Top 5 Requested Second Life Features

I was reading something about how a small cadre of vocal power users can skew the development of a virtual world platform, and it got me thinking about the kinds of things corporate clients I’ve worked with have asked for in the past. Oddly, these are things that don’t even seem to be on anyone’s radar – and they’re not very difficult to implement either.

  1. Whiteboard: Being able to sit in a room with a bunch of other people and talk online is great, but being able to pop notes up about what people are saying and draw quick sketches (without having to learn to build please…) would be a game-changer for many people.
  2. PA System: Just being able to designate certain people as temporarily “holding the mic” would make large meetings much more feasible. Having no session controls over voice has caused a number of calamities and driven more than one client to other applications.
  3. Separate the Second Floor: People want a lobby downstairs and an office upstairs, and they want their conversations to be private in both places. This means establishing separate audio channels for areas located on top of one another —  say, one for the first floor and one for the second. The lack of functionality here means some strangely stretched out designs.
  4. Real Names: Face it: the naming convention was a cute idea in the beginning, but it just seems idiotic to corporate users. Let us use our own names over our heads.
  5. File Transfer Between Avatars: People have files. They want to share those files between each other. PDFs, PPTs, and VCFs are the most commonly requested that I hear about. Let us pass files to each other without breaking immersion and fiddling with email. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, just a simple drag/drop http transfer call would do. Integrate a little of the existing browser code with a spot on the option wheel for “Send File” and you’re good.

And no, I’m not going to the Jira and there’s no possible way I’m asking my clients to go in there. The Jira is a nice bug tracker, but that is not how an enterprise-level piece of software gets designed.

(Photo by Caleb Booker.)

(Photo by Caleb Booker.)

When this list was originally published on my blog, I received a few passionate emails from the power user base that reinforced my perception of the problem. Their comments break down as follows:

  1. Second Life was built by nerds for nerds, and shouldn’t accommodate anyone else ever.
  2. Anonymity is more important than oxygen, and should be absolutely force-fed to people.
  3. A collection of third-party applications could do what you need, which validates Second Life’s current design… somehow…
  4. Here’s a hack that sometimes works but generally doesn’t.
  5. Everyone in Second Life shares my special-interest opinion.
This is largely politics, and I’m no politician. I’ve said my piece, and have no interest in making counter-arguments to the above. All I can tell you is what I know from working with regular people trying to find a real benefit in the environment. The rest, take as you will.

Caleb Booker

Caleb Booker has been writing professionally about virtual worlds for over three years. He is also a metaverse developer, and an online events producer. His personal blog is at CalebBooker.com.

  • While those might be the top-5 reqested features from a corporate/educational perspective, they are in my experience not the top-5 URGENTLY NEEDED things. These are, I think:

    1) Fix inventory loss – it is not acceptable that inventory gets lost at all
    2) Fix teleports – why do they fail in the first place?
    3) Allow more avatars on a sim (and make SL scalable)
    4) Stop restricting prim sizes to 10m max
    5) Fix the IM system regarding IM caps and inventory transactions

  • I totally agree with Peter opinion 😉
    Still would add :
    6) Improve cache efficiency
    7) Give us professional tools to measure script performance

  • Mmmh let's see…

    1) Available on SL Viewer 2.0. Check!

    2) That's an interesting idea. At the very least, having a toggle for a "list of permitted speakers", e.g. like a banlist, but just for voice chat. On the other hand, this was never demanded for text chat: why is voice suddenly so different? A good moderator iRL will not allow others to simply stand up and yell in a room…

    3) What a nice idea! Yes, yes, yes. Perhaps some simple change like text and voice chat only going upwards (and not downwards!) for 5 metres would help a lot for starters and be not tremendously hard to implement…

    4) Create a group title with your real name 🙂 There you go: your own name above your head.

