Is searching fixed in Second Life?

After ranting to a colleague in Second Life about how poorly Linden Labs have handled the ‘search’ experience, said colleague pointed me to the new search box in the top right of the client. Ok, perhaps it’s not so new, but it’s the first time I’ve used it and the associated “all” search. Initial impressions are that it’s a vast improvement on what went before! But are people using it? I really hope so, as it’s much better than the old SL search tools and it has some interesting implications for how people promote their sims and their Second Life businesses.

Turns out search was improved some time ago, (and I didn’t notice). There was an extremely interesting blog post about it over at Linden Labs which I recommend everyone read. The post discusses how the new system works and the fact that search result ranking is fueled by, among other things, resident picks. This page-rank like system is something I’ve hoped that Linden Labs would implement for some time and its great to see it finally happen. The result is that content that is considered cool and genuinely useful and interesting by users should rise in search results above content that is merely popular because people idle there all day (under money trees, perhaps). Linden Labs, colour me impressed! …Except for one small oddity…

SL's new search

If you check the attached thumbnail you’ll see a place search for “roleplaying game”, note the “Mature” tick is left unchecked. The results seem sensible enough, although you’ll note the last result is definitely a mature sim, despite the unchecked box. I’d like to suggest that the SL search tool makes a few of its own calculations as to whether a location is mature or not, and not just rely on the users ticking the “Mature content” box in their land descriptions! I’m picking a dictionary check would be ideal. As in the last result in the picture, the terms “sex”, “bdsm”, “orgy”, “bondage” and “latex fetish” could probably be reliably considered good indicators of adult content, don’t you agree?!

A nice feature is that clicking through to a search result produces lists of items you can buy, groups associated with the site and other assorted details. Interesting stuff and quite well put together! Searching is now useful! Again, excellent work Linden Labs!

newsearch2But despite these changes it seems many sim owners in Second Life don’t seem to have cottoned on to the implication of the changes. Much of the sim description text out there is still just a jumble of keywords, terms designed to push a sim up in the search rankings. Thing is, that strategy worked well under the old system, but under the new search system the list results read like porn junk mail and do nothing to entire the user to click through to more. Compare the search results in the first image (which are largely readable) with the results you get when you search for “sex” (the image just to the left), that most competitive of search terms! Looks like my Gmail junk folder!

It doesn’t get any better if you clicking through the first result, which produces the the description text: “escort sex furniture dance pole dances poles dance animations sexy dance sexy dances erotic animations escort club sex poseball poseball pose ball pose balls animation sex sex sex poseballs poseball pose ball pose balls animation sauna”. Call me Mr Brainy, but I’m guessing this location has something to do with sex! However, although the overall theme is clear, the land owner has wasted a great opportunity to promote their business through writing a decent description that would make someone want to visit. Tell me about your special deals, your best product and your excellent customer servic(ing)!

newsearch3Of course, perhaps they tried this and found that the old ways still work best. Perhaps, despite the page-rank like changes,  Second Life’s search engine still favours bulk keywords over player recommendation? I can’t tell, but I do know that very, very few sites include sensible and readable descriptions. I know I’d be much more interested in a sim with DarkLife’s description than one similar to the copy-pasta above. For the record, DarkLife’s description is: “Welcome to DarkLife! A fantasy MMORPG roleplaying game built into Second Life. DarkLife is an RPG with monsters, swords and magic. Come enjoy role playing in Dark Life today and role play, join a guild, and fight!”. Sure, it’s still keyword loaded, but at least it makes sense! So, sim owners, get out there and fix up your property descriptions! People are reading them now, not just machines!

As a final point you might have noticed that there are “paid classified” searches in search results now. These appear to be pulled from the standard classifieds listing that Linden Labs had previously established some time ago, but now re-displayed in this new format. The new way classified are displayed is sure to generate a lot more eyeballs on ads, and making sure those first five to ten words in your classified advertisement are real hooks for your audience is now even more crucial than ever before. Keep that in mind when you submit your classified ad, land owners.

Interesting to note is that currently the classifieds posting function doesn’t have any Google Ad Words-like functionality. That is, you can’t bid on search terms for which you want your ad to appear as you can with Google. Unless this is patented technology I expect Linden Labs will be thinking about rolling out something similar for its advertisers soon.

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