October, 2009 update: This blogpost is soooo old, and desperately needs to be refreshed with new links, slurls and photographs. I fully intend to do so as soon as I can find the time. While some of the information may not be current, and some of the links that are offered here, broken, the core message remains the same. - Bett
Let's face it, the first few days and even weeks in Second Life are friggin' hard. Whether you are a geek or computer-clueless, take my word for it... you are going to be challenged. Looking back, I can't believe I stuck around. I almost didn't make it.
Is it worth it? Oh yes. Whether you are looking merely to socialize, explore business opportunities, or exercise your mind... whatever your reasons may be, once you "get it," you will realize that it is the ultimate creative tool, and superlative fun.
There is very little about Second Life that truly parallels Real Life. Just as a day in Second Life is only four hours long, so goes the speed, the immediacy with which things take place once you become an active participant. It is also so much easier to expose yourself to new information. Fact is, Second Life is a library, a school, a conversation... on steroids.
Speaking for myself, nearly every sentence I uttered in my first few weeks in the metaverse ended with a question mark. You aren't alone in worrying that you don't have enough time in your Real Life, let alone a Second Life. I also worried that it was unproductive and possibly not the wave of the future that the media kept reporting on. I was quite frustrated with the technical glitches I was experiencing, too.
In my earlier explorations, I sometimes inadvertently found myself in the seedier areas of Second Life, which I hardly ever come across anymore, just as I don't elect to spend time in the back alleys or social wastelands of Los Angeles. You learn where to go and what to avoid as you become more experienced, but a word of advice here: avoid the areas that report the highest traffic numbers. They are nearly always traps.
Second Life is so territorially immense that you could travel continuously, day and night, and never see it all. Yes, it is quite possible to be the only person in a region, but a quick teleport will land you amidst 70 other avatars, all doing whatever it is that you most enjoy... and this at any time of the day or night.
So... if you think you are ready for a taste, but want to skip a lot of the growing pains, take heed. Here are 10 rarely disclosed secrets - actually a lot more - that will greatly enhance your experience, right off the bat:
1) MONEY - Access to Second Life is free... so splurge a little and enter the metaverse with the idea that your experience will be vastly better if you are willing to spend $10 to $15 US dollars (less than the price of a movie ticket plus popcorn and a soda, if you think about it) to get yourself started off on the right foot.
It is fair to say that asking for money upon arrival in Second Life is shameful and akin to begging in Real Life. Realize, too, that your skills - especially in the first few days - make it nearly impossible for you to earn any real money. Later, yes, your chances are much better. Early on, no.
You get a much better exchange rate for your Real Life money at SL Exchange than you do in-world (sorry, Linden Lab and no, I'm not getting a kick-back from SL Exchange).
I'm still on the fence regarding the value of a premium account ($9.95 US dollars a month), though one benefit I really enjoy is the ability to see who is online even when you are offline. Only paying members can access this info on the Second Life website.
2) YOUR PERSONA - Choose your name wisely. Pick a name that is easy to type, easy to spell, and easy to remember. Nearly everyone experiments with who they are in the beginning. Consider the possibility that someday you may actually want to meet one or more people you've encountered in-world, face-to-face, in Real Life. You might fall in love, or develop genuine business relationships, and friendships in the metaverse can be as real and as deep as anything you've experienced before. On the opposite side of that spectrum, but equally important, I would advise you not to reveal much about your Real Life until you've had a chance to get to know the people you are interacting with.
3) TAILORING YOUR AVATAR: Ladies, before you begin customizing your avatar's chest (there's a little slider that goes from flat to humongous... just like that), consider Neil Stephenson's description of the three almost-standard-issue breast sizes on female avatars in his landmark book Snow Crash: improbable, impossible, and ludicrous. Too much can be ridiculous.
If you choose to be a human, you have the option of purchasing ready-to-wear shapes, though keep in mind that you will not be able to alter them later (they are rarely modifiable), and they are often very, and I do mean very (read: unrealistically) tall.
Some of the best known non-human or barely-human avatar creators give away a few basic and cool avatars for free or at very low cost. Flea Bussy's Grendel's Children, and Tooter Claxton always have fun things. You can also pick up free avatars (and scads of off-the-wall and/or practical and interesting things) at Hobo Village (teleport from here), Yadni's Junkyard (teleport from here), and the Gnubie store (teleport from here).
One other thought... less practical, but certainly droll... A friend of mine and his in-world girl friend amuse each other by donning the avatars of attractive celebrities, and yes, it is entirely possible to indulge your inner A-List yearnings and look like Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp.
There are dozens of good websites and blogs that are devoted to fashion in Second Life, but one of my favorites is a column by Iris Ophelia on New World Notes.
4) PRIVACY: There is no such thing as complete privacy in Second Life. Once you learn how to operate your camera well (see the next tip), you will realize that your camera can look inside a house on the next island over, traversing through walls... with ease.
