There’s something about InWorldz

Last week, InWorldz became the second-largest grid running on the OpenSim platform, after shooting up the charts over the course of just the past three months.

Between April and September 15, the grid grew from 130 regions to 531 regions. In addition, the grid now has over 15,000 registered users — up from just over 10,000 a month ago.

Their secret? A strong focus on community-building.

In this area, InWorldz seems to be picking up where Second Life left off. For example, the latter shut down its mentor program at the end of last year, but the InWorldz mentor program is up and running.

Rockin’ the growth stats

This focus on community has caused the grid to attract dramatic numbers of new users — and paying landowners — at a time when Second Life growth is flat.

In fact, InWorldz is the first grid to surpass OSGrid in new regions and new users since we began tracking the numbers last summer.

OSGrid lost 197 regions — mostly a result of internal housekeeping – while InWorldz added 185. However, without the housekeeping purge of about 1,000 regions three weeks ago, OSGrid would have added 800 regions — possibly as a result of new $10 region pricing from low-cost hosting vendor New Voice, but also because OSGrid allows people to connect regions that they host on their own servers, or even on home computers for free.

On the user statistics front, InWorldz demonstrated a stark — an unambigious — advantage. While OSGrid added just 2,654 new users since mid-August, InWorldz added 3,942 .

Now, both the OSGrid and the InWorldz numbers — all OpenSim numbers, really — are tiny compared to the usage statistics for Second Life. What is telling, however, is that Second Life seems to be in a decline recently, both in terms of land and users, according to Tateru Nino.

(Image courtesy InWorldz.)

The secret sauce

InWorldz is attracting its users and land owners through personal relationships and community-building.

Many other OpenSim grids are run by technology managers, who focus on the hardware — and leave the personal side up to their users to take care of for themselves. On OSGrid, for example, there are usually several people hanging out on LBSA Plaza, ready to help newcomers — or just socializing.

InWorldz takes this approach a couple of steps further, through formal mentoring and volunteer programs designed to ensure that newcomers always get help when they first arrive.

“The mentors work tirelessly in making sure every new resident is greeted, helped, lead around and shown the ropes,” said grid co-founder Beth Reischl, who is also known as Elenia Llewellyn in-world. “Or for those more seasoned Second Life veterans to answer some of the more trickier questions. The mentors and their help is extraordinary as it frees us up to do the back end work, customer service and other tasks that a grid this size requires from each of us every day. What our mentors can’t handle, they make sure they hand it up to the founders so no resident should be left in the dark on a question or a problem.”

In addition, the grid’s managers are active on the grid’s Web-based forum.

Beth Reischl (aka Elenia Llewellyn)

According to Reischl, it is the grid’s dedication to communication that sets it apart from other virtual worlds.

“We are extremely transparent in everything we do for our customers,” she told Hypergrid Business. “We work closely with them to find problems and bugs, we listen to their feedback on things they want to see changed, we include them in serious dialog when we have important decisions to make that affect their day to day virtual lives. We listen to their desires, their wants, and their needs, and find a way to incorporate those as quickly as we can. While some things are pretty major, we try to balance our releases to hold fixes, things they want, and major restructuring that gets done in the back end. Any time, one of us is online, they know they have an open communication channel to talk to us, and we have built a community based on mutual trust, respect and dreams.”

As a result, the grid has seen its user numbers climb without any advertising or formal marketing outreach. Instead, new users learn about the grid by word-of-mouth, from current satisfied residents.

“We are very low-key, we do not do any advertising really,” she said. “That says a lot in and of itself to us.”

Another difference between InWorldz and some of its competitors is that InWorldz has a dedicated staff committed to the grid.

“This isn’t a hobby,” said Reischl. “For a year and a half we’ve worked 16-plus hours a day, seven days a week, with precious little time off. But we’re seeing the results of that work now.”

The grid currently has three founders working full-time, a full-time developer, and a volunteer heading up customer service.

Happy residents

Bob Sadler — also known as “Bob Bunderfeld” in-world — lives in Missouri. He arrived in InWorldz in the spring of 2009, and switched over full-time this past June.

