Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Training Wheels

A few new people complain to me sometimes about how difficult it is, to which I usually reply "Have you tried talking to anyone yet?".

I find that, in most cases, people are helpful. They add the Life to Second Life. Without engaging people, you're really just playing in a glorified virtual Lego set. I always toll on people to go out, make a few friends, hang out.

The big deal is that you don't stay in SL for the features. Crashing and lag are not features you stay for. It's the people. Look at the retention rates: Infohubs and help islands that are heavily populated usually keep people for a minimum of three months, and about half stay longer. A community builds, people get to know each other, you come back. Places that are sparsely populated will bleed newbies like a hemorrhaging aorta. They log in, and are befuddled by the controls, or what to do, or where to go, or just get lonely and quit and write the deal off as a loss.

If I had my way, I'd have a mentor at each infohub and welcome area and help island, 24-7. Rotate in shifts. Cover as much ground as possible. And engage these people in conversations. You'd be surprised at the difference between what people say and what they actually want. Pay attention. Resist the urge to spam advice, or notecards, or freebies unless asked or they accept your offer. But don't pressure. Try to string a group together, so they have someone to pal around with when you punch the clock.

Speaking of which, we also need to perfect the art of determining who is truly new and who is faking it. And quite honestly, only an honest conversation will draw that distinction. Should we punish these people? I don't think so, unless there is malicious intent, such as using the guise of innocence as an excuse to be an asshole. Otherwise, use them as a tool to again, keep the convo flowing. Because people keep people engaged, and that cascades over time.

Too often we get so wrapped up in our daily business and tasks that we overlook those who enter with a blank slate and no one to turn to. If your sim crashes, you go to a friend's. If you build something, you invite friends over to admire and appraise and critique it. If you're bored, you IM them. You go to parties and concerts, clubs and formals. It's so pathetically easy to overlook this extremely simple basic of SL.

We shouldn't take this too far, either. We should engage as training wheels, and when the time comes that these new people start branching off and finding their wings, we shouldn't jealously hold them tight, but take pride that they've moved on and hopefully become a productive member of society. And then we move on. Because they keep pouring in. We're training wheels, and when they're stable enough we're removed and unneeded, and passed on to the next person. Not that you have to cut all ties with them, but don't try to rule their lives either. When they go, let them be.

It takes training wheels to keep the grid up.

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