Kitely brings Facebook, instant regions to OpenSim

In a major step forward for usability of OpenSim, Israel-based startup Kitely has created a Website that allows any Facebook user to create, load and enter an OpenSim world in less than two minutes.

The world owner can then invite other individual Facebook users to visit, invite an entire group, or allow public access to any Facebook user, at a price of $0.20 per user per hour.

The system runs on the Amazon cloud, so regions are only loaded up when they’re needed, and shipped into storage when there’s nobody on them.

A user who uses the world by themselves and spends an average of ten hours a week on his region would expect to pay around $8 a month.

And a company that invites 100 people to attend an event for an hour, would pay $20 for just that one event.

There are no setup fees. A region that is saved on the platform but is not accessed for a whole month costs $0.10 for the storage costs.

There is no charge to region visitors.

Kitely isn’t the first company to run OpenSim in the cloud. Sim-OnDemand has been offering this service for over a year. And SpotOn3D also offers cloud-based regions, for about $5 per hour per region for up to 100 simultaneous avatars (plus a $25 monthly fee) for their existing hosting customers. But Kitely’s offering is heads and shoulders above the rest in terms of ease and simplicity.

Super fast and super easy

So how does it work in practice?

I went to the Kitely Website and clicked the giant “Login with Facebook” button. I authorized the service to access my Facebook account, and hit the big blue “New World” button.

I had a choice of starting region — I could start with an empty one, load in free VCE content, or upload an OAR. I chose to upload an OAR, and selected an OAR file previously stored on

my hard drive. (You can also download free OpenSim OAR files at OpenSimWorlds.) Then I typed in a name for my region, and decided who should have access — I allowed everybody.

Then I hit “Create.”

The new world was created faster than I could type this.

Then I clicked the “Enter World” button and the system downloaded a small plugin. The download is tiny — it’s basically just a little application that launches the Second Life viewer or Imprudence or whatever your default viewer is and does the login for you. If you already have it installed, then you’ve got time to Tweet your friends that you’re doing this. By the time you send off your Tweet, you’re in the world, wearing a default avatar. You don’t need to enter your avatar name and your password like you normally would — Kitely does it all for you and sends you right to the middle of the region you just created.

The entire process takes less than two minutes.

If you want folks to come, copy and paste the URL from the Kitely website. So, for example, I created one region to check out the VCE assets. Its URL is http://www.kitely.com/virtualworld/Maria-Korolov/VCE-Region — I would then give this URL to my friends and, if they have permission, they can drop right in and visit me.

Visiting with Jon Brouchoud on his Architecture Island.

If Imprudence is your default viewer, then you can also upload content that you’ve previously created and saved — clothes, hair, shoes, accessories, buildings.

Kitely runs on the latest version of OpenSim. This means that it should currently support media-on-a-prim, and already supports mesh, for those logging with with Second Life’s experimental mesh viewer. I wasn’t able to get in-world media to work on my Kitely region. Andrek Lowell was able to import meshes, however.

Each region can hold up to 100 simultaneous avatars, and up to 100,000 prims — making it comparable to the best offerings currently available from other OpenSim hosting providers.

The trick is in the cloud

How can Kitely create new regions so fast? By using Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing platform.

Kitely pre-reserves virtual servers, then loads up new instances of OpenSim as they are needed.

Loading up a brand-new region takes less than 30 seconds if there are enough servers in reserve.

There are no limits about how many regions a single user can have up and running.

There is even a “Copy” button to allow a user to quickly create a duplicate of a region. For example, you could have people using an older version of a region while you’re building out a new, improved version. Or you could use the copy function to archive multiple versions of the same build — or quickly roll out lots of identical regions for a large-scale event.

Kitely CEO Ilan Tochner

“From a user perspective, it’s like having a million sims available to you,” Kitely CEO Ilan Tochner told Hypergrid Business. “But only a sim that is actively being used sits on top of an active server. The rest are just stored in the background.”

To keep the loading time as short as possible, the sim is kept running for a few minutes after the last user leaves. That way, if there’s an accidental disconnect, getting back in is even faster, Tochner said.

“We want to make using virtual worlds as simple as making phone calls,” he said.

However, if there’s a sudden spike in usage, Kitely will need to request additional servers from Amazon. This process is automated as well, but it takes longer, Tochner said.

“For example, today, we didn’t expect adoption to go that fast,” he said. “Some people had to wait 15 minutes for the system to provision additional servers from Amazon and set  them up.”

Behind the scenes, all the Kitely regions are actually located on a single grid. This allows users to access their avatars and personal inventories no matter which sim they’re visiting. For example, I was able to create an object on my region, then log into another user’s region and put the object down on the ground. In addition, I was able to create a new shirt and wear it — and I was still wearing that shirt when I logged in elsewhere.

