Monday, March 12, 2012 - Usability Issues

By Shruti Sharma

Second Life is an online virtual world which was developed and launched by Linden Lab in 2003. Through this application, Second Life users (known as Residents) interact with other residents through avatars, wherein they can encounter and socialize with other residents, get involve in individual and group activities and interests, and can trade virtual services with each other. It has more than million users in 2012. In this blog, I will be analysing certain usability issues of this application from a novice user perspective.

Before beginning the analysis, it is important familiarize with the term usability. Jakob Nielson stated that ‘Usability is a quality attribute that assesses how easy user interfaces are to use. The word "usability" also refers to methods for improving ease-of-use during the design process.’ He mentioned five quality components that define usability: Learnability, Efficiency, Memorability, Errors and Satisfaction.

  • Obligation to install .exe program

After joining this website, a user has to download and install an application. Unlike other social networking websites, this website does not allow users to interact with each other on the web. Instead it is obligatory for the user to run the second_life_setup.exe program, if he or she wants to use it. This is generally a discomfort for the user when they are concerned about the security of his personal computer. His anxiety revolves around the fact that whether this application is genuine and will not spread virus or Trojan on his computer. This relates to the fifth quality component, i.e. user satisfaction.

  • Inability to identify what 'Teleport' means

Once the application is installed on the computer, the novice resident of this website if clicks on any link, say on destinations (as shown in figure 1), he is encountered by a window stating ‘Log in to Teleport’ (as shown in figure 2). This statement is very unclear to a new user as he is not familiar with the different terminology that is used by this website. This usability issue relates to two quality components, that is learnability and memorability. This application enforces users to first identify the meaning of the word ‘Teleport’ and then memorize it for later use.

  • Poor 3D Visualization and slow movement

The website has a very poor 3D visualization and browsing structure. It takes a lot of time to load and is very slow to navigate even with a broadband connection, enraging users to quit the application. The movements are terribly slow with an awful lag. The figure below depicts the 3D visualization of this application.

  • Overlapping Menus
If a user clicks on any menu, say if he clicks on mini-map menu, the menu opens but it is also overlapping the other menus, causing users to strain over the menu. This issue relates to the inefficiency of the users to use an application properly.

  • Unclear Error Message displays a standard error message as shown in figure below, making it unclear to the user what steps should he take in order to use the application properly.


I feel that it is a great idea to create an online virtual world wherein different people can meet and chat, and can do any stuff they like. This application spreads the idea of virtual human performing real human things. However, I feel that it is very important for the user interface designers to regard the usability issues that bother most of their users enforcing them to quit the application. By enhancing these usability issues, the application can attract many more users to use their application.

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