My Response to Mitch Wagner's InformationWeek Article 'Second Life Is Hard To Use -- Is That A Bug Or A Feature?'


- 2nd Feb 2007

I've been following Mitch Wagner's regular posts about his foray into Second Life on his InformationWeek Weblog and have found them to be quite balanced compared to other journalists offerings. At least he is really taking the time to investigate his subject, unlike others who seem to be making snap judgements based on a few hours experience in world, or in some cases, none at all!

I did, however, take exception with some of his points in Second Life Is Hard To Use -- Is That A Bug Or A Feature?, so I decided to leave a lengthy comment. For some reason the InformationWeek Weblog wouldn't accept my comment (what is is with me and comments?!) maybe because it was a bit long, so I've decided to, once again, post my thoughts here.

I'm also letting Mitch know about this post on his personal blog.

Original Comment:

Yes, the interface is difficult to use, yes, the orientation areas leave a lot to be desired, yes, it's hard initially to find what will keep you interested, but as you pointed out, if you have a guide and proper orientation the steep learning curve can be significantly reduced.

Case in point - it took you 20 hours of being in world before working out how to look around, and even then you were told to "hold down the control, alt, and shift keys while simultaneously using the mouse". This is overkill... all you have to do is hold down the ALT key and click on the object you want to focus on with your mouse then use the Up and Down arrows to zoom in and out (or mouse wheel), and the Right and Left arrows to swing around the point of focus. Using combinations of the control, alt, and shift keys quite complicated and is only necessary if you want to line up and shoot fancy photos.

Alt-zoom (as it is called) is one of the first skills I teach people in the first few minutes of them being there. (And instructions for Alt-zoom, by the way, are on Orientation Island. You must have missed them first time around.)

My point is that if someone had systematically told you everything you needed to know you would have learned to find your way around the interface and the world a lot sooner. And it would be even better if someone was standing with you in the same room, looking over your shoulder to see what you were doing.

Dropping someone into a new world with a new type of tool they have never used before and expecting them to use it without any guidance is like sitting someone who has never seen a graphics program in front of Photoshop and expecting them to create brilliant art in a few hours without any guidance at all.

And what about the Web, since Second Life is often described as a platform like the Web? I think we forget that we learned how to use the Web incrementally over time. I bet if I plucked you out of 1990 and dropped you in front of a web browser today, and it was your first glimpse of the Net and I left you to your own devices you would end up getting pretty frustrated in no time, assume that there was nothing of value on there (you have never heard of a search engine, remember) and more than likely stumble around until you end up on a porn site and assume it is nothing more than a venue for smut. Yet this is often how people are judging Second Life.

Gamers pick up the interface a lot faster too, which tells me it's not all about how difficult the interface is, but it's also a matter of how familiar one is with this new type of interface. And I think this new type of interface is one we will all become accustomed to, as I think 3D worlds are here to stay... in a big way.

And I disagree with you when you say using Second Life shouldn't be too easy... it should be as easy as possible... it should be as easy as using the web, that way users can forget about the interface and start doing interesting things with it, like socialising and interacting and building and learning and running businesses.

BTW - I am enjoying your articles... they are the most balanced ones I've read on Second Life coming from any reporter.



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