Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blame Dusan Writer - Second Life & The Lonely Grid

I went to an interesting talk this morning by Dusan Writer (who manages to overcome the handicap of being from Toronto very well *smirk*) at the weekly Gronstedt Group - Train For Success session inworld. Dusan said a lot of intelligent things but at one point he was talking about his discussion with Rod Humble and how it's not about the viewer ..... "at the end of the day it's the content".

"Wait", I thought to myself, "you mean all this noise about the location of a button on the screen is perhaps missing the point? Gack - that's going to piss some people off." He also talked briefly (and I'm paraphrasing) about how, if it is all about the content, then finding said content should be a whole lot easier to do. This made me start thinking about the whole "search" issue (how depressing is that?) and I reached some conclusions which, because it is my blog, I thought I'd share.

There are a lot of issues with "search" and I don't envy the people working on the problem. However, I concluded that the biggest issue is that the function is based on the internet model. You go to a search engine and put in some keywords and get lots of options and often find what you want. You also get a lot of garbage but that's the nature of the beast. Another issue, I think, is that "search" is almost always being tweaked for the benefit of the people who list their products (I'll state here that I'm not including events, I don't know who the design of that section is targeted towards). It's like some automated grid version of the phone book - white and yellow pages which list whatever anybody is willing to pay to have inserted.

I recently tried to explain to newcomers that visiting Second Life is like visiting a foreign city. There are probably a number of people who go to new physical world locations and use the phone book as a reference. I would suggest that more tourists use travel guides such as the Lonely Planet. A reference guide that covers a wide variety of topics, but is available with a narrower focus if you have some familiarity with the location. Even long term residents (and yes I'll continue to use that word til I find a replacement I like) have trouble finding places to go and things to do. For somebody brand new to Second Life it's got to be a nightmare.

My proposal is this - we could have a "search" function but it should be a tool to use with an inworld travel guide. Introducing The Lonely Grid!

I'm shuddering at the amount of work that would be required to set this up (and keep it current) but it would be a really cool thing to have. Content created by "objective" travelers, sorted by topics used by travelers. You could have - for example, an entire guide for those wanting to explore the BDSM lifestyle - locations, guidelines, shopping, courses, etc.

Combine that content with a "television guide" format for events (e.g., what is going on tonight at 8:00 pm) and I think it would make finding content much simpler for us.

From a vendor/retailer point of view, you could still have classifieds but the focus of the design would be the person setting out to actually do something inworld.

It's just possible that the powers-that-be won't consider this idea to be practical (and pffffffft to them). So let me suggest that at a minimum somebody working on the problem ask a variety of people for use cases and design a new function that supports those of us with the glassy eyed stare which develops when you can't find anything. :)


Anonymous said...

Love the plan :D actually you should offer the idea to or one of the SL TV channels. ;-)

Ron T Blechner said...

But ... if it's not about interface, but content, and thus making search paramount, but that's part of the interface ... gah, self-contradiction. :P

Dusan's wrong. Easy to use UI is an essential part of technology adoption. Sure, you need the content, but if you can't get at it, it's not going to be ubiquitous.

Unknown said...

"Easy to use" UI for newcomers and functional for builders UI are two different issues in my opinion. I assumed that Dusan was addressing the former.

In RL (or whatever acronym you favor) people learn to use difficult UIs all the time (new subway system? confusing map?), and cope with trouble finding events they want to attend. I miss seminars I'd like to hear on my campus because there is not a unified calendar or place to go to look. Same with online webinars. Partly that's because we live in a rich environment with many, many choices.

I don't think it's useful to think of these only as problems that plague Second Life, or to blame the interface entirely for them.

Give me a choice, and I'll choose a Second Life event with the intelligent crowd that was at Dusan's talk over any webinar, and most RL events. I had to take my knocks and put in my time learning to navigate the environment, but the same could be said of a trip to Prague or Paris.

I too use the "arriving at a foreign city" metaphor when I discuss SL with outsiders. Especially those who travel. Everyone knows you have to do your research, and you WILL miss some events because there are too many great ones. Not just because you can't find them all. You can't.

That's not to say that search should not be improved in SL. Or that the interface should be made as clear and functional as possible as it evolves. But I reject the idea that it has to be "easy." Make it easy, and we'll all be bored to tears because nothing worthwhile will be created and only boring folks will come.

OK, I got carried away with that last sentence. But I hope you see where I'm going with this. I'm with Dusan. ;-)

Chimera Cosmos

Cole Marie said...

Contact Jesu Forager... Old RL roomate and scripter who was working on a genius search help system and he has some good ideas with that might prove useful

Loki said...

It's great to read others wanting the same thing. My search idea involved modifying the destination guide to allow residents to tag places they plan to explore and rating places