Saturday, January 19, 2008

Ad Hoc Shepherding for Newcomers -- Why Not?

How long have you been a Second Life Resident? As for myself, as you can tell from my Profile, I'm still a relative newbie; I first rezzed up in October of last year. I've apparently just passed the 100-days-old mark recently, however, because I've received a nice IM from an in-world gallery owner, looking for works to sell (grin). In these hundred-plus days, though, I still remember the day I first appeared on Orientation Island and went through the basic tutorials. I'm a fast learner, I'm proud to say; but I still had the occasional question to ask, and I'm thankful for the avatars who took the time to answer them.

I was reminded more forcefully of that gratitude the other morning. I've taken to joining the Morning Coffee Time at the Blarney Stone in Dublin region (7-9 a.m. SLT, if you're interested); and I was modeling the Droxine costume I had just purchased from Hanalyn Ferrer, when Zoe, the host, welcomed someone in. We all quickly discovered that the new girl, Emarie, was a new girl -- she had joined SL just the day before. She had shot through the Orientation tutorials, like most new Residents do. Even with time spent in depth on the Learning Isles, though, most of us still have questions about the world and its culture. Emarie certainly did, and I pulled up her Profile to IM her and offer some assistance.

I took her upstairs to the second floor, out of the hurly-burly of the main bar, and a fascinating hour or so of chat followed, where I felt I was making a real contribution to the Grid. I even got to demonstrate how I look "ruthed," when my DSL hiccuped and I had to log back in (grin). I gave her a few gifts (landmarks to Free Union Stores and a place or two else), and ended up gaining a new friend -- not something I usually do on first acquaintance. It was a pure pleasure talking to Emarie about locations, cultures, and just generally tapping into my accumulated experience --

-- And it wasn't just for ego-massage. Second Life has dozens to hundreds of newcomers log in every day, but only a relative handful reach the (ahem) exalted state of living in world for a hundred days. Who knows how many potential artists, designers, builders and merchants we lose because the newbies get frustrated and bug out, never to darken the prims of the Grid again? For all I know, I may be paving the way for the next Nicky Ree or Lumiere Noir or Robin Sojourner by helping some new visitor to get acclimated and find their sea legs.

You can get involved in this yourself. Many of us know -- or are members -- of the Helpers and the Mentors, who hold themselves ready to assist someone with questions. but you need to join a formal group to participate there. What I suggest is to simply hold yourself at the ready to answer questions as they come up, and offer assistance if someone sounds lost and bewildered. By the time we have a hundred days under our belts, we know at least most of the basic chops, and how to find an answer if we don't know. Why not share this with the newbies around you if you find one?

In doing such an ad hoc program, I can see at least some points we should keep in mind:

  1. Be friendly. Don't sound like it's a pain or imposition to help, and you're answering just to give them a clue. Again, remember your first days! No "RTFM" answers allowed, and I think you all know or can guess what the "F" actually stands for -- not "fine."

  2. Don't core-dump. If you can answer them with a few sentences, do so. Don't drop the entire Knowledge Base on them; they'll have to mine through all the slag to find the needed nuggets -- and they probably won't know that you can cut and paste out of the Chat windows.

  3. A little humor is a good thing. Many a college professor knows that an occasional joke can serve as a wonderful mnemonic device -- especially with an 8 a.m. class (grin). Don't be afraid to let your wit show, as long as it isn't bawdy, nit-wit, or at the newcomer's expense. At the same time, don't go into a Marx Brothers routine to make your point.

  4. Offer presents, kemosabe. In one of the books I list on my SL Books page, one of the authors was visiting Luskwood, the home of the furries. A brief time after rezzing in, some random furry ran up and shouted "Money attack!!!" at him; and, before the poor schmuck knew it, he had been doused -- with £900. You don't have to drop gifts of money on every newcomer, but you have other stuff you can give as helpful welcoming gifts. For instance, how many landmarks have you accumulated in your travels and purchases in world? Those are made for passing around! Especially good are locators for freebie stores such as Yadni's Junkyard, Free Union, etc., so they can get a start on reshaping their avatar away from LL blandness. Consider tips on good clubs as well, and copiable/transferable objects, too, if you have any.

  5. Let them know where they can crash. Many newbies think they have to have a house, I believe. I know I did when I first joined. Nothing's so appealing as a plot of ground you can call your "own." We don't need that, of course; when we log out, our avatars just go poof and become one with the luminiferous aether until we return. But it doesn't hurt to show newcomers a few places to "hang out" between sessions. A great offer is a landmark to Alady's Noob Island; as long as an apartment there is empty, you can inhabit it. If you really like your new acquaintance, you could offer them access rights to your own house or apartment for, say, a month, until they get on their feet; this, of course, involves matters of trust.

  6. Recommend sources of more knowledge. The Knowledge Base, the Forums (remember, you need a credit/debit card on file for the Forums!), the Wiki, and the Big Blog for status updates and LL news -- these are all prime sources for the newbie. Information is power; be free with your giving of this commodity! Also suggest good blogs for more reading. (I like to think you'll recommend this one first of all [grin]), especially if they have tips to freebies.

  7. Don't be pushy!! If someone doesn't want help, don't force it down their throat. As well, if you're welcome at first, don't end up drowning them with invitations, suggestions, IMs, notecards, tips, et al. ad naus. A friend can become a pest that way.... Know when to push forward, and when to retreat.

If anyone has more good suggestions, lay them on me! Let's help nurture and grow Second Life, and make a difference.

(Cross-posted from Around the Grid with Harper)

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