Like many utopian visions, Second Life was uncompromising in its laissez-faire approach. The virtual world was launched as a platform that allowed users to do pretty much whatever they pleased, which made it difficult to explain to the uninitiated.
Now, the venue is seeking to reach a wider audience through enhanced usability, helping new visitors quickly learn the ropes and enticing them to probe more deeply once they've become acclimated. Second Life's first attempt to accomplish these goals is a new home page that's already generated big bumps in exploration once users are "in world," according to the company.
Second Life rode the Silicon Valley hype cycle. It was lionized as the hot Web company of 2006, plastered on the cover of Businessweek, with brands like Adidas, American Apparel and Dell rushing in to set up outposts. Then, just as quickly, Second Life became passé and shorthand for over-hyped technology.
The key problem: Second Life is hard to use and disorienting for rookies. The virtual world's developer Linden Lab aimed to make fixes. Philip Rosedale, the company's technologist CEO, moved aside and Linden hired Mark Kingdon, formerly CEO of digital agency Organic and a longtime champion of using personas to push Web usability. The company then hired New York digital agency Big Spaceship to fix its usability problems.
"Second Life is trying to create a better user experience so they can expand their residents beyond the alphas, the early adopters," said Matt Rosenberg, evp of client engagement at Big Spaceship. "It has to make sense to a regular, non-tech person in order to grow."
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