“I love Second Life, and always have loved Second Life,” he said. “[But] I grew tired of Linden Lab and how they treated their customers, and especially when they decided that they owned everything I created or uploaded. As a content creator from day one in Second Life, I refuse to let someone just steal from me. If Linden Lab would have simply asked me to use my materials, I would have said ‘yes.’ But they shoe to steal instead.”

Sadler was referring to the April change in Second Life’s Terms of Service agreement.

He knew the InWorldz founders from when they were still in Second Life.

“And I trusted them,” he said. “When she [Reischl] said she was leaving Second Life, I was a bit sad — she’s a good friend. She told me what she was going to do and I supported her.

Today, Stadler leads a training program for in-grid volunteers.

The mentors and volunteers help create the sense of community, said Reischl.

“It’s a huge undertaking and it takes continuous work, as our mentors can tell you,” she said. “There’s no tried-and-true method for doing it — we did it by example with our mentors.”

Diane Lastinger — also known as “Sunny Day” in-world — lives in Georgia, and is one of the mentors on InWorldz. She has been in Second Life for three years, and got burned out, tired of the limitations and the rules. She came across InWorldz in May, and joined up.

InWorldz wasn’t the first place she checked out. She also considered Blue Mars, but decided it wasn’t for her, and looked at a couple of other OpenSim grids.

“But none compare with InWorldz,” she said. “It’s so different from Second Life. There’s very little drama. And we all like each other, and help each other. There is a feeling of ‘we’re all in this together.’ I’ve never had that feeling in Second Life.”

For example, she said, InWorldz has a lot of residents who are builders, so there is a lot of support for that activity.

She still has a homestead in Second Life, she added. “But I find it terribly depressing.”

For example, she said, she can’t do the kind of building in Second Life that she does in InWorldz because of limitations on prims.

“One can only shop so much,” she said.

The difference in land prices was somewhat of a factor, she added, but not a significant one.

“Had it been higher, I couldn’t have afforded a sim here and a sim in Second Life,” she said.

InWorldz regions start at $60 a month. This puts them in roughly in the middle of the OpenSim hosting prices, which typically range from $10 to $90 a region — and significantly lower than Second Life’s $300 region price.

To OpenSim — or not to OpenSim — that is the question

The InWorldz grid is also different from other OpenSim-based grids is that it is running an older, forked version of the open source server software.

The server software that InWorldz is running is based on OpenSim 0.6.5.

Most other OpenSim grids, including OSGrid, are running 0.6.9, which includes a very significant “refactoring” — a rebuild of the software’s back-end databases to make it more stable and scalable. And some grids are already running 0.7.1, the most recent version, which also includes support for media-on-a-prim, Second Life Viewer 2, and the more secure Hypergrid 1.5 protocol.

Media-on-a-prim lets users put web pages onto in-world surfaces, making for easier business presentations, menus, in-world directories, in-world movies, help screens, and tutorials. Hypergrid allows users to teleport from one OpenSim grid to another, without re-logging, and with their avatar, clothing, and accessories. It also enables cross-grid shopping trips. The new security in HG 1.5 means that owners of rogue grids won’t be able to hack into the personal inventories of their visitors to copy or delete content.

However, even with the recent improvements, OpenSim still hasn’t caught up to what InWorldz has in terms of stability, said Reischl.

“And as far as media-on-a-prim, it’s another shiny [thing] that, right now, is not necessary,” she said. “Stability and scalability is our focus and key issues being fixed to keep this grid growing and keeping our concurrency up.”

According to Reischl, InWorldz has hardened the 0.6.5 software to allow it to better support a larger user base. The ability to handle more concurrent visitors also creates a better experience for users, she said.

“Logging into InWorldz Desert Isle — where during peak hours there’s 20-plus people there — and immediately having people to talk to makes a huge difference to our residents,” she said. “Even to our long-term ones, that feeling of community that resides there, that they can go there any time and talk to anyone, is huge. When you log in and you see 20 friends online, and can chat with them or be in a group chat and have fun, this is what people look for.”

