SL Marketplace – Where To Next?
Filed under: Linden Lab and Second Life, SL Marketplace, The Project to Save Second Life
It’s been quite some time since the Second Life Marketplace shoved the long-lived XStreet off the top of the hill and took over the daily duties of providing offline sales of products meant to be used in Second Life. During its initial planning and development a number of features were promised, suggested, dreamed about and planned that would give the Marketplace an advantage over not only its direct predecessor, but also any 3rd party competitors.
As most people know, a majority of those features have never seen the light of day. There are a number of reasons for this, but I’ve always been of the opinion that the primary reason was that they released it way too early … and way before it was “Road Ready”. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s much more clear as to why they rushed it out the door. So before we dig into the primary topic of today’s post, let’s take a brief walk down memory lane.
Marketplace on the Drawing Board
The original development team consisted of a few people from the In-World Commerce focus team and a couple of code-slingers. The main voice was Pink Linden, and the ideas she made public sounded promising and gave a few of us hopes that the Marketplace really would be a step forward. Alas, internal decisions at Linden Lab caused a number of changes that pretty much sank the Marketplace before it even saw the light of day. The lead programmer, Brodesky Linden, was let go due to changes in the Lab’s hiring policies. Pink got gagged, and Grant never did develop the ability to say stuff without getting his ears lopped off (by Merchants or by Linden Management). So when the Marketplace was turned on, and more importantly when XStreet was turned off, the features were far from sufficient, the Grand Plans hadn’t even reached the height of a tiny’s kneecaps … and the overall result was that it just didn’t measure up to the demands of Second Life.
But it did at least have a Shopping Cart. That was the one feature that Pink insisted on having in the new site. That demand was one reason they chose the public domain Spree platform to build the Marketplace upon. Of course it caused a number of issues, primarily the problem that Magic Boxes just weren’t designed to handle multiple item orders shoved down their throats all at once. So the one major change that the current Marketplace Dev Team has released is Direct Delivery. I won’t go through all the radioactive fallout that’s resulted from the release of Direct Delivery, but suffice to say it’s been damaging in many ways. But hey! At least Direct Delivery is mostly working!
So now it’s time to decide where we want the Marketplace to go next. There are a TON of possible features, functions and fixes that we could ask for, but I think it wise for us all to narrow that list down to just one … in hopes that the Devs can get enough motivation, support and funding to make it happen. I kinda figure that if they’re tasked with too many things at once, they won’t be able to focus and they won’t be able to get the resources they need. With just one item on their Task List, maybe Rodvik will see it as a wise thing to do and grant them the stuff they need. And WE need.
This is not an exhaustive list, not by any measure. I’m not even going to go down the JIRA Issues or spend the time digging through the 10,000 Forum Posts. Instead I’m just going to wing it and write this out from memory. So here goes (and if you see I forgot something important, by all means add it through the comments please):
Cross-Linked Listings – This problem reared its ugly head again when Direct Delivery was released. The amount of stress placed on the Marketplace when so many Merchants tried to migrate their listings to DD caused an old and very nasty bug in the Marketplace code to reappear. The result was that 1000′s of listings were saved in a corrupted state wherein they pointed at invalid products, included wrong images, and basically had their data all fouled up. My concerns are that the Marketplace still has this bug. If we see the type of load as we saw at the release of DD, we could wind up with another massive glob of screwed up Products. But I also seriously doubt the Marketplace Dev Team has the expertise or system-wide understanding to find and fix the bug either.
Listing Enhancements – From the beginning of Marketplace, the manner of display, accounting and payment for Listing Enhancements has been a mess. The XStreet website showed Featured Products in a manner that made many more visible at once and less obnoxious. They also had an accurate accounting method that tallied a “View” when the ad was actually presented to a shopper. The Marketplace uses a device called a Scroller that is preloaded with 40 ads and tallies a “View” when an ad is placed in the Scroller, but only the first 3 are actually shown to the shoppers unless they manually move the Scroller or stay on that page long enough for its time to move them. Basically this is deceptive as the Merchants that purchase ads think they are getting tons of Views, when in fact their ad has never been seen by anyone … not even once! Oh, and that bug that locks a lot of Listing Enhancements in a “Charging cannot edit” state has got to go. It’s really a simple fix, but the Marketplace Dev Team needs to be made to focus on this to fix it, and so far they’ve not been focused on anything.
