In the questioning that followed his specch to the Second Life Community Convention yesterday, Rodvik Linden (the CEO) was asked if Community Gateways would ever return. He admitted his ignorance of the programme and when helpful convention-goers filled him in, he said, in effect, that it was a pretty cool idea. He even sounded a little baffled about why it had been abandoned. And, you know? I’m still baffled too.
Later, in his presentation, Viale Linden spoke about how there was no need for Community Gateways when there were so many quasi-community gateways out there, with people willing to help residents. But this is missing the point. The Community Gateways were an organised programme. The region owners, or the people backing the communities, took responsibility for ensuring that there were people around to help newbies through that initial stage when they were just learning about Second Life for the first time. They varied, of course, in scope and content – and success. But there were guidelines and standards that were enforced (until, I suspect, the mass lay-offs meant that no-one at the Lab had the time or energy to hold the different gateways to these standards any more).
The point about the gateways was that there was a trade-off. Landowners were prepared to put a great deal of tiime and engery into their creation, and into ensuring that the information was up-to-date and the places staffed or arranged so that newbies could receive answers to their questions. Some fantastic learning material was designed at this point (and some of it still is ongong and updated, such at Virtual Ability, or Caledon Oxbridge). In return, the payoff was that these Gateways got a bite of the action – a good proportion of the newcomers who came through those Gateways would choose to remain in that community – or at least return to it as a familiar thing where they could meet friends, do their shopping … etc etc. Retention was to be the key that would be the winner for both the Gateways and for Linden Lab.
However, there were a lot of things that were wrong with the intial sign-up, things that have been addressed – and continue to be addressed. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that Linden Lab abolished the Gateways – they failed to prove to be the magic bullet that was required by the Lab that would solve the retention problem. But I don’t think that was the fault of the Gateways … and what replaced them was an awful lot worse. Sure, newbies could log on to the destination of their choice … and, as Botgirl Questi memorably demonstrated, land in a dark and deserted Vampire area with no idea whatsoever how to walk, talk or avoid vampire attacks, should they be fortunate (?) enough to encounter one.
Qwis Greenwood wrote an article on Community Gateways for Prim Perfect No.24 March 2010 (see Page 116) – and it’s worth looking again at (an edited version of) what she said there (and I should point out that she only visited a fraction of the Gateways out there – there were ones aimed at Korea, Japan, The Czech Repulic … and many more themed ones):
For avatars who enter the world with no funds and no idea what to do, an programme called Community Gateways exists to help them. Starting around February 2009, established communities from around the grid could apply to host orientation areas, instructing and helping new avatars become comfortable in their new world. Gateways are currently available in over a dozen languages with each community bringing its own style to the orientation process. Among just the English speaking Community Gateways (http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Community_Gateway#English – Ed. note: nb this is now retained as a historical version – it shows what was once in operation), there are many resources available to both brand new avatars as well as older ones looking to review some skills.
Several communities chose to protect their orientation areas, allowing only avatars less than 30 days old to use their tutorials. Avatar Island is one of these areas. Glass-framed pods containing the tutorials float offshore. When new residents complete the tutorial, there are a few shops for clothing, skin, and hair as well as some lively conversation on the main island. Avatar Island is home is home to AvMaker which creates a custom avatar based on a passport-style photograph of the person behind the keyboard. (Ed. note: This has now gone, it appears, as has the one linked to the SS Galaxy)
The Faery Crossing [http://slurl.com/secondlife/Aetheria/151/28/307] instructs people in the ways of the fae as well as how to navigate the grid. Walking though grassy meadows and forests, the tutorial path ends near a mushroom circle where many friendly spirits gather and welcome you to join their dance. (Ed. note: Not sure about the friendly souls still being gathered, but there is a wealth of fae-related material and helpful tutorials)
Some Community Gateways have a professional purpose for their orientation tutorials. Beta Business Park (B2P) designed their gateway area with the feel of an outdoor modern office park. The tutorials are grouped into regions — Entertainment, Business, Style, Exploring — allowing the new avatars to choose according to their interests. The community hosts an SL101 class as well as business forums, mixers and networking. (Ed. note: This has now gone, it appears, as has that belonging to the Fashion Research Institute )
There are educational Community Gateways as well. Rockcliffe University Consortium (http://www.urockcliffe.com) is an educational institution with a campus only in Second Life. Its gateway [http://slurl.com/secondlife/Rockcliffe%20I/15/175/23] displays the tutorial on signs reminiscent of science fair posters. Another area looks like a student activity fair, suggesting groups to join and places to visit. Atop the gateway was a reassuring sign reading “DON’T PANIC”. (Ed. note: Although this is still here, it seems to have been cut back quite a bit, and the Don’t Panic sign is gone. Telling, I thought)
Saint Leo University (http://www.saintleo.com/) has a campus in West Central Florida, but also offers online and virtual classes. Their tutorial [http://slurl.com/secondlife/Saint%20Leo%20University/20/217/24] is a combination of instructions written on chalkboards and presented on video screens. The instructions end at a public sandbox. They offer basic building classes, and a sign board displays pictures and names of staff online and available to help. Language Lab’s Gateway guides new residents through the basics inside a modern wood, glass, and steel office building. The company (http://www.languagelab.com/en/) operates 20 regions within their estate to provide practical classes in speaking English while immersed within common environments such as an airplane, a restaurant or a medical centre. (Ed. note: St Leo is still going strong with an excellent orientation – I can’t tell about Language Lab as it is now a wholly sealed environment for their commercial clients. And good luck to them!)
