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It’s the little things

Ever read the departure announcement from a Second Life content creator or estate-holder or old-timer and look at their reasons for getting out and think that they sounded… well, somehow trivial? Like they’re all unreasonably het up over nothing? You probably have. Most of us have, at one time or another.

The thing is, that users are more likely to pack up and depart Second Life because of little things rather than large things.

Second Life is an awesome and inspiring thing. I really believe that. That is not to say that it is not without its problems, both large and small.

Big problems, however, don’t drive committed users away, most of the time. Small ones do.

Big problems are more likely to prevent someone from becoming a committed user in the first place. Big problems are barriers to entry, and are doubtless a part of the very low retention rates. Those that become committed users have already cleared those hurdles.

So, why do little things drive committed users away eventually? Surely they’ve already toughed out the worst that Second Life can throw at them already.

Little problems are the stuff that you face every day. Small things that seem (and many of them indeed are) easy to fix. Unfortunately, little things often don’t get priority treatment, because Lab folks are looking at a dozen or two big things rather than at hundreds or thousands of little problems.

Little problems, though, are like a stone in your shoe. It seems like such a small thing – just a small chip of rock – and at first it is just a minor irritation. You know it is there but it isn’t really a problem. Every time you step on it, though, the discomfort grows. After a while it becomes an agonizing pain, every time you take a step, until you can’t walk any further.

If we’re talking about real stones and real shoes, then you can always slip your shoe off and shake out the stone.

In the case of Second Life, though, only Linden Lab can take the stone out for you (or occasionally a third-party viewer-developer might be able to help you with a different set of shoes, if you don’t mind the style and the colour).

Every time your viewer disconnects during a teleport or a snapshot, every sim-crossing gone bad, every crash-to-desktop or redundant extra mouse-clicks to get at the option you want starts to grate on you. Every time a support ticket goes ignored, or gets completely misunderstood or closed/deleted abruptly, or missing asset/inventory item, the pain gets worse. And that’s magnified if it seems like a small thing to fix. The more trivial a glitch seems to be to address, the more irritating it is, because it seems like the Lab could make this go away quickly, and with aplomb.

You’ve probably got some small pet-hate. Some tiny, seemingly easily-fixable thing that nags at your Second Life experience every week, or every day, or every hour. It’s a matter of endurance. How long before it eventually overcomes yours, and you in-turn become one of the departing users explaining what’s bugging you to other users who think to themselves “What a whiner! That’s such a trivial thing!”

You might not see yourself in that position, but three redundant mouse-clicks or the latest in a string of lost assets or a persistent rendering problem, day after day after day… it only needs to catch you on a bad day (we all have our bad days) and you’ll publicly melt down in a blog-post or on Twitter or Plurk and just walk away.

So, where am I going with this? I think that perhaps focus on big issues may actually a luxury that the Lab cannot afford – it needs to diversify its activities. It can’t afford to ignore little issues in favour of big ones. It can’t afford to focus just on little issues instead of big ones. It can’t even afford to quit working on new features (it cancelled all new feature development for some time in favour of just fixing issues, and people are still complaining about that period).

Juggling priorities and tasks for Second Life as a platform is no easy thing, and the Lab has its work cut out for it and then some. In the end, the Lab has to be as diverse in its approach and its priorities as we – the customers – are.

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