That said, here are some helpful privacy tips:
Teleport directly from here to Mystical Cookie's shop and pick up a free version of her Mystitool. Mystical just lowered the price on the full version of the Mystitool, and believe me, this is the best purchase your $396 Lindens can buy you. One of its many features is that it gives you the ability to always know who is within 96 meters of you, and how far away they are, and if they are coming closer. Use this tool immediately (you wear it) and never take it off.
Chime Desoto - one of the members of our Not Possible in Real Life group - created a Private Changing Room, and you can pick up a free copy of it, as well as easy instructions for its use, at my treehouse by teleporting directly from here.
5) SEE THINGS BETTER - Learning how to use your camera will turbo-charge your experience. In fact, learn how to do this first. It takes a little practice in the beginning, but later you will maneuver your camera automatically. The best instructions are available via one of our favorite Lindens - Torley - and can be viewed here.
6) RECORD YOUR EXPERIENCES BETTER - One of the pleasures of Second Life is the ease with which you can capture moments and places through photography. In-world snapshots cost $10 Lindens a piece, which doesn't sound like much, but ultimately adds up. After a few months, you'll find that your inventory is beginning to clog up with photos, too. In-world snapshots are good to have if you plan to share them with others immediately, but most of the time it pays off to save them on your hard drive or send them directly to Flickr or Snapzilla. Both of these services are free, although Flickr does offer a very reasonably priced premium account and you can retrieve your photographs for blogging or editing or duplication purposes whenever you like.
It is easy to keep a log of in-world text conversations, which you can later refer to, though it is considered a violation of the Terms of Service to share these records with anyone who didn't participate in them. It is also considered good form to secure permission from the person with whom you are "speaking," and whose conversation you are recording.
7) LEARN THE BASICS FIRST - As soon as you are able, learn at least a little about building and scripting. Even if you don't become a dedicated content creator, some notions of what's involved/elementary knowledge will serve you very well, indeed. Two people whom I'm extremely proud to know, have given generously of their time and land to provide stellar tutorials: Lumiere Noire's Ivory Tower - Library of Prim (teleport directly from here ), is essential when it comes to learning about building, and Jopsy Pendragon's Particle Laboratory, is a first-rate place to learn basic script and particle creation (teleport directly from here).
8) ASK QUESTIONS WHENEVER YOU CAN; FIND A MENTOR OR TWO - Nothing beats first-hand advice. Nothing. Also, never forget that we were all newbies in the beginning.
9) KEEP YOUR INVENTORY ORGANIZED FROM DAY ONE. Oh, oh, oh how I wish I had done this. Don't be like me and start thinking - and acting - this way from the beginning. Here's another gem video by Torley Linden, which will help you tidy up that inventory and keep it lean.
10) PEOPLE AREN'T ALWAYS WHO YOU THINK THEY ARE - Until the advent of Voice in Second Life, a surprisingly high number of men opted to portray themselves as women. Many, many still do. Do not assume that this means that they are transexuals or gay or any such thing. In fact, throw all your assumptions out the window. It's been my experience that most of them are straight. My advice: go shopping with them. It's fun, though they tend to have racier tastes than I do. :P
I'd like to especially thank Pavig Lok, Orhalla Zander, Arcadia Asylum, Thinkerer Melville, Wellington Bahram, Luna Idler, Corporate Jay, Alec Paragon and dozens of other people who didn't pitch me out with the bath water... and put up with my endless questions during those first few months. Thanks to them, I collapse in bed with a grin on my face every night and bolt out of bed the next morning, eager to see what the new day will bring. For now, I hope it will bring happy and informed newbies.
January 2 update: Ha! Just discovered this video about a "noob" - and clearly for newbies - via Caleb Booker's blog. Created by Akanjee Yongho and Anamkhaï Sodwind, it's a pilot for a series, and is set up for advertising. Pretty clever.
January 3 update: Since posting this piece, I've met over a dozen newbies who have read it! Nearly all asked me for suggestions on what to do in Second Life. Best answer I could think of was to suggest that they bookmark this blog since I make every effort to share our best findings here, complete with slurls (the equivalent of a Landmark), and that they join the Impossible IRL group in-world. It's free and open registration. I send about two or three notices a week with information on the best new builds and builders.
January 4 update: Just discovered what promises to be an excellent blog for men in Second Life. This is a first! Are We Not Men looks like it might have a real future, indeed. Men get short shrift in Second Life, especially when it comes to hair, but I have a feeling they'll give you some important leads on this and more... manly stuff for those teeming with testosterone. ^.^
February 10 update: Interested in art? Get your virtual life off to a bang-up start and make use of Sasun Steinbeck's extraordinary HUD which guides you from one gallery and museum to another (teleport directly from here). Hehe, that's how I got started!
February 26 update: Experiencing Second Life is not a requisite to understanding the wealth of information in the just-published book The Making of Second Life by Wagner James Au, the first embedded journalist and historian in the metaverse. Highly recommended.