An image of Tateru Nino's Second Life avatar on the page of a bookThe Second Life Terms of Service (ToS) comprise over 45,000 words, spread across roughly 20 documents (including Wiki pages), all of which you must warrant that you’ve read and understood and agreed to before you can access Second Life or its forums.

I read the whole thing. Every time. It takes quite a while to go through it all, especially because it is written in The Black Speech of Lawyers. You probably don’t read it. Probably hardly anyone does.

And that, actually, is a major user-retention issue.

You see, Second Life has rules, but they’re not the sort of rules you’d be used to from a lot of other online services.

In most online services, the system doesn’t allow you to do most of the things that you shouldn’t be doing. The code for doing those things doesn’t even exist, so (generally with only a few exceptions) most of what you can do is allowable.

In Second Life, however, the system mechanics are very broad and open-ended. Most of the rules aren’t implemented in software, but buried in the welter of documents that form the Second Life Terms of Service.

So, new users arrive in Second Life. At this point, usually the only things they know about Second Life come from the media, so pretty much everything they know from the outset is wrong. Additionally, they’re likely used to a service preventing them from taking actions that would be against the rules, so many assume that what the system will allow them to do is acceptable.

If you’ve spent much time with new Second Life users, this is all very familiar to you, I’m sure.

All the actual rules of conduct that are meant to constrain bad behaviours, and maximise everyone’s enjoyment – well, they didn’t even see them. They clicked “I Agree”. If they’d actually read the Second Life Terms of Service (at an average adult reading rate of 275wpm – though some studies suggest it may be lower), that’s two hours and 43 minutes of reading time, even assuming it was written in plain-English, which it largely is not.

So, the first hint that most new Second Life users will have of the existence of any rules of conduct within Second Life is when they get themselves banned from some location within it, or suspended by Linden Lab for breaching rules that they have every reason to have never seen.

Linden Lab has often talked about the importance of “the first-hour experience”, but frankly, either reading the Terms of Service, or suffering the consequences of not having done so, effectively is the first-hour experience for most new users.

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