However, in-grid teleports from one region to another are not currently enabled, and neither are hypergrid teleports to other OpenSim grids.

One reason is security — each region currently has its own access list, its own logins and passwords, though this is transparent to the end user.

“We really think of it as people having different worlds, but in the same universe,” Tochner said.

Future features

The first item on the development agenda is allow people to give the company money. Today, the only way to get Kitely Credits is to register for an account, create a region, and invite users. Kitely gives free credits to users who complete those steps. There’s currently no way to pay for additional credits.

A related feature will be an in-world economy, allowing users to pay a fee to attend a meeting on another region, or to buy or rent assets like conference calls for special events.

The company hasn’t decided yet whether to make Kitely Credits fully convetible.

“There’s a lot of issues about turning a completely virtual currency into an exchangeable currency,” he said. “There are obvious benefits to going both ways. If it’s completely virtual, you can have gambling and so forth.”

One option is to have two currencies — a fictional currency for games, and a convertible currency for other purposes. For example, Kitely may allow the convertible OMC currency from Virwox. Meanwhile, users can accept PayPal in-world, Tochner added.

The company is currently planning to give away 3 million Kitely Credits to testers, he said. “That means the possiblity of us paying quite a bit of money to Amazon.”

Another critical item on the agenda is adding voice.

“This is something we think is extremely important,” Tochner said. However, the best voice option — Vivox — is priced on a per-region basis and wouldn’t work well in this model.

“We could have millions of regions,” said Tochner. “We’ll probably go more for a Whisper solution.”

Whisper works like Vivox — it’s fully directional, and supports speaker indications. And it’s free. However, it is not currently installed by default in viewers. One possibility is to install it for users as part of the Kitely plugin. “That should give us flexibility,” Tochner said.

Another to-do item is allowing individual sims to be larger.

“Currently, each world is just a single region,” he said. Larger worlds could come in the form of megaregions, he said. Another future option will be to allow users to locate new regions next door to existing regions, so that visitors can walk or fly between them.

Today, Kitely automatically loads the default Second Life viewer. But some users may want to access their regions with, say, Imprudence — which allows the export and upload of individual objects.

“We’re already thinking of solutions for switching on demand,” Tochner said.

Export features are also coming. Today, users can upload OAR files but can’t download them. That will come, as well as IAR — inventory archive — exports and uploads.”People’s content is their own,” he said. “We make no play on it. We have no intention of locking people in by taking their content hostage.”

Hypergrid teleports are also on the company’s to-do list, allowing users to visit regions on other grids to meet friends, attend events, or shop for content.

If a region owner is worried about strangers coming in and stealing content, they can set the permissions so that only their friends are allowed access.

However, if content is stolen, and reappears on another sim without permission, then Kitely will immediately respond to DMCA take down requests.

“We want to be as content-owner friendly as we possibly can,” he said.

In fact, the Facebook login feature was specifically chosen to reduce griefing, since Facebook does not allow anonymous accounts.

Finally, the most controversial aspect of Kitely — the Facebook login — will also evolve, he said. Other options will include LinkedIn, Twitter, and OpenID authentication.And enterprise clients will be able to authenticate users via their corporate directories.

People will also be able to create multiple anonymous avatars and link them to their master user account, Tochner said. However, individual sim owners have the freedom to not allow such users to visit their sims.

Testing mode

Kitely began testing the service a few days ago, Tochner said, in super-secret stealth mode.

“We didn’t even tell anyone, not even our friends or family,” he said. “We’re still hunting down bugs, of which there are plenty.”

Tochner and his co-founder, Oren Hurvitz, began working on Kitely in 2008 as a bootstrapped project. Hurvitz worked on it around a job at another startup. Tochner was a stay-at-home dad who worked around his child’s sleep schedule.

“It is a project of love,” Tochner said. “We hope we get community support. Our success depends on us getting enough users to turn it from a ‘nice project,’ as my wife’s family calls it.”

Enterprise options

The approach Kitely is taking could, in theory, be used by other grids.

“One of the problems that Second Life itself has, and one of the reasons they’re charging so much, is they’re charging per land instead of charging by user time,” he said.

Companies looking to use Kitely to run their own grids will soon be able to do that, he added. This includes an option where the management of the grid takes place behind a corporate firewall, for extra security – though the regions themselves will still be run in the Amazon EC2 cloud.

Kitely is also developing an API so that corporate clients can use the service transparently.

“We are a behind-the-scenes utility,” Tochner said.

Last updated by at .

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

    Just crunching some numbers… if an average user spends 40 hours a month in-world, that's $8 per user per month.

    For a grid with 1,000 active users with a per-region cost of $25 per region to the grid operators, the break-even point is 320 regions.

    For a grid with 100 active users, the break-even point would be 32 regions.