InWorldz made other changes to the code base as well, Reischl added.

Assets are proprietary to us now, as we stripped all of that out, and rewrote it,” she said. “Profiles and search are our code. The currency module is own code.”

The permissions system has also been overhauled, she said.

“So, while we are not compatible to OpenSim grids, we are OpenSim code based,” she said. “And until such a time as we’ve overhauled enough percentage of that code, we will continue to maintain that we are in fact OpenSim based.”

That fork is permanent, she added. It would theoretically be possible to merge the two code bases, she said, but it would take a lot of work.

When it comes to the underlying hardware, the InWorldz grid is running on “very large servers” said Reischl, using the latest Nehalem architecture from Intel. The servers are a mix of Windows and Linus operating systems, she added.

At this point, [that is] about all we’re willing to say on our back end, due to security issues we recently had,” she said. There was a distributed denial of service attack against the grid on August, which temporarily took down a server and 27 regions.

Cross-grid comparison

InWorldz pricing for region rentals is about in the middle. The grid has an in-world currency and groups, and voice is currently under development.

There are no hypergrid teleports, and no media-on-a-prim. In addition, users cannot export their regions or inventories as OAR and IAR archives — a function offered by most OpenSim hosting providers.

Many residents don’t miss these features, however. One reason is that many come from Second Life, where hypergrid isn’t available, and neither are OAR or IAR backups.

According to Reischl, users can import OAR files if they are moving an entire region to InWorldz. “That is how we set up the Victoriana Sims,” she said. However, the process is not automated. “This way we make sure the data in the OAR is actually their data, not someone else’s that they copied.”

And exports are a completely different story.

“We do not have nor will we have IARs any time in the near future,” Reischl said. “OAR was removed when we did our new assets code.”

Having the ability to make backups of OAR and IAR files is a majority security concern, since these files — and all the objects in them — can then be easily distributed to other people, in violation of permission settings or copyright.

However, companies building their own regions, designers creating builds, and regular users who spend a lot of money on virtual assets may also want to have their own backup copies.

“It would be nice, I suppose, to save your things,” said InWorldz user Lastinger. However, she had not heard of either OAR or IAR archives previously.

But the support available in InWorldz, and the sense of community, keep her on that grid. She would lose that, if she were, to, say, set up her own mini-grid.

“If something goes wrong, we can speak directly to the founders,” she said. “Most of our concerns are handled in 24 hours or less — even in the middle of a crisis.”

Another feature missing in InWorldz but available in some other grids is default avatars and inventories. ReactionGrid, for example, offers a choice of starting shapes and outfits, and the free Diva Distro comes with a starting inventory filled with clothing, accessories, and other useful items.

Finally, many OpenSim hosting providers offer Web-based management consoles to region owners that allow them to restart a region, move a region to a new location  — and, of course, to make a local backup of a region. This isn’t currently available on InWorldz.

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.

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  • Karen R

    I have been in Inworldz for over a month now and really like the change from Second Life.

    People on the Inworldz grid are much more friendly and mature than the people who I have come across in Second Life.

    I do use both grids. Inworldz I have my island that gives me more at a tiny fraction of the price that Linden Labs charges for an estate in Second Life. To me I consider it to be foolish to keep spending a lot of money on tier or rent when there is a much cheaper option on the Inworldz grid. Plus I have not heard anyone say anything about their island vanishing after paying tier or rent like I have heard many times in Second life. Plus with many Second life stores opening up business in Inworldz, I have every comfort that Second life offers without wasting money on over priced tier or land rentals.

    For socializing I go to Second Life. If my friends and I wish to get away from the rat race on the Second Life grid, we log into my Inworldz Island. To me this is just like one of the many crashes while teleporting that happen in Second Life. Except when I log back in, it is on the Inworldz grid.

    Now I have the best of both worlds.

  • http://twitter.com/seanfitz Sean FitzGerald

    Thanks for the extended reply. It was very helpful.

