The Two-Million Horizon

From the desk of Tateru NinoTateru was kind enough to slip me a link to her latest posting on population counts. As an odd coincidence, earlier that evening, I had been discussing with Allie how soon we might reach the 2-million-registered-users mark. I was of the opinion that we’d certainly hit the mark before the middle of 2007. Well, turns out I was high. Way high. Read for yourself when the projections say we’ll break 2 million…you wouldn’t believe it if I told you.

With this many new users streaming in–as much as 35,000 per day in some recent days–the volunteer infrastructure is feeling the pinch:

Very few of them are active. The small numbers of Mentors and live-helpers are burned out. Help Islands don’t get a lot of love from the Mentors right now. There aren’t enough active Mentors to cover them anyway. […]

Pathfinder Linden said at a recent volunteer meeting that Linden Lab is working on aggressive measures to improve and support the volunteer programs, indicating that more Linden staff were to be funnelled into the volunteer system.

Well, he can start by making it easier to get into the volunteer program in the first place. Last I heard, applications for volunteer positions (Mentors, Greeters, Live Helpers) were still taking six weeks or more to process; Danielle had just managed to get into the Mentor and Greeter programs (though she didn’t actually get the group memberships) before the fire. Six weeks is long enough for SL to be buried in another tsunami of new accounts. I don’t get what the delay is; does Jeska have to approve every new volunteer application personally? If so, we’ve definitely got a scalability problem here…and, given the burnout rate, LL needs to be taking in volunteers as fast, if not faster, than they lose them in order to have some hope of getting these problems under control. Resident-run organizations like NCI and the Shelter(s) can fill part of the gap, but they can’t cover the Help Islands, which are off-limits to all but incoming newbies and LL’s volunteer groups.

One of the things that could be cause for concern is the “retention rate” of all these new users, i.e., how many of them decide to come back for more. Philip claims it’s 10%, while the volunteers Tat spoke with seemed to think it was closer to 2%. I’m not sure how good the volunteers’ numbers are, since there have to be a few bright people who manage to figure out the world without ever dealing with the volunteer corps, and get hooked anyhow (such as, for example, me 🙂 ). Yet that type can’t be all that common…so I suspect Phil’s numbers may be a bit high, too. And of those 90% or 98% or whatever that fall by the wayside…do they just drift away, never to be heard from again? Or do they become the cynical types you see posting on Slashdot in comments to every SL-related story, things like, “Second Life? More like, ‘Get a life!'” (This comment and its replies are an example.) The answer could be crucial to SL’s future image, especially among demographics you’d think would be a heavy source of new Residents.

Allie seems to think that most of these new accounts are “camping-bot alts,” or, as she put it, “the same 15,000 people are creating 15 new alts a week.” (Well, she’s not creating 15 alts a week, and neither am I, so that’s 14,998 people, then. 🙂 ) One might be tempted to say so, given that the 60-day logins and the login sessions figures seem to be, not flat, but likely rising at a slower pace. I’m not so sure what Allie says is true…but in the end, it may not matter what the real explanation is. That “total signed up” figure is more psychological and marketing-inspired than anything else, kind of like the “Over X Billion Served” signs you used to see out in front of your local McDonald’s. (Nowadays, those signs just say “Billions Served,” or even, Carl Sagan-like, “Billions and Billions Served.”) The number serves LL’s purpose, in that they can hype the figures to businesses who will pay them money to establish their in-world presence, and thus bring LL closer to profitability…and that’s the ultimate goal of any corporation, or at least any decent one, no matter how lofty their other goals might seem.

The increased numbers also bring more good press…and this is a “virtuous circle,” too, as good press brings increased numbers of signups. Yet even “bad” press also seems to bring increased numbers of signups…over 35,000 have signed up this week, even in the wake of the CopyBot brouhaha. We saw this last time, too, as the news of the Web site hack and the mass password changes brought increased signups, helping push SL “over the top” of the 1-million mark weeks ahead of expectations. I guess the old saying about the press really is true…”It doesn’t matter what they say about you, as long as they spell your name right.”

It wasn’t even a month ago that I last wrote about this issue. Back then, I closed it this way: “I don’t have any answers as to what’s to come (and I’m pretty sure Tateru doesn’t either). Just questions. But–like metaphysics–what fascinating questions!” Well, the answers are still as elusive as ever, and the questions are not only increasingly fascinating, they’re becoming increasingly critical to the future of the Grid. One thing is apparent, though: We’re riding a rocket. And, no matter what the destination is, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

“To infinity–and beyond!” – Buzz Lightyear, Toy Story

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2 Comments

Filed under Community, Current Events

2 responses to “The Two-Million Horizon

  1. One of the problems with the volunteers earlier this year, was that new people were being taken on faster than the programme could assimilate them. With no training or orientation for new mentors, frictions between a flood of new mentors (that weekly outnumbered the existing active ones) simply caused major attrition.

    Taking on people too quickly is quite a big problem in the current environment, and the waiting list – certainly in the hundreds, and I’ve heard it suggested at a volunteer meeting that it may be as high as in the thousands.

  2. Oy! So, in effect, the volunteer program is caught between the Scylla of numbers inadequate to deal with the influx of new users, causing volunteer burnout, and the Charybdis of too many inadequately-trained volunteers causing friction and attrition. That just underscores the point that the program needs reform…

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