Ihave an enquiring mind, and because I do, I spend a great deal of my time investigating, probing, questioning and exploring, using whatever helpful tools may be at my disposal. I can often be found punishing multiple internet search engines and ruthlessly comparing results; poring over Google Maps and Earth; and seeking out the advice and experiences of others to inform my own understanding.
However, it’s a long-established principle of computing that rubbish in equals rubbish out, and that if the data you’re relying on is poor quality in the first place, the results you’re going to get will also be poor quality. Poor quality data can have many causes – a lack of information, erroneous knowledge, misguided helpfulness, and even saboteurism and disinformation. Just to get a feel of the outcomes of those scenarios, imagine you’re on the way to the airport, lost, and running late – would you want to ask for directions from someone whose knowledge fitted into one those categories?
We wouldn’t, of course, but unfortunately we’re often in situations where we have no choice and we have to rely on whatever sources of information we have available to us. Worse still, we have no real means of ascertaining the credibility of that information, other that just hoping it’s right.
There are however a few more criteria that can affect data quality that anyone familiar with SL will have found themselved frequently frustrated by: misrepresentation, poor design, and obfuscation. These are one of the ongoing banes of virtual living, costing us wasted time and a great deal of irritation. The misrepresentation and obfuscation is generated by SL residents, whilst the poor design – which, in part at least, facilitates those other problems, sits firmly in the hands of Linden Lab.
I’m specifically talking about the search functionality that the Lab has recently ‘improved’ – which apparently only stretches to cosmetics. Nothing has changed about how it works, or rather, doesn’t work. If there was ever something that really should work well for something as complex and extensive as a virtual world, it should surely be the one thing that enables people to find what they’re interested in, without hassle or fuss? Which is precisely what we don’t have for SL, either with general search or Marketplace.
Let’s start with the Marketplace, perhaps one of SL’s greatest assets, and certainly streets ahead of any other grid in terms of content and quantity, yet absolutely hopeless when it comes to finding whatever it is you’re looking to buy. The search categories are baffling, botht for buyers and vendors – even after 12 years, I still don’t know the difference between avatar accessories, appearance and components, or why hair is an accessory, but eyes, skin, tattoos and make-up are components, yet I can find all of those, along with complete avatars in avatar appearance. This is clearly because nobody else has any idea where they should go either, so it’s just an arbitrary choice and pot luck, basically. Then you have sub-categories in apparel for costumes, even though there are independant categories for ‘communities’ covering many of the same types of item, and what the heck are ‘Heaven & Hell costumes’?
The end result is not only confusion, but inconvenience for the shopper, who may have to search in multiple categories, just to find what they’re looking for. If only LL would curate or properly moderate their Marketplace, it would be a much simpler process, but they don’t – it’s left up to individual creators to set their own search metadata, and therein lies another problem – misinformation and obfuscation. Ever noticed how you can search for raincoats, and get pages of underwear; or search for traditional costumes and receive results for latex bondage gear and noodle carts? Yep, it’s rubbish, and entirely down to unscrupulous creators cramming every search term they can think of into their item descriptions, or assigning completely incorrect categories. They may consider it to be ‘marketing’, but to anyone searching MP, it’s a real pain in the butt!
Whilst we’re talking about pains in the butt, let’s ask why, when I exclude demo items from my search, I still get loads of demo items coming up? Well, once again it’s the fault of sellers who choose to bypass the filter by not specifying an item as demo, in a cynical attempt to take advantage of the search function. You can, of course, attempt a Boolean search, but this powerful tool is rendered pretty useless too, in the face of such shameless gaming of metadata.
Marketplace is fundamentally broken and really needs a complete revamp and rebuild to make it a meaningful and effective element of the SL experience.
Much of the same is true of general search, both web and inworld. What is the point of categories if the first few pages of every search result is filled with sex clubs and nude beaches? Why bother with a ‘places’ search, if half the results lead to non-existent landmarks? And, why rank results by traffic, rather than relevance, or even alphabetically, that way giving everyone equal opportunities, rather than piling up the most popular results at the beginning?
Search could be so much better if the Lindens were to invest a little more effort into really improving it, rather than just giving it a snazzy new interface, and – heaven forbid – if they took a look at it from the perspective of the end user! At the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people simply don’t bother with search, because it just keeps bringing up the same old places and things, no matter what you look for, and the one thing that should be a logical extension of search – the world map – simply does none of the things that we’d want it to. I’d love to be able to click on any point on the map and have it bring up the location profile, but no, all I get is a button letting me visit the location: How do I know if I want to visit it, if you haven’t told me anything about it? Imagine if you could drop links, and images of locations on to the map, so that others could get a feel for what a place is like, just like Google Maps lets you? But, wait a minute, the map API is Google Maps, so why on earth can’t we have those functions? It defies reason.
So, searching for all those things we want to buy, would like to enjoy, or want to visit is a task only for those persistent, (or in my case, stubborn), enough to keep trying, despite the odds stacked against them… But what about that other element of search that each of us face with growing frustration almost every time we feel like changing our clothes?
We turn to the brooding horror of inventory search, and this time, the blame for the wholesale mental and emotional carnage it manages to inflict upon us sits squarely with content creators who, for some evil and unknown reason decide to make it as difficult as humanly possible for us to find those objects of desire we’ve splashed our hard-earned lindens on once they hit the morass of our bulging inventories. ‘Not a problem’, we think, scrolling down to the letter Cs in our ‘Summer Dresses’ folder, confident that we can easily find that lovely little number we picked up from ‘Chatterbox Fashion’… But it’s nowhere to be found, because some twit thinks that it’s cute, clever or cutting edge, to spell their store’s name with a variety of idiotic unicode characters, presumably so that it stands out amongst all those other dull and boring, alphabetic names, when in point of fact, it’s doing the exact opposite!
I am never going to think to search for ֍࿈࿇ ©hatterbox Fashion ࿇࿈֍ when looking for that pair of socks I fancy wearing, because I don’t speak blooming symbols! Neither, if your store is called Chatterbox Fashion, do I understand the logic of labelling every folder and its contents as ‘CF’. If you don’t like typing your store name, then don’t expect me to make up for your deficiencies.
Oh, and whilst we’re talking about labelling, how about including a clue as to what we’re looking at in the name. If I’ve searched for ‘Blue’, how on earth am I supposed to know what ‘Emily in blue’ is? Is it a dress, a pair of shoes, a skirt, a content creator’s expiring corpse gasping for air as I dangle it from a noose? Give me a clue! It’s easy… ‘Emily Dress in blue’ – simple!
I think I should stop there, before my blood pressure becomes cause for alarm!
Although, now that I’ve written this, it does make sense of a few things that have puzzled me for a while. I think I now understand why so many people never seem to go anywhere in SL and are always wandering around half-naked… It’s because they can never find anywhere to go, or anything to wear, and have decided it’s simply easier just to stay put as they are, rather than foolishly attempt to try and use search!
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I’m still running
U2 – I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For