Join a grid or run your own?

In the wake of the closing of Second Life’s Teen Grid, and the price hike to educators and non-profits, many organizations are considering moving to OpenSim.

The first question they usually ask themselves is, “Which grid should we join?”

But the more important question should be: “Should we join a grid? Or start our own?”

It may seem daunting to think about starting up your grid. But, in fact, it’s actually as easy — if not easier — than getting regions on an existing grid. Your OpenSim hosting provider will take care of all the setup and administration, usually at a lower price. Some, including ReactionGrid, will even set up a grid behind your firewall and manage it for you.

Here are the pros and cons of the two paths.

Far Away region on Grid4Us, a social grid which was downsized and folded into GermanGrid this summer. Being on a someone’s grid is risky business.

Community

If you join a grid: If you join a grid, you join their community. If the grid you’re considering joining has hypergrid turned off, then the only way you can access that community is by joining that grid. Some popular social grids, like InWorldz and SpotOn3D and 3rd Rock have hypergrid turned off.

If you go it alone: If you have your own community — a community of employees, or of students, or clients, or group members — then you should do well on a private grid. But even if you have no friends, you can turn on hypergrid and visit other grids. More than half of all grids have hypergrid turned on, including the largest, OSGrid, and the most popular education grid, ReactionGrid. There are also Italian, French, and German grids on the hypergrid if you want to do some virtual international travel. Many of these grids offer shopping opportunities and hold public events. The latest release of OpenSim tightened up hypergrid security, so expect more grids to open up their doors.

Content protection

If you go it alone: The best way to protect your content is to make sure that nobody else can see it.  If you’re a corporation using a grid for sensitive internal meetings, or a health care provider serving patients, you need to have a private grid, with hypergrid turned off. If you have hypergrid turned on, however, you should expect that some people may come visiting and try to steal your stuff — the same way they would if you were running a public region in Second Life. In addition, if you sell products to hypergrid visitors, they will be able to take those virtual goods back to their private grids, hack into the asset database, and change the permissions. The value of additional hypergrid sales may — or may not — offset the potential losses to hackers.

If you join a grid: If you join a social grid, then your content is exposed to the other grid residents, and also to the owners of that grid. Some grids, like InWorldz and SpotOn3D, bend over backwards to protect their content creators. For example, these two grids limit their residents’ ability to make region backups — which would enable people to create instant duplicates of their belongings. They also have hypergrid turned off, so people can’t take goods to other grids with fewer controls.

Support

If you go it alone:The top OpenSim hosting providers — ReactionGrid, SimHost, and Dreamland Metaverse — have good reputations for support. But there’s only so much support they will provide. They will help you get your grid going, upgrade the software, restart regions, create user accounts, run the backups, balance the loads — all that back-office technical stuff. But they aren’t necessarily going to take time with every single one of your users and help them get their hair on straight and teach them how to talk. You’re going to have to do that yourself.

If you join a grid: The most popular social grids, like InWorldz, SpotOn3D, and OSGrid, are known for helping newcomers get comfortable. There are people at welcome centers, mentors, orientation islands, training events, and get-to-know-people parties. Some social grids do extend their welcome to hypergrid visitors, however. ReactionGrid has a welcome center and freebie store on its main grid open to all, as does JokaydiaGrid. OSGrid has a number of shopping destinations, as well as public events, and its welcome area is often visited by hypergrid travelers.

Extra features

If you join a grid: Many grids, in order to distinguish themselves from their competitors, offer features not available elsewhere. These may be online shopping portals, grid-only currencies, special group or land-management tools, atmospheric settings, or other improvements. Most of these features are aimed at creating a more satisfying social experience for residents.

If you go it alone: You can also get extra features beyond what’s available in standard OpenSim if you run your own grid, if you’re willing to pay for them. In addition to all of the above, you can also get integration with employee or student directories, integration with educational software like Moodle, integration with your corporate workflow systems or document repositories, and similar features of interest to enterprises.

Price

If you go it alone: If you’re deploying a standard version of OpenSim, without corporate integration features, then you will pay less, on average, per region, if you go it alone than if you have a region on someone else’s grid. The larger your grid, the more you save, as you will be able to get entire dedicated servers. Expect to pay $90 a region for a high-end, high-traffic region if your mini-grid is one region in size. Expect to pay around $50 if you have a four-region minigrid. If you’re running 16 or more regions, expect the price to drop to under $20 a region for a high-end, high-prim, high-traffic, stable and reliable region.

If you join a grid: If you’re renting a region on an existing grid, you’re paying for more than just bare metal. You’re paying for the community, for the shopping platform, for the in-grid currency, for the events, for the public areas, for the grid website and the forums and for the kindly, personal support. In addition, if a grid has invested a substantial amount in proprietary technology, this will also be reflected in the price — there’s a reason that Second Life charges $300 a region. The more bells and whistles a grid offers, the higher, on average, your monthly rent will be. Non-profit grids like OSGrid do offer some services, by using volunteers, and have the lowest rents — you can get a region on OSGrid for as little as $10 a month from third-party vendors, or connect a home-hosted region for free..

Long-term prospects

If you join a grid: There are no old, established grids in the OpenSim universe. OSGrid and some other early entrants are three years old, but the early years weren’t exactly hopping. And grid operators come and go. A lot of folks are getting into the grid business — then getting out again when they find out how hard it is. Even going with a big, established player like Second Life is no guarantee of stability, as they just closed down the Teen Grid. If a grid closes down you may — or you may not — be able to get your stuff out.

If you go it alone: If you run a private grid, you’re much less dependent on any vendor. You own your grid assets, you own your own domain name, you own all the scripts and everything else that makes your grid what it is. Even if your service provider goes out of business, you can be up and running with a new host the next day or two. This is very similar to how you would host a website — if a particular provider turns out to be unhelpful, or unreliable, or too pricey, you download the whole thing and upload it somewhere else. Just make sure that the provider you choose makes it easy for you to get backups of your entire grid at any time. The top ones all do a good job at this — they know that if you leave, the competitors won’t be as good, and you’ll come back.

Know yourself

In the end, it’s all about knowing yourself and who you are.

The smaller you are, the more you’ll get out of being on a social grid.

The bigger you are, the more you’ll benefit from having your own virtual platform.

One way to think of it is this: do you want a page on Facebook, or do you want your own website? If you’re a large company, you might have a presence on Facebook for the sake of marketing and outreach — but your main business will be happening on your own site. But if you’re an individual, a separate website may be more trouble than it’s worth, and Facebook provides the community, the games, the events, and the connections that you wouldn’t be able to build on your own.

If you have your own grid, there’s nothing stopping you from getting land on some of the more popular social grids and putting up hypergates to bring travelers to your private grid — or to promote your private grid in other ways, such as billboards or events. Some grid owners might not feel too happy if you advertise a competing grid — check first before investing heavily, if this is your plan.

There is also nothing stopping individuals from setting up their own grids. You can even run a mini-grid on a home computer for free, if you don’t expect to have massive numbers of visitors coming in at once. Just remember to make plenty of backups. You never know when your hard drive is going to crash.

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.