A couple of Community Gateways serve some very unique groups of avatars. The Nonprofit Commons (http://www.nonprofitcommons.org/), managed by TechSoup Global, is a virtual community for nonprofit organizations. Their gateway is a formally landscaped area with instructional signs set into gray stone monuments. Golden arrows guide avatars through the tutorial which include areas for practicing the skills. Beyond that are the virtual offices of many nonprofit organizations. Virtual Ability (http://virtualability.org/default.aspx) is a community providing support for people with disabilities or chronic conditions as well as their families and loved ones. Their tutorial leads avatars along a boardwalk on a tropical island. The tutorial [http://slurl.com/secondlife/virtual%20ability/168/98/22] has a special emphasis on assistive technologies, directing people to a website that addresses obstacles some people have in participating in Second Life. Follow the tutorial to its conclusion and around Mentor Park to an advanced tutorial area which fills in some of the questions left after the basic tutorials. (Ed. note: Virtual Ability’s orientation is still going strong and is a wonderful thing, but Nonprofit Comons seems to have vanished)
Tour famous cities without leaving home at one of three Community Gateways.
Organizations from London, Dublin, and Berlin have created online versions of their cities with orientation areas for new avatars. A true to scale representation of Berlin can be found in the community of newBerlin (http://www.berlinin3d.com/). Their Community Gateway [http://slurl.com/secondlife/Berlin%20newBERLIN%203/174/108/32] provides a tutorial in both German and English, and info stations in each area dispense notecards for later reference. They also have a school and sandbox for building and scripting classes and practice. (Ed. note: This is still going strong, is clearly kept up to date, and has a buzz of residents around)
Irish hospitality is in abundance at Dublin Virtually Live! (http://dublinvl.com/) Historic Trinity College [http://slurl.com/secondlife/Dublin/234/146/25] is the home of their Community Gateway. The tutorial is placed around the college grounds, and orientation classes are held a few times a week, as posted in the gathering area. After orientation, consider following the dots on the mini-map to the Blarney Stone pub for some entertainment and a pint. (Ed. note: This is also going strong)
Hyde Park [http://slurl.com/secondlife/London%20England%20UK/139/137/22] is the Community Gateway for the London (http://www.virtually-linked.com/) region. It is a casual stroll through the park to work through the signboard tutorials. The park is a busy place with friendly greeters and lively conversation. (Ed. note: Amd it’s still busy and friendly – you’ll even find a Tardis there!)
The final group of Community Gateways come from well-established communities, rich in their respective themes.
DC District Community is a stylish, contemporary community. A green park is where their Community Gateway is located. Beyond the park is a mall with many fashionable shops ranging from formal to retro to naughty. A jazz club, Club Incognito, is also located in the same region. (Ed. note: This has now gone, it appears)
Over at Solace Beach (http://www.solacebeach.com/), pirate and tiki themes decorate their tropical islands. Weathered wooden boardwalks guide new avatars through their Community Gateway. The practice exercises are practical and fun including flying across a broken walkway and climbing the riggings. At the end of the tutorial, there is a job posting board and information about very low cost housing for those younger than 60 days old. (Ed. note: Solace Beach is still going strong, but the Coimmunity Gateway has now gone, it appears)
The University of Caledon at Oxbridge [http://slurl.com/secondlife/Caledon Oxbridge/92/198/28] divides its tutorial into traditional English “colleges”. For those who successfully complete the tutorial, graduation gowns are offered. The university offers free dormitories for avatars less than 30 days old and a few steps from the dormitories is a gathering place where deans, professors, and other students socialize. In the same area, there is a classroom with a wide range of classes from basic clothing and appearance to avatar safety to scripting. (Ed. note: This is still going strong, and is very popular)
There is a lot for a new avatar to absorb when landing on the grid for the first time. Starting within an established, interesting, and vibrant community eases the transition and gives each person a place to feel at home. Having a place in a community increases the chances that a new avatar will stay and participate. If you don’t have a place like that for yourself or wish to brush up on some of your skills, try visiting any of these places that catch your interest. Many of them were very friendly and welcoming when I visited. I have often heard long-time residents speak fondly of the first place on the grid that they called ‘home’. Between the Community Gateways and Linden Homes, hopefully more first-time visitors to this virtual world will have the same experience and stay a bit longer.
Well, I still think that one can’t fault Qwis’s conclusions. The Gateways offered a great opportunity for new avatars and – perhaps more importantly – for the Lab and communities to work together. I’m not surprised at the number that have subsequently vanished since the programme was cancelled. I’m rather more surprised that so many have actually survived – that residents and communities have kept the faith, after they were abruptly abandoned by the Lab. And it was abrupt (I seem to recall about eighteen hours notice was given) – especially after community owners had painstakingly created (and paid for) dedicated sims to meet Linden Lab’s specifications.
It’s worth noting that the ones that have survived and seem to be thriving are ones with strong and distinct inworld communities behind them. The business-orientated ones have disappeared, or withdrawn behind locked doors. I’m not sure whether that says more aout the changing nature of Second Life, or about the pragmatism of business in moving on – or even about the declining in the real life economy.