More Thoughts on Second Life’s New User Experience: Diversity

This post is a follow-on to my previous post “Breaking News: Second Life New User Experience is Still Broken” and expands on some of my further replies to posts in the New World Notes comment thread on “Why SL’s First Time User Experience is So Difficult to Fix”.

One new user experience element that needs to be fixed—and needs to be fixed fast—is the diversity of avatars offered to people signing up for Second Life. I’m hardly some internet social justice warrior, but the options offered to new users are just plain embarrassing for Linden Lab.

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He looks kind of lonely all by himself up there, doesn’t he?

Currently the avatar choices on the front sign-up page: are white, white with a nice tan, goth pasty white, and one sort-of Asian (or maybe Latino) male. If a potential new user checks out some of the other avatar option tabs, they have a choice between vampires (pale white, of course), werewolves, and a host of cartoon animals, robots, cars, planes, tanks, and motorcycles.

Why would anyone design a starter avatar selection that offers fifty-five options—only one of which is a non-white human? Where the designers under the impression that only white people have computers?

This isn’t a new sign-up page, by the way, Second Life has been using this for over a year.

Fix it. (Or hire me to do it—see my previous post.)

On a similar note, the sign-up page for Second Life has language options for English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish, and Russian. But when a speaker of one of those languages starts the process, more hurdles await.

To test this, I tried signing up from the Russian language page, and found that when I entered a Russian name (Леонид / Leonid) in Cyrillic script, Second Life responded: “Имена могут содержать только буквы латинского алфавита и цифры.” Google helpfully translates that to “Names can contain only letters and numbers.” [Update: I’m told by a Russian speaker in world that Google is incorrect here. The translation should actually be closer to: “Names can contain only Latin alphabet letters and numbers.”]

Imagine being a Russian speaker trying to sign up doesn’t speak English, entering a name composed only of letters (Cyrillic, of course), and getting that response.

Downloading and installing the Second Life client works in the language chosen at sign-up, but after installation, a new user is presented with terms of service (which must be agreed to to enter) only in English. After you’ve clicked “yes”, while Second Life loads you are helpfully offered a link to the Destination Guide. Which comes in multiple languages.

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But apparently not the one our mythical Russian new user signed up in. You choose poorly. But hey, look, boobies!

Finally you show up on the ironically-named “Learning Island 1” with all the other new users. Please note the quality of the the construction, the helpful empty white boxes that pop up on your screen, and the single helpful person (not a Linden) offering some useful advice.

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That broken sign is one of the first things you see in Second Life. It’s not a client error. I tried it in two version of the Second Life client and in Firestorm.

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Nor are those empty white boxes client errors, either. And they are just as empty if you choose the English sign-up options.

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Resident help is the only thing that makes the broken new user experience work at all.

Lesson—if you are going to offer multilingual options, don’t half-ass it.

Second Life used to offer orientations and help in lots of languages via their Community Gateway program. But Linden Lab killed the Community Gateways, and doing so was a very bad idea. That resident-run network of Second Life gateways had help in nearly every language commonly used in Second Life, along with help communities made up of native speakers of those languages. And it cost Linden Lab almost nothing.

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Resurrecting the Community Gateways would most likely be impossible, as the original organizers and creators for the most part were badly burned by Linden Lab’s actions, and have moved on. But there is no reason that Linden Lab can’t have multilingual Orientation Paths.

One last thing that Linden Lab needs to take into consideration when designing their new user experience—people with disabilities. By many estimates up to 25% of people using Second Life have some sort of physical, mental, or psychological disability. Virtual Ability does great work, and has a new user orientation that is one of the best in Second Life. But Linden Lab shouldn’t just dump the entire job on them, and call it a day.

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