Avatars in Wonderland

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for!

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One of my favorite things about Second Life is that something is always happening.  I’ve always had moments where I’m afraid I’ll something, so I found myself being reluctant to log-off when I first came to SL for fear that an even better event was going to start.   I’ve certainly overcome that feeling in SL even though there is still no shortage of events   Sure, it is easy to find something to do, but finding something good to do?  It can be too damn hard sometimes.

I’m even going to start with a moment of immodesty.  I’m pretty confident that I am more familiar with ways to find events in SL than the majority of residents from having  covered events for New World Notes for much of last year.   Through that experience, I came to believe that finding good events in SL is a little like shopping at T.J. Maxx (a.k.a T.K Maxx for my European friends!) only nowhere near as satisfying.  In both instances, you have to wade through piles of things to find just what you want but you feel excited if you find a bargain on something you love while shopping and are just plain annoyed at having to work so hard to find an event.

There are a couple of reasons why finding an event can be so challenging and I’ve broken them up into two posts.  The first post talks about structural problems and the second highlights cultural issues with having good events.  Curious about the structural problems?  Read on after the jump to find out!

Let me start by telling you something you probably already know: the Second Life search function for events is horrible.   It makes finding events in Second Life is far too difficult.  If you’ve spent more than two minutes looking at events in search, you know what I mean.  Second Life is unabashedly libertarian, but Residents tend to act in rational ways based on what few systems Linden Lab has in place.   Until the structures and systems for posting events are changed, people will continue to post way more than necessary and you’ll have to wade through the muck to find a good event.   I completely second all of the structural issues that my dear friend Chestnut highlighted on her blog; you’ll see some similarities in what we see as problems.  So what are these structural problems you ask?

The categories are way too broad and vague. In the “Education” category, for example, you’ll have events that range from classes with SL-related content, to courses about atomic world skills, to meetings of educators; while all are interesting, it means you have to wade through a broad range of things.  Perhaps a better example is that the  “live music” category is filled with DJ events; I’ll admit that some create mixes and it becomes a performance, but the majority are just DJs playing recordings which is hardly live music.  Creating more precise categories – and possibly sub-categories – would help make it easier to find fun happenings.

People have the ability to post anything to any category.  A quick scan of events in “Arts & Culture” this morning found an ad for a shop that sold tattoos, someone offering vendor stalls in an open air-market,  and another for a person offering services as a photographer plus a few others.  Some may be simply mis-categorized, but the ones I mentioned all had multiple “arts & culture” listings, so I am doubtful it was a mistake. I think people believe the purposeful mis-categorizing helps them get attention because they won’t get lost among the similar items in the correct category but it only adds to the detritus.

There is no way to differentiate between an event and an exhibit; one is an occurrence while the other is on-going.   People have to post multiple times if there is a special exhibit that stretches over a longer time period than a couple of hours.  This also helps explain part of the reason why there are event spammers; given that the events search is sorted by time, it could be seen as a rational act to  post the same thing every hour or two across the whole day.   They are the atomic world equivalent are people who have a “yard sale” every single weekend; you know what they are selling and you can tell pretty quickly it has been picked over.  When I see someone use this tactic to advertise events in Second Life, I automatically ignore them (Yes, I’m talking about you, Star Trek Museum! ).  Multi-day sales, grid hunts, and benefits all pose challenges to being listed as a discrete and non-spammy event as well.

More than just encouraging event spammers, the inability to list exhibits is a real problem.  Certainly the Showcase function  is all about listing exhibits, but the process for being listed is a selective one.  In short, you can’t find a good exhibit unless it has been chosen for showcase and many choose not to list their exhibits in events.  Just think of all the great things that get lost.

I am not a database expert by any stretch of the imagination, but it strikes me that creating better fields for events and exhibits would make it much more user-friendly.  While I would love to see Linden Lab improve their approach to events,  are there structures or approaches that Residents could implement for finding events?  Can Residents to make their own event search solutions in-world?  How would you like to see events search improved?

Please tune in for part II where I try to highlight what appears to have become the cultural norms related to creating and publicizing events in SL or “don’t forget that events are content, too!”

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