I occasionally get announcements or news from new grids running on the OpenSim platform, but they require the creation of a new avatar to visit.
I don’t personally have anything against these kinds of grids, but there isn’t usually an interesting business story there.
Semi-public grids — grids which don’t allow hypergrid teleportation, but allow anyone to create an account — are commonly referred to as “Second Life clones.”
Like Second Life, most have a local currency system, or plan to implement one as soon as they can. There’s a local economy, and attempts made to attract content creators from Second Life. And the grids usually have a social focus.
Many try to offer something which Second Life can’t. More freedom, for example. Or a focus on a particular kind of role playing. Or less expensive land.
Visitors often denigrate them as being “just like Second Life only worse.”
And there’s a reason for that. Virtual worlds pick OpenSim as a platform not because it’s the best technologically, but because it’s the cheapest. There are better platforms out there, running better physics engines — but they all cost money. And the cheapness shows up elsewhere as well. OpenSim requires regular updates, and maintenance, and debugging. Second Life has technology teams to keep their grid up and running, and there is still occasional downtime. OpenSim-based grids run on a shoe string are likely to experience even more problems.
Yes, OpenSim is steadily improving, and will only get better. But the proprietary platforms are improving faster, because they’re spending money on development instead of relying on volunteers.
So if I was looking for a great entertainment experience, I’d go with a professionally run, well-funded platform with some brand-name talent behind it.
THE OPENSIM KILLER APP
The killer app for OpenSim isn’t trying to do Second Life over again — it’s small meetings, collaboration, and virtual offices. Schools and colleges are using it for education, and organizations are using it for small networking events.
These groups are all extremely price conscious, and OpenSim fits here perfectly. But they also have larger budgets than individuals looking for a virtual homestead, or a part-time fashion designer looking to make just enough to pay for hosting.
As a result, the vendors that provide these platforms to businesses — vendors like IBM and ReactionGrid — are able to charge prices high enough that they can offer support and stability. IBM’s Lotus Sametime 3D product, for example, comes in at $50,000 for four regions — and deep enterprise integration. ReactionGrid is at the other end of the price spectrum, with regions starting at just $25 a month — high end configurations, however, with high-speed servers and additional memory, can cost substantially more.
IBM uses a special “hardened” version of OpenSim in its deployment to maximize performance. ReactionGrid has dedicated staff monitoring OpenSim upgrades and feature releases, doing testing and debugging and keeping the grid running.
A company rolling out an OpenSim-based training facility isn’t going to care that its grid is only getting a small number of visitors — as long as those visitors are the ones who are supposed to be there.
These OpenSim products are likely to keep a large number of consultants in business for years to come, helping companies and schools build and develop virtual meeting places.
But that’s not where the explosive growth of OpenSim will come from.
THE HYPERGRID HYPE
The explosive growth will come from the hypergrid — currently in the “hype” part of the Gartner hype cycle. Hypergrid teleports allow people to jump from grid to grid.
I do that. I have a little company grid at grid.tromblyltd.com:9100. And a region on OSGrid, and I’m volunteering on ValleyGrid, at valleygrid.org:9111 (port number subject to change). I regularly jump over to ReactionGrid, FrancoGrid, Grid4Us, and other hypergrid-enabled locations.
Compared to a rich virtual world such as, say, World of Warcraft or even Second Life, taking individually, all these grids suck. They’re all small. There aren’t that many people out there. And there isn’t much to see. But taken collectively, these grids are growing quickly — and every week, someone launches a new grid.
That new grid could be as simple as a single region with a house or office building on it, the 3D equivalent of one of those single-page place-holder websites.
All it takes to set one up is a free computer and a couple of hours to download and install the software — well, a few minutes to download and install the software, and the rest of the time to swear at your router until you get it to work.
If you’re an artist, you could create your own world, and fill it with your own art. If you’re a real estate developer, you could give tours of your subdivisions. Colleges can provide virtual campus maps.
Setting up a grid is almost as easy as putting up a website. And once a grid is hypergrid-enabled, anybody can come and visit. And they can tell other people about it, put up hypergates to it, blog about it.
OpenSim is currently the only virtual worlds technology that allows hypergrid links at a price point low enough for anyone to become a virtual world owner.
Remember the early Web? College kids putting up Web sites. Colleges posting course catalogs. Businesses putting up little sites with directions to their offices and — if you were lucky — contact information. It wasn’t any particular site that spurred people to give up their AOL subscription and get on the Internet, it was the sum total of possibilities.
Grids that link to other grids become part of the new Internet — of the emerging 3D web.
By my estimates, there are around 3,500 regions currently accessible by hypergrid teleport. About 2,500 of them are on the OSGrid, the rest distributed over a dozen or so grids with between 10 and 200 regions each.
However, there are also an unknown number of micro grids, running on individual computers, with less than a haldful of regions each. There is currently no centralized directory of grids, and there is never likely to be one, just as there is no centralized directory of Websites (even Google doesn’t cover them all).
People find these micro-grids because they’re friends with the owners, or because they find links to them on other grids, or pointers to them on Websites. Two such websites (other than this one, of course) are GridHop and MetaverseInk.