    "I strongly believe that having lots of different OpenSim providers competing on price, on service, on stability, on scalability, on security, on community, will in the end create a much better virtual environment overall."

    Yes, of course, this is the beauty of OpenSim and it's emerging web-like model of providing solutions to suit everyone (as opposed to Linden Labs problematic attempts to try and please everyone). It's horses for courses.

    I just had a defensive reacton to media-on-a-prim being described as "shiny", as I think it's one of the best things that have happened to Second Life. I went off half-cocked. Sorry about that.

  • http://twitter.com/seanfitz Sean FitzGerald

    “And as far as media-on-a-prim, it’s another shiny [thing] that, right now, is not necessary,”

    Shiny thing? Tell that to educators, who think it’s a boon. Probably business too. Way to go to exclude a whole market with a narrow vision.

    I stopped reading after I read no OAR or IAR backups.

  • http://www.hypergridbusiness.com Maria Korolov

    Sean —

    I’d recommend that businesses and educators set up their own mini-grids. That way, they’d get full user controls, full control over their assets, no outside terms of service to deal with, and they can run the latest OpenSim. ReactionGrid specializes in doing this for education customers. In addition, SimHost and Dreamland Metaverse also have excellent track records with customer service — and all are at a better price than InWorldz for a moderate-use region. Today, it is as easy to get a mini-grid set up as it is to get a region from a commercial grid like InWorldz, and ReactionGrid, SimHost and Dreamland Metaverse have easy web-based management panels to save and restore regions, add new users, restart regions, and do other administrative tasks, without having to wait for someone to do it for you.

    However, if you are a merchant looking to sell your products into a controlled environment, then a grid like InWorldz is a nice place to go. (You can still have your own private mini-grid for building, development, warehousing, etc… — with full backups. Then upload your products to InWorldz, SpotOn3D, Second Life, and other closed grids to sell them.)

    InWorldz and SpotOn3D (the two have similar policies with regard to backups) are also nice, supportive communities for people looking for a cozy social environment. There are no griefers teleporting in from other grids, since hypergrid teleports are turned off, for example.

    Closed grids also provide a nice, controlled environment for role playing, or can enable a grid to offer adult activities that might not be suitable for a general audience. Or they can do the opposite — have a safe environment for children, with no worries about people bringing in X-rated content from other grids, or teleporting in and causing trouble for everyone.

    For people less concerned about safety and security but who still want to be on a grid for the social and community aspects, OSGrid, GermanGrid, FrancoGrid, AlphaTowne and many other open grids allow hypergrid teleports — you can travel all over to visit friends, attend events, or go shopping.

    — Maria

  • http://www.hypergridbusiness.com Maria Korolov

    Oh, I should add a disclaimer to the above note: AlphaTowne and Dreamland Metaverse are current advertisers of Hypergrid Business, and SimHost is a former advertiser.

    That doesn’t keep us from running juicy, negative stories when the hosting companies have problems (see our story on how SimHost lost someone’s region due to problems with their backup process, for example).

    So if any of our readers have a problem with any hosting provider — bad service, copyright infringement issues, stability, or anything else — contact us right away.

    Our policy is that by exposing problems, it makes hosting providers work harder to make sure that they don’t happen again. For example, after SimHost lost the Aesthetica region, all the other hosting providers took a good hard look at their backup policies — internal backups, off-site backups, and OAR backups sent to their users — and upgraded all their processes.

    As a result, I haven’t heard of any customers losing regions since then.

    Even the recent DDOS attack on InWorldz, which shut the entire grid down for a couple of days and took down about two dozen regions, didn’t do any permanent damage and the staff was able to restore everything just as it was before the attack.

    I strongly believe that having lots of different OpenSim providers competing on price, on service, on stability, on scalability, on security, on community, will in the end create a much better virtual environment overall.

    InWorldz and SpotOn3D lean towards the security and stability side, and that’s fine. There are people who need that more than they need backups and media-on-a-prim.