    5) I'd love to see this, but I know that the major reason why LL is reluctant to do so is because of the inherent security vulnerabilities that will happen that way (e.g. imagine a griefer distributing virus that way, by clicking — using a bot for automation — on other avatars and sending them files with Trojans. A few will go through for unsuspecting Windows users). Then again, see 1 — we might be able to share files by using the in-world browser (perhaps not at this stage, but perhaps with SL 2.1 🙂 )

    As for what you perceive to be "passionate users"… well, these are actually the residents that do use SL, do you know… 😉

    1) The integration of "non-nerds" has shown to be way harder than expected. SL as a mainstream product seems not be possible. A certain amount of technical/design prowess is necessary, e.g. there is a requirement for a level of maturity that demands the rare skill of self-entertainment. The current generation of human beings is used to "be entertained" but totally lost the ability to self-entertain themselves: they turn to TV or computer/console games to get some satisfaction in entertainment. The whole notion of entertainment is that it's one-many and not many-to-many.

    Just look what the mainstream user does on any social networking site: they just collect friends. And play FarmVille. I'm not talking about the power users; those behave just like the residents in SL, that is, they have fun connecting with others and creating their own entertainment through creativity. But that's not what the majority of users actually do. We just read about the ones that are vocal about it — and those do, indeed, have this skill of being able to self-entertain themselves.

    So I still think that the idea that SL is for the "mainstream" is a very, very optimistic view. The best that LL can aim for is to position their platform so that it requires as little skill as possible, and even someone with a very marginal talent for self-entertainment might derive some pleasure from merely "be in SL". Currently we're even losing those few due to attrition caused by the high learning curve.

    But be truly a mainstream platform? I doubt it. Then again, I'm rather skeptic about the average skills of the majority of people 🙂 Call me an elitist, but I'm just an observer of reality, nothing less. I can't magically wave my hand and raise humankind's skills, talent, and intelligence (rational and emotional) by just willing to do so 🙂

    Remember that 99% or more of all people in the Western world can read and write and do simple maths, but the vast majority are functional analphabets. They still use email and have Facebook accounts to play FarmVille. But that's as far as their abilities reach…

    2) True in any country that takes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights seriously. Anonymity is as precious as oxygen if your country's constitution follows the UDHR. Among SL users, this pretty much means around 60-65% of all users that log in daily. A notable exception is the United States, where the federal constitution doesn't recognise privacy rights (although most states have it in their constitutions too). This has shaped American thinking to consider privacy merely a whim, a "nicety", something cool to have but to be discarded as unnecessary when the lack of privacy is more convenient. So, well, it's a cultural thing. For me, living under the UDHR, the right to oxygen and the right to privacy have exactly the same value; and half a billion people happen to agree with that view, too 🙂 The remaining 5.5 billion or so simply have different values. That's not "wrong" or "right", but just different — don't be surprised, however, that you get comments from those who value privacy as much as oxygen.

    3) A tricky question. While I'm a serious open source enthusiast (not necessarily free and open source, but free is nice too!), I'm also a realist. The vast majority of open source projects fail after you wait enough time, since sooner of later programmers give up on it and do something else. There is in reality just the very tiniest tip of the iceberg where some open source projects have resisted the test of time, and been around for a decade or more. Closed-source platforms like the Apple iPhone (and now the iPad too!) and, of course, Second Life (on the server side at least) show that business prospers if you have a right to charge for your time, directly, and with micropayments. This new decade will be about private content as the way to leverage a virtual economy of goods and services. It's all about "paid content 2.0", after 1.0 failed during the dot-com era.

    Now, Second Life is strategically poised to take advantage of this new model of doing business online and actually has doing so for the past 7 years. Thus they have a lead on the rest of the Web-based world, which are just figuring out how to do the same. Apple found the trick. Others might or not. So, ruining this "premium content" model would be abandoning the head start that SL has over the rest of the Web-based world out there. In that regard, I will have to agree that anything that threatens this model (like refusing to acknowledge copyright disputes in SL) is to be discarded, and measures ought to be taken to make sure that the model is kept intact.

    Putting it bluntly, if everything in SL can be stolen and copied so easily that a child can do it, the business model of LL collapses, just like every other virtual world has collapsed so far. The only "exceptional" thing of SL is not its amazing technology, but its unbounded, limitless ability to allow content creators (and yes, hosting a conference is also "content"! It's not just prims and scripts that matter…) to apply their talents inside a virtual world where your content has value and your work can be rewarded by selling licenses (or attendance fees!) for it.

