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Changing the way people start their Second Life by letting them create their avatar and learn the basics on a website before they enter the virtual world.

I’ve always disliked how new people are introduced to Second Life.
You are thrown in at the deep end, not a good thing to do with something that already has a rather steep learning curve.
Not only is a lot expected from new people, they are also almost immediately surrounded by experienced users and griefers.

Nothing is as off putting as standing somewhere, all new, and hearing people swear, argue, make fun of you or have people harass you and even attack you.
Not to mention that you will find yourself amongst scary, freakish, half naked and disturbing looking avatars.

This nearly turned me away from Second Life permanently after I first tried it in 2007, everything was rather horrible and only supported the rather negative preconceptions I had about this virtual world.
I left and only returned a few years later.

I’ve always felt that the best way to figure out how SL works is by trying it all out in a peaceful quiet area.
Ideally every new person would be teleported into a private place, lets say a tiny skybox.
Here they see some tutorials, basic instructions, etc.
They have to learn to walk, navigate, communicate, click, use and finally use search and teleport to get off the island.
But I realise that with thousands of new daily users, this may be impossible.

Recently this all changed with the creation of new Destination Islands.
Interesting stuff.
They found a way to keep out the experienced users and trouble makers (sort of) and send you on your way to a sim that is connected to a theme you find interesting.
This new system is not quite ready yet, but an improvement in some way.

Nevertheless, you no longer get any instructions.
SL is complicated, you need help when you first get here!

Recently I thought of another way of welcoming new people into SL that will help them a lot better, avoid giving them the idea SL is for kids or full of weirdos, before they even enter the virtual world.
I have no idea if this is even possible, but let me explain how I imagine it.

Currently, when you first join SL , you sign up on the website, download the software and enter the online world without knowing much about anything.
I suggest that we take care of a lot of stuff before we send these new freshly baked avatars into Second Life.

You sign up on the website, download the software and then you stay on the website…
You create your first avatar right there and then, online, on secondlife.com.
If you have played ‘The Sims’, you will remember how this works, as soon as you start a game you first enter a dressing booth where you get toe customise your avatar.
Shape, character and even your first set of clothes are put together here.

Imagine starting your Second Life just like that.
In stead of having to choose from a few pre-created avatars that identify you as a noob, that you may seriously dislike, that you may find very hard to change, you first find yourself in a dressing room with a basic avatar that you get to change and make like you want it to be.

SL creators  could offer free clothes, bodies, skins and other stuff for this part of the tutorial, so you should have plenty of stuff to chose from.
It may even work trough some sort of connection to marketplace.

Not only is creating an avatar a fun way to start your SL, it also gives you the freedom to start SL looking like you want to look in stead of having to choose one of the starter avatars.
No matter how well the current starter avatars are made, they will give some people second thoughts about joining up.
When people see a cute little Airship avatar or a giant bunny avatar as one of their choices they may think SL is a kid’s game  and may decide not to join.

More importantly, we take away freedom and creativity from new users before they sign up to a world that is all about freedom and creativity.

Is it really that difficult to give people access to the SL avatar creation tools outside of SL?
Let them play about a bit, give them basic (realistic scale please!!) avatars to experiment on.
But make some of the options fun, weird, unusual, so they know that being a bunny or a airship is one of the options, so they know it is possible to have a unusual avatar without it being one of the few forced choices.

Another bonus of this would be that new people enter SL with an avatar they already care about.
They have spend time creating it and have bonded with it, maybe not much, but more then just one of the random avatars they get to pick now.
Like many people who play ‘The Sims’ they may have made the avatar look like themselves or like someone they admire.
Joining SL with an avatar you already like increases the chances of you hanging around.

But perhaps there is more we can do before we actually travel into virtual reality.

How about the first basic steps?
Can we not give new avatars a chance to learn those things you really can’t do without before they run the SL software?

Imagine…

After you have created your avatar on the SL website (we’re still not inworld) you are transported to an deserted Island…
Yes still on the SL website.
It could be a flash game with the look and feel of SL.

I can imagine that after you have created your avatar, a screen loads showing your new you falling with a parachute and landing on an very small island in the middle of the big SL seas.
You will be there all alone, it can be very basic, no need for super graphics.

But this game will allow you to take your time to learn the important tutorials.
Walk, talk, use, click, sit, etc.
This can me made fun and entertaining by creating a little story around it.
After all, you are on a deserted Island and you need to get off.
So first use your inventory to find a machete to cut trough the vegetation,  walk across a improvised bridge, left click on a big branch to push it aside, etc, etc.
Every new step you learn brings you closer to escaping this island and learning how to navigate trough SL at the same time.
Eventually you arrive at the other side of the island and there is a boat, once you get on it, you go to the SL Search page.
You look for something you find interesting (or are given a few questions that help you in the right direction) and will get you some suggestions of sims you could visit.

And then, only then, the actual Second Life software will load.

You will set your first steps in this wonderful virtual world in a sim you’ve chosen, with an avatar you’ve created, arriving at a sim you have picked from search, with basic skills to get around, without being confronted by a bunch of scary people and with a better grasp of how you can modify your avatar, find other sims, etc.

Most of the work is done before you even set foot on virtual land and many of the old problems can be avoided.

Not to mention that all the portals, starter islands and stuff Linden Labs has been creating, replacing, redesigning and having lots of meetings about can be deleted and the land and servers used for something else.

My idea was discussed by the Metareality Podcast crowd.
You can hear it here; http://metarealitypodcast.com/the-sum-of-all-dreams

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