Product Search – When a Shopper is looking for a specific product they are apt to use the Search box on every page. Woe be to them if they do though as the Search on Marketplace is abysmal and virtually useless. Not only has it been spammed to death by unscrupulous sellers, but the algorithms used to index and retrieve products need a serious redesign. Search also needs to be upgraded to allow sophisticated search queries so that keywords can be excluded and phrases can be utilized. Right now the Search algorithm is so simple, it’s equivalent to one I wrote when I was in High School (and that was over 40 years ago!) Search also needs a method to exclude Demos, specify things like Mesh or no Mesh, and many other qualifiers that would help shoppers find exactly the item they want.
Product Listing Edit Page – The page Merchants use to create and edit a Product Listing needs a lot of work. First of all is the issue with Land Impact vs. Prim Count. Now that Second Life supports Mesh, the term used to determine how much an item will “cost” when rezzed is now “Land Impact”. We used to just be able to count the number of Prims and that was sufficient. But since Mesh arrived, Land Impact is all that counts. But the Product Edit page still shows Prim Count; so do product listings. When a Product Listing is edited, saving the changes takes you BACK to the main Manage Listings page. There is no provision to preview your changes to make sure you got it right. They need to add a Preview link that opens a new page with the updated listing.
Sales, Views and Searches – One of the most important things a Merchant has at their command is information. Yet for some reason the Marketplace completely hides most every bit of information that matters. The stuff they do provide is only available in some very non-useful ways. The reporting and statistics gathering needs a lot of work to make it usable. There needs to be a way to track how many people look at your Product Listing, how many opened it from Search, how many bought it, and many other details that really can only come from internal visitor tracking. The really sad part here is that every page on the Marketplace is already fully equipped with Google Analytics tracking code, and each page is dynamic (generated on demand) so adding the necessary tracking code would be a very simple matter. But alas, the Dev Team has to date seen no reason to provide any information whatsoever.
Seller and Product Information – Scams and ripoffs are far too common on the Marketplace. Not only can anyone open a store and begin selling, but there is virtually no way to report a ripoff to the Lab. Product Listings need to be enhanced with information about the Seller (such as their “Born on” date and their last date of login to the Marketplace), but there also needs to be a date showing when the product was listed. These bits of info would help keep potential buyers from getting ripped off simply by letting them know when a Merchant last bothered to attend to their store and products, as well as how long a product has been listed.
Better In-World Links – There is a lot of discussion about the Marketplace killing In-World Stores because they siphon off buyers and keep them from having to log in and explore. While I’m not exactly in agreement with that sentiment, I do believe that Merchants should be able to more prominently show off their In-World stores by having a much more visible link on each listing. As it stands now, the “See in Second Life” link is very tiny and placed way down on the listing page. It needs to be moved up to the top and made more prominent.
Notification Controls – Right now every product sold is accompanied by an Email sent to the Merchant. There needs to be a method added to turn off those notices for specific products. Some folks get tons of them a day, others would like to only receive an Email for non-Freebie sales, others want everything. The most logical method to accomplish that is to provide optional controls that let the Merchant pick their own preferences. Really, this is such a basic of programming, it’s yet another shame on the Dev Team for not including it from the beginning.
Notification of Review – One one hand we get too many Emails for sales notifications, yet we can’t get an Email sent when a Customer leaves a Review. This is one of those “so basic it should have been” items that has been demanded from the very first days of the Marketplace, and yet so far the Dev Team has not only ignored those demands, they haven’t even bothered to include it in one of their infamous “To Do” lists. It’s a simple matter and would require so little code to add that it’s just ridiculous. More importantly, by elmininating all the Sales Notification Emails that Merchants would turn off, there would be tons of room to send out Emails on Review.
My favorite of the above is to add better reporting tools. Granted, Emails sent on Review would probably be the easiest to implement and is one of those things that has been demanded more than others, I’d still like to see the Marketplace Dev Team add some really useful and meaningful tracking and reporting tools.
But more than that, I REALLY want to see the Marketplace Dev Team actually take ownership of the site. Of all the weaknesses and faults it has, by far the biggest one is that they’ve essentially abandoned it completely. There is apparently no ongoing effort in place, they don’t seem to have a real team that is responsible for maintaining the site, and even though its proper operation is absolutely crucial to Linden Lab and Second Life, it has remained the red-headed stepchild from the beginning.
Maybe with the new year here, Rodvik will realize that a really successful GAME has to also have really successful asset sales. Maybe not. We can at least hope and pray.