    4) Ha! Yes 🙂 I agree 🙂 This ought to stop, lol. Then again, Microsoft has resisted the test of time and had the same mentality… the idea that only "robust code sells" has by far been proven to be just a chimera, something the users wish to have, but a powerful marketing campaign can ignore robustness pretty easily. Still, this doesn't mean you're not right — you are!

    5) LOL so true! We all look to our navels (even Linden Lab) and most people don't ever make an effort to look outside the box. You're quite right on that.

  • Paradoxically, the problem here (if we’re talking about Second Life), is not about a group of so-called “power users” driving development (I don’t even think that’s true): instead it’s that there are several groups of users and it is very unlikely that Linden Lab are going to be able to include all the features that all the groups want.

    In addition, I am not sure that the best solution to adding new features is always to include them in the Viewer. That being said, there are plenty of opportunities to add functionality via third-party Viewers. In addition, there are aspects which are best left to minimal involvement with the Viewer, such as streaming, which virtually always works – it’s based on a quite separate, tried and tested technology, as is Skype, for example.

    Voice in particular I can never see offering much more than it does now, and it is unreliable at best. It’s based on old technology that is not as effective as a lot of current apps.

    Audio is probably best left to external apps, for example a combination of streaming and Skype or a similar common modern VOIP app. Streaming is simply played by the Viewer and the generation process doesn’t involve the Viewer at all: it will continue delivering audio to a player no matter what. The only problem is when it comes to questions from the audience but there are ways of allowing people to dial into a conversation that is then streamed.

    Obviously there are some features which have to be added at both server and viewer levels, and I would imagine this is easier to include in an open-source product. However, unless I’ve misunderstood the information, I’m under the impression that announced developments would allow the creation of your whiteboard?

  • How can used a voice conferance for anythign but a very very tiny part of the days, work hours. Fixatinf so mucyh on voice for work sound like a imho stupid idea.

  • I think your whole premise, like that of many at Linden Lab, is wrong. I don’t see how SL is ever going to appeal to the corporate types as a substitute for real electronic meeting software (WebEx, GoToMeeting, etc.). Really, does having a little avatar sitting in a chair make the experience any more compelling? And then you have the learning curve on top of it. I participate in many electronic meetings and even your basic teleconference with shared desktop presentations is more effective at the job than Second Life.

    Second Life is about the whole experience. Exploration, creation, playing dress-up, social interaction, flying, doing things you can’t do in RL. Isolating on this or that feature set for one group or another misses the point entirely.

  • Snickers —

    I’m on Caleb’s side with this one. I attend a LOT of online conferences. As a business journalist, I have to sit through analyst presentations, financial reports, expert chats. They have a purpose — delivering content from one person (or a small team) to many people. Here, SL/OpenSim lacks scalability.

    However, when I attend conferences in Second Life or in OpenSim worlds, the experience is substantially different from a Web conference. It’s possible to schmooze with people — with presenters before and after their speech and during breaks, with other attendees, and with organizers. For a journalist, this is critical. But for other people, as well — often, the meat of the conference happens outside the formal sessions.

    I am able to make personal connections in immersive virtual conferences that I cannot in Web seminars.

    And this is even before you get to the interactivity, the ability to tour virtual environments, to collaborate on design projects — even dressing up. A virtual meeting gives you the opportunity to show you’re serious and professional, or creative, that a teleconference or a Web conference doesn’t afford.

    But the sense of presence is the most important aspect. This is what takes people to Second Life in the first place (as opposed to, say, IM or Facebook or video Skype). The same drivers that make it compelling for personal use are also compelling for business users.

    Eventually, I believe that every company will have its own public grid (for customer service, tours, recruitment, client and partner meetings and public conferences, even retail) and a private grid (for internal collaboration, training, meetings, and internal conferences) the same way that every company now has a public Website and an internal intranet.

    Some of these grids will be running on Second Life Enterprise, some on OpenSim, many on some other technology that hasn’t been invented yet (Microsoft Grid Server, anyone? GridLogic?) with the public ones all accessible via a simple, streamlined browser and a single avatar (you can already do this with OpenSim hypergrid teleports, though we’re still waiting for a simple browser).

    — Maria Korolov