How to save Second Life’s Teen Grid

The TeenGrid has low traffic compared to Second Life’s mainland, and its primary renters — educators — pay half of what Second Life’s other customers do for land.

It makes sense for them to close it down, from the standpoint of basic economics, but bad in another sense. The educational community helps drive innovation, adoption, and creativity. Educators were the first — after gamers — to adopt personal computers. Educators were the first — after gamers — to switch to graphical user interfaces. Today, educators are the first — again, after gamers — to adopt virtual world environments.

(Image courtesy Linden Lab)

Kicking them out of Second Life sends them to OpenSim and other low-cost alternatives. Yes, this is good for OpenSim hosting companies, but not so good for Linden Lab.

Keeping the Teen Grid alive, but switching to an OpenSim platform would allow Second Life offer a lower-cost option for educators, keep them from switching to the OpenSim hosting companies, while still offering benefits that the OpenSim companies can’t.

I’m not talking about letting educators run their own OpenSim regions and connect to a Second Life-branded grid. I’m talking about having Second Life (or a trusted subcontractor) run these regions, imposing its security, currency, and other grid-wide standards.

Voice

The single biggest technological difference today between OpenSim-based grids and Second Life is that Second Life offers Vivox directional voice. Despite problems with group chat, it still works infinitely better than today’s open source alternatives.

Voice is critical in the education arena. No OpenSim hosting provider currently offers Vivox to its users — the scale is too small for Vivox to bother with this market segment, even at the rumored $50 a region price point. Second Life has a scale going for it, and can offer Vivox voice to all its users.

This will change in the future but, right now, voice offers Second Life a crucial competitive advantage over OpenSim hosting providers.

Community

Sure, the Teen Grid community isn’t anywhere near the size of that of the main grid. That means fewer events, fewer places to visit, less content to buy. But it’s still bigger than all the public OpenSim grids put together, and certainly a couple of factors of magnitude larger than the nascent educational community on ReactionGrid.

The community is worth a great deal of money. In fact, I would argue that the community is the single largest asset that Linden Lab has — more by several factors than its server technology. The community is what drives the economy. The community is why companies and individual rent land here. Without the community, Second Life is a high-end version of OpenSim — possibly worth a premium, but not worth 10 times the price (OpenSim regions can be had for $25 or less a month).

Backups

Second Life currently makes it extremely difficult to back up an entire region. Schools can’t create an archive of regions — say, a historical build for when they go through that part of the curriculum — and can’t share regions with one another.

OpenSim allows easy backups, easy storage and retrieval, easy sharing of regions.

Allowing backups would require a change in the licensing agreements. For example, regions that have backups enabled would need to prominently display a disclaimer such as: “All content placed on this region becomes the property of the region owners, who may adapt, reuse, archive, and distribute this content as they see fit.” This means that schools who hire outside contractors to build their facilities will be able to save them, even if someone else is listed as the creator. And teachers who have students building tools and environments will be able to share these creations with other teachers and schools.

Content providers who sell objects and tools to schools will need to amend their licensing agreements to take backups and sharing into account, possibly charging extra for these additional rights. This is already the practice in OpenSim, and benefits both educators and enterprises greatly.

All-rights and work-for-hire contracts are already the norm for other types of creative content that enterprises purchase. For example, if a company hires a designer to create a logo for them, they will want full rights to that image. If a company hires a programmer to do custom code, the programmer is usually asked to sign a work-for-hire or an all-rights contract.

Such contracts are difficult to enforce in Second Life, where the “creator” setting on objects keeps the buyers from exercising those rights.

With an OpenSim-based Teen Grid, Linden Lab can experiment with new licensing forms before rolling them out on the main grid.

Economy

The Linden Dollar is more trusted, and more used, than any other virtual world currency system out there, definitely more so than any of the newcomers in the OpenSim universe. Linden Lab makes money whenever Linden Dollars are bought and sold. When students and other teen users graduate from the Teen Grid, they can take their Linden Dollar accounts with them to Second Life’s main grid.

By forcing these users to the OpenSim grids, Linden Lab loses them and their money.

Instead of buying Linden Dollars, the users wind up making their own goods or using free goods donated by other OpenSim users, paying for products and services with PayPal or PayPal Micropayments, or embracing one of the new currencies emerging in the OpenSim universe.

Outsourcing

By using OpenSim as the server software, Linden Lab can outsource the entire technology management and support function to an outside hosting company, and focus on its core advantages — community, economy, voice, and brand recognition.

Let’s run some numbers.

An OpenSim region costs $25 or less retail for average use. ReactionGrid, for example, rents out four regions for $75.

Vivox was priced out at $50 per region.

With volume pricing, Linden Lab can probably get its regions for much less than $75 a month each, but even if it can’t, Teen Grid regions currently cost around $200 a month. Even at $75 a month for hosting, Linden Lab would still be getting $125 per region to put towards marketing and community development. And that’s not counting the money spent by users on Linden Dollars.

The Lindens can even hire multiple hosting companies, survey users regularly about their experience with support, and penalize or drop those providers with low scores.

The Teen Grid currently has around 200 regions — smaller than many OpenSim grids, and well within the ability of many OpenSim hosting companies to handle.

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.