that might not always have the nicest things to say. I know you wanted to go to a web-based profile and make it more Facebook-ish, adding Feed and Interests so people can share what is current and can connect with others. I am just not sure if the Feed tab has succeeded as a social network type thing, but if I am wrong feel free to comment. I know that students attempt to ask Help questions sometimes post them there on my Feed and I tend to miss them, so I have to discourage it and ask them to use more conventional means such as IMs or notecards.

Inappropriate Profile Feed Tab Post

Inappropriate Profile Feed Tab Post

8. Single login names and display names     

I know LL must have been counting on the fact that people would be using the display name and that this new single login name would not be an issue. It is an issue for so many reasons I can’t even begin. I loved the identity that my choice of last name used to give me, and even felt a kinship with others who shared my last SL name. Now we are populated with users like hihihi69696969 and NYloverSoSEXXXXXY (these are fake, of course, but very representative from what I see daily). Since many users NEVER add a display name and some can’t even see display names, it’s disconcerting to try and greet a new resident called KHTBIOWA30589. But also it has caused a class distinction between the old-school two-namers and the newer single-namers (even though many single-named residents have been in SL over a year now). Many residents, both old and new, feel that the older two-namers are somehow in a more elite and special club.

And the display names that some residents are choosing? Not helpful. Many users choose such common display names that if you need to find someone and only have their display name, they are impossible to find using Search. It’s not always easy to get BOTH their login and display names when asking a new user… even if you explain the difference. Not to mention all the people that change their display names weekly, or make them look illegible and unreadable with special characters.

9. The new starting area portals

What’s up with portals? You had a perfectly fine new user orientation. Sure, it didn’t cover much, but I actually counted on it as an educator to at least get folks started. Now the orientation is gone, and new residents are faced with a series of portals (see this video if you didn’t know that). The portals are on different themes (e.g. art, music, role-play), and they each contain a set of landmarks. Upon choosing a portal, the new user gets a random LM to a role-play place, an art place, a music oriented place, etc., depending on the portal they choose. It may get folks “mixing” in-world and may even help spotlight some interesting areas a little better. But many portals are not run by people who are experts at helping new residents, and some new portal areas are not really that user-friendly (yes, I tried several of these portals by making (and deleting) new accounts on occasion – I HAVE to as a trainer). Oh and to make it more challenging, a new resident cannot go back to the starting zone and pick another portal if they decide they don’t like their first choice.

New user starting area portals

New Resident Starting Portals

By the way, last I knew, even after the portals were implemented you could actually still get to the previous starting area orientations. At this writing, there are still several islands called “Welcome Island Public” (with various numbers after them, locatable in Map) but they have almost no traffic any more. Too bad.

10. The non-intuitive menu buttons

Again and again, new users express surprise at the choice of icons for typical functions in SL. Especially the that that a suitcase (which they don’t recognize as such) means their Inventory. They don’t always recognize the magnifying glass or globe for what they represent either, and Search and Places are also very important functions. I am not making this up – it’s what I see in class after class of your average, relatively tech-savvy college student. Sure, you can hover your cursor over the buttons to learn more, but that in itself is not necessarily intuitive to a new user. The placement of icons and menu bars is not necessarily helpful either. Why are some on the left side and some on the bottom? I had to make a video to explain that these can be modified and moved.

Non-intuitive menu icons

Non-intuitive menu icons

Summary:

There are many things I enjoy quite a lot about SL. And some changes have been positive to be sure. For all its faults, I am still in there and I believe in its potential and actual benefits as a creative and immersive medium. But after many years deeply involved in helping users, I have also seen much change that may have had good intention but ended up having a less than positive effect. I promise I will devote my next post to all the positive changes that I have seen recently.

For now, I am interested in your feedback! By the way, “You are stupid and I hope you die” is NOT an example of constructive feedback. Please make a response that explains your ideas and let’s have a dialog. If I have made a mistake or something has changed I will surely correct it too! I especially invite members of Linden Labs to weigh in. By the way LL, I am doing my doctoral dissertation on new user experience as it relates to their views of Second Life as a teaching and learning medium…. if you are interested…

Hugs, and see you in SL!

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