I recently read Hamlet Au’s Is Second Life’s User Interface Cursed by Knowledge? post on new World Notes, where he tries to put the finger on the failure of Second Life You-Know-Where’s user interface to make the world and its usage accessible to newcomers. I even commented, a quick shot and rant that failed to relieve me, instead simmering inside my mind since, eventually to take the shape of the following post.
Hamlet Au’s argument hinges on the theory of « the curse of knowledge » as propounded in a New York Times article he quotes. The gist of it seems to be that woeful interface design is the result of people deciding which features should be exposed in the interface, and how, on the basis of too much technical knowledge. He concludes :
So how do you fix the Second Life You-Know-Where user interface? In all honesty, I probably can’t say. Then again, the Lindens can’t say. Metaverse developers can’t say. Longtime Residents can’t say. And if you read this blog on a regular basis, you likely can’t say, either. Thanks to the curse of knowledge, the very people who know Second Life You-Know-Where most are also the least qualified to introduce it to a mass audience. (This is probably why the open source initiative and heads-up displays have failed to improve user retention– most of the improvements and features to come out of them are made not for new users, but for established Residents.)
Now I think there is little doubt the interface of Second Life You-Know-Where could be tremendously improved to flatten the notoriously steep learning curve of new residents. Honestly, those of us who did not have an excellent background in 3D / FPS gaming had great difficulties mastering even the most elementary parts of Second Life (moving, interacting with objects, camera controls — more about these later) on the first go — I know I had. As to more advanced functions, I’m ready to bet that even long term residents are unaware of many tweaks, tricks and minor but useful functions.
As a moderately long term SL Y-K-W resident (my first rezzday approaches fast), I am eminently not qualified to comment on the improvement of SL Y-K-W’s interface according to the « curse of knowledge » theory. I cannot help feeling, though, that hands on experience as the (mostly unwilling) user and victim of a plethora of interface concepts and implementations both in hardware and in software form does count — in your case as in mine, for that matter : just look at the small ecosystem of remotes that probably has evolved in your living room as it has in mine, never mind the applications and underlying operating system of your computer —, and that some understanding of what you actually can do with an item (be it hardware of software) is necessary to ponder the best way to use it, though, obviously, this might often not be the one chosen by the manufacturer or propounded by current thinking (anybody remember the Office Assistant ?). Which is why I will count the fact that I never designed a complex technical system (software or other) in my life, and that I am happily and utterly oblivious of all theories of interface design as a big plus.
One thing that struck me in the comments that followed Hamlet’s post is that what most people discussed was the graphical interface to SL Y-K-W. The talk was of better and more appealing graphic widgets and of adding more « intuitive » interface elements as well as introducing the web metaphor into the client (a teleport back button, for instance), besides the odd call for splitting the monolithic viewer into smaller tools (*nix geek syndrome, I think this one is called). Basically, the commenters seem to agree that what sucks about the GUI of Second Life You-Know-Where is the « G(raphical) » part.
I disagree. To me, the user interface is far more than the window system, widget set, or « skin » as it is fashionably called these days, used by an application. I don’t think the main problem of SL Y-K-W‘s interface is graphical in its nature.
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