    — Maria

  • http://www.troymcconaghy.com troymc

    You quoted Bob Sadler as saying "I grew tired of Linden Lab … especially when they decided that they owned everything I created or uploaded [into Second Life]. As a content creator from day one in Second Life, I refuse to let someone just steal from me."

    I don't know where he gets that idea. The current Second Life Terms of Service, Section 7 details copyrights and licensing. It opens with part 7.1:

    "7.1 You retain any and all Intellectual Property Rights in Content you submit to the Service."

    That seems fairly clear to me.

    Linden Lab just gets a license to host and display your content to others, as is required for them to provide the SL service. InWorldz needs a similar license, whether it's in their terms of service or not. Indeed, any web service where people can submit their own (copyright protected) content, requires such a license: YouTube, Google Docs, Flickr, Facebook, whatever…

    In my opinion, InWorlds is a flash in the pan. The main reason I think that is that they forked their code from OpenSim and now they're stuck maintaining / improving a codebase with what, two developers? Compare that to the nine or so developers working on OpenSim.

    The InWorldz attitude towards OpenSim and the OpenSim developers has been one of put-downs and disdain. I find that attitude arrogant, disrespectful, and unprofessional. OpenSim provided the foundations for InWorldz: they should be thankful!

    In the future, when comparing Second Life to InWorldz, please include comparisons of things like maximum concurrency and number of unique users in the past 60 days. These numbers are what let business people gauge the potential market size.

    (Analogy: Netflix didn't come to Canada until last week. Why? Canada's population is one tenth that of the USA.)

  • Kimo Junot

    I had a very large and popular business in SL for many years and recently closed it down and moved it into Inworldz. LL had made doing business in SL a joke anymore. They changed there search and a lot of businesses looked like they were no longer around anymore and this caused many (like myself) to loose sales drastically with no fix in sight except to close down the store and move everything to there Media market place where they make money off of every single merchant that sells stuff in there. I got tired of the greed of LL and moved on. They used to call it "Your world Your dream" but it is more like "Our world your wallet" The things I create and build are to make everyone's life a little nicer in a virtual world. I am not in it for the money but I am in it just to make things nicer for everyone. If I had been doing this for money I would have been starved by now lol but I refuse to do business in a place that constantly looks for ways to empty every users pockets and then totally ignore them.

    My friend Bob Sadler told me about IW and I couldn't be happier! It is just like what SL USED to be like along time ago…you have a sense of belonging there

  • http://www.hypergridbusiness.com Maria Korolov

    Sean — I love media-on-a-prim, too. Right now, we’re running 0.6.9 on our company grid, so that we can teleport back and forth to OSGrid, and we’re making do. To collaborate on project plans, we use Google Drawing — which can produce a Web-based graphic file, which we then, through a script, apply to a prim surface. It’s almost like real-time white boarding! (The script refreshes each time the prim is touched, so that we can see changes immediately.)

    We also have a script that converts any web page to an image, and then applies that to a prim surface. Handy for giving presentations stored on the Web, or displaying project management dashboards — but it requires that the documents all be public.

    With media-on-a-prim, we’ll be able to have true in-world collaboration. Desktop sharing. Stream in video. All without having to figure out how parcel media works or use clumsy work-arounds.

    We have one test region up now on 0.7.1 and it’s fantastic.

    OSGrid is taking its time upgrading, though — there are still some bugs to be worked out. Also, the only viewer that can handle media-on-a-prim right now is SL Viewer 2. So that sucks for a lot of people.

    And SL viewers are tricky to configure for OpenSim grids. You have to edit the shortcut path, instead of simply picking a new grid from the grid list on the login screen.

    I’ve had to get used to SL Viewer 2 because there’s a group in Second Life that’s standardized on it, and I’ve got four meetings with them each week, so I figure I’d switch over. But I’m still more comfortable with the Hippo-Imprudence viewers.

    I’m thinking I’ll upgrade our company grid within a couple of weeks at most, or earlier if the viewer teams come out with media-on-a-prim support — or OSGrid upgrades.

