That Spark We Have

Gwyneth Llewelyn has an excellent in-depth article called “What makes us return to Second Life?” here. It’s a thought provoking analysis, including the comments.

The essential point Gwen makes is:

“Once the ‘spark’ of SL catches someone, no matter how hard the interface, they will remain around. If that ‘spark’ never arises, then the interface will make no difference whatsoever.”


She goes on to make the same point about tier, lag, and various other things people cite as being responsible for driving people away — people who have the spark stay in SL anyway. 


I have long believed this absolutely. I have put up with the usual inconveniences, irritations, and outrages in SL — and as a merchant I feel like I get a double or triple dose of it — but never for a moment have I considered leaving or even taking a break from SL. Even when I was new and wandering around in what seemed like a deserted post-apocalypic world by myself hour after hour — I was utterly fascinated. I had no thought at all of creating anything — and yet, in that astonishing compression of time that occurs in SL, within six weeks I had sold my first item on the marketplace. From the first moment, it was like I had receptors in my brain for the SL experience.


“The SL experience” is of course extremely diverse — not everyone becomes a creator — but Gwen identifies the common element, the “spark” that keeps most of us veterans coming back day after day year after year — a fascination with learning:  


I think that’s the ‘problem’ with Second Life. It is too complex, too different, bringing completely new experiences, which are hard to learn. The vast majority of mainstream users simply don’t have the appropriate mindset to deal with it. For them, it’s an incredibly complex tool with very little entertainment value. But for those few for which learning complex tools is part of the fun, SL is the right place to be. The point is that there are very very few people willing to do that. And I claim that all of them (or pretty much all…) are already in SL, or, worse, they have already left.”


The love of learning is the spark that keeps people coming back to Second Life. (There is probably a bit more to it, like love of novelty and plain quirkiness, too, and yes I suspect a higher IQ than average.) We don’t all learn the same things, but we all must learn (or spend a lot of time helplessly whining). Gwen’s reply to my comment:


Pamela you’d be surprised about how many handicapped and very old people (with tons of diseases and crippling disabilities) I have met in SL who, in spite of all the difficulties — a lousy viewer crashing all the time; a hopelessly confusing user interface; an insane amount of things to learn which have little resemblance to real world skills (e.g. how to locate a new dress, find a shop, pay a vendor, receive a packed item, unpack the dress, and attach a HUD to change ribbon colours — I mean, that’s the kind of thing you have to learn in SL, but which has nothing to do with anything done elsewhere!); all that on top of serious physical difficulties to deal with the interface, or sitting in the same position for hours, or lacking enough agility or flexibility (or even members!) to click on 3 buttons and drag the cursor… it’s amazing what is required of us residents to master!
Nevertheless, all these people do it. It was incredibly challenging for them. But they managed to learn everything. And they’re among SL’s most faithful residents, doing an incredible amount of things…”

However, I can’t quite agree that we have exhausted the supply of people who possess the combination of characteristics necessary to form an attachment to Second Life. There are plenty more out there — they may be a tiny percentage of the population, but the pool we are drawing from is pretty vast.  I just don’t think they are being recruited.


Gwen has done a thorough job of analyzing all the reasons people claim that SL is not growing — but she zeros in on the core reason: LL is not attracting enough people who love learning the kinds of lessons SL requires. And I would just like to add my amen to this, and to suggest that instead of marketing SL to bubbleheads (okay I know that is mean) who want their fun without having to learn anything or making any effort, market to the kind of quirky, creative, oddball lovers of learning that DO stay in SL no matter what awful things LL does!  


How exactly to do that I don’t know — I have done (very) informal Meyers-Briggs surveys of forum posters, as have others, and have seen that certain personality types are way over represented in SL. I would advise Linden Lab to begin doing some market research along these lines, and find out who their hard-core customers really are.  Then design a marketing campaign to appeal to them, and put it where they will see it. Easier said than done, I know. 


I will add one suggestion about a marketing campaign, taken from my teaching experience. I taught a remedial class to teach kids to pass the state tests so they could graduate — not a class that anyone particularly wanted to attend. And yet, if I do say so, minds were blown in that class, and kids who had had no idea how to pass tests wound up graduating. Yet still it was a hard sell. Then one day, a very popular kid was walking by my door and said to his girlfriend, “You really ought to take that class, it really works.” and BINGO I knew what to do. I videotaped interviews with that kid and others, and they very honestly and earnestly testified to the value. I never had to say another word to get kids on board — I just sat them down and let the kids in the video tell them. 


Listen to your hard core residents, Linden Lab — and use us to do the recruiting for you. 









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