    — Maria

  • Ener Hax

    imo, InWorldz does well with the Second Life group because it is similar to Second Life. even their TOS is very similar and their is nothing i find fault with

    for people looking for an experience that is similar to what Second Life seemed to be promising a few years ago, InWorldz clearly is the choice. my only criteria for making that statement is their numbers and their growth

    i have never logged in and can't speak to it in that regard, but if they have the stability i see in OpenSim, then what's not to love?

    i find OpenSim (with our current host, not our previous one) to be just an enjoyable to wotk in as Second Life was. i certainly would love to see InWorldz be open to the rest of the grid via HG some day =)

  • http://iggyo.blogspot.com Iggy O

    Inworldz will be great for social users who want the pleasures of SL without Linden Lab’s opaque management.

    I am not so sure that educators like me can use it, since I’m already enjoying the thrill of building, exporting, and importing my OARs. So while I’ll explore this grid, I don’t think it’s where I’d build a project for students if I cannot export what I create.

    In fact, as many educators have complained about SL, exported backups are required by many granting agencies…so no export/backup, no deal for that grid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.jones.921677 Eric Jones

    Inworldz shows there true hate to competition By  having a Inworldz sponsored event  and allowing a private inworldz avi ban  designers show. So why even bring your product there if you know the founders are backing one  a one horse show. sad day to see the many designers ban from a show because the person running the show is the founders best friend.
    makes you think why invest in it.
    think about it  you have a  designer put a show on sponsored by IW and allow that allure  company to ban there competition and rivals from the show
     yes the virtual world at it’s finest.

  • dollarability

    As someone who attempted to use the existing OpenSim code to create DaseinWorld, I can say that InWorldz has overcome a huge number of problems and created a far more stable platform that the public OS code. Unfortunately I cant say the same for their mainland, which is small, not very interesting, and surrounded by private islands so it can never expand. Despite this, I really like InWorldz and after six years in SL I am moving my group, Spiritual Arts Growth and Enlightenment Society (S.A.G.E.S.) there. The best thing about InWorldz are the prices and the generous prim allowances (30,000 to 45,000 prims per full sim versus 15,000 in SL). Membership is free. in IW I plan to have one full sim and three scenic sims. In SL this would cost me $680 a month. In IW it is $135 a month. Ive been wandering around IW for a while now and a lot of the best content creators are setting up shop in IW, so you dont need to create all your own content, although of course the choices are not as extensive as in SL and the marketplace is a bit of a pain. Unfortunately, IW’s customer service is unresponsive, but at least they are not rude and condescending like SL. I know several people are moving from SL to IW. IW feels more like the old SL. I think IW has a great future.

    • http://minethere.blogspot.com/2012/10/region-creations.html Minethere

      Tho this is an old article, mostly outdated, and many of the players are no longer around, you may have missed the innovative tech that http://www.kitely.com/ uses.

      Hopefully you have not wasted to much time in yet another restrictive environment, because in Kitely you have innovation, more prims and regions for the buck, by far, and region backups to your own computer, and a ton of other features inwz does not have, and will likely never have.

      It would behoove you to look into them before putting to much money down…Kitely is the goto commercial grid now.

      Up to you, of course, but if commercial grids are your thing, Kitely is where to be….

    • Joe Builder

      I have to agree, if like you said you been in SL for some time Inworldz does follow SL’s design which in fact made them #1. I’m sure that many great creators have left SL to have there main store in inworldz or at least a satellite store. If I was a major grid owner I would really study why SL is the biggest in every aspect that matters. And try to follow there business template as much as can be allowed. That would be the secret to success.

      • Maria Korolov

        I like to think of it as more like the early days of the Web. All the commercial activity and success was on AOL. And a bunch of ISP’s tried to emulate AOL’s business model because that’s where the money was. There was no money to be made on the Web. But a few companies decided to start up businesses online anyway, with open access for everyone — Google, Yahoo, Amazon…

        I think a few companies might make a living emulating SL, at least for a little while, but it might not be the best possible long-term bet.

        • Joe Builder

          Exactly :) That’s why the change is in place in SL, Focusing towards the gamer not so much the land barons.