    If you have less than 10 active users, and have more than three regions up and running, you're better off with the cloud hosting than keeping the regions up around the clock on a dedicated server.

    Unless you spend more than 40 hours each month working on your regions.

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

    The Facebook authentication issue isn't a big deal for me, since all company employees log in under their real identities, and have Facebook accounts. But for school and companies, they'll need integration with their staff and student directories, instead.

  • http://www.kitely.com Ilan Tochner

    Hi Peter,

    I completely agree with you that virtual world viewers need to improve for mass-market adoption. An important part of our vision is to remove backend complexity from the equation and enable people to decide what viewers are most appropriate for their needs.

    We hope that this will enable other companies and open-source communities to focus on creating user-friendly viewers which they can then sell / license / give away to create great virtual world and augmented reality offerings.

    Some groups are already creating Unity3D-based web viewers that work with OpenSim backends. We intend to provide an API so that those company's web-based viewers can use Kitely transparently without requiring our plugin to be installed.

    As Maria mentioned, while we launched with a consumer-facing solution our long-term goal is to be a backend utility on top of which people build their immersive services.

    Please let me know if you have any other questions.

  • http://www.govgrid.org govgrid

    Maria

    Thanks so much for sharing information about Kitely! I can see where something like this will make it easier for people to enter our worlds. It's exciting and incredibly awesome! Now I have even more incentive to ramp up on developing some oar files for government users.

    I visited the world you set up, and I set up one of my own by replicating the main sim for GovGrid in case you want to try checking it out: http://www.kitely.com/virtualworld/Pam-Broviak/Go

    I also noticed it launches the SL viewer in order to access the world so I was wondering what would happen if someone didn't have that already installed – does it prompt for the install?

    Pam Broviak

  • http://oghme.com Peter Host

    This is… it !

    I’m so glad a team made this great idea a reality. EC2 instances are the be ecosystem for opensim on the cloud. Its (resource allocation)elasticity is unmatched at the moment.

    By the way, the sheer amount of work involved in designing the Kitely backend… I don’t know, somewhere in the 5K human hours ?

    On a sidenote : I’ve never wished to host any region in a closed grid. Not after years spent in the most interesting of them, aka SL. It’s not a question of price, more a question of having the feeling of something of the past. Lively’s model, on the other hand… the ease of loading, sharing,… Way to go. (and I’m in)

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

    But the big comparison here is with Second Life.

    If you’re spending $300 a month, that translates to 1,500 user hours in Kitely. Nor worth it for a very heavily-trafficked sim, maybe — especially if you’re looking to the wider Second Life community for your traffic.

    But for a school or a nonprofit that has all its own users, Kitely might be a very economic and simple alternative. And no issues about configuring your viewer to access OpenSim.

    I might consider this for my company grid once the voice is in place, hypergrid works, and we can take OAR exports.

  • http://oghme.com Peter Host

    As fond a I am of the SL model, I’m more familiar with traditional gaming environements and 3D showcasing for architects & museums. I’m not sure the SL model will have more appeal for the masses in the future as it already has.

    On the other hand, 3D on the web, and/or easilly accessible interactive 3D environements (1 login, 2 clicks, a client and you’re set) will become huge in the next years. The first one already is.

    Kitely doesn’t solve the 3D on the web problem, but it does solve the “Opensim for dummies” one :)

  • http://flyingisland.co.uk Neil Canham

    Just one small correction on voice – Whisper currently does not provide directional voice. Wherever you happen to be you hear everyone at the same level. It is planned although other enhancements such as private voice channels will probably come first.

  • Ener Hax

    i'm not sure everyone's math is based on the proper assumptions – does this actually only bill on real use or on forecasted use?

    in other words, the examples seem to assume that grids come on only when someone logs onto them. in EC2, for example, you buy time in advance – so i may have the grid up for 12 hours on a saturday but have no one log in – i still pay for those 12 hours . . .

  • http://www.kitely.com Ilan Tochner

    Hi Ener,

    Your Kitely Credits account is only billed when there are avatars inside it. Your world does not remain active on a server for more than a few minutes after it becomes vacant of avatars. You are not charged for those additional minutes. Your world is automatically restarted when someone enters it, which is when your Kitely Credits account will start to be charged again.

    We do all the backend load predictions, EC2 provisioning, and instance management so that you will get the experience of an always-on virtual world without having to mess with all the technical details of what needs of happen for it to be provided. We are happy to explain those issues, we just think that if our utility model is adopted then most people shouldn't have to care about them.

  • http://www.kitely.com Ilan Tochner

    Hi Meco,

    I respect your skepticism and caution, for many people in the OpenSim community we came out of nowhere.

    All Kitely worlds are located in the same grid but each world has it's own login credentials so that if your password is compromised in one world you don't become vulnerable across the entire system. This is not compatible with how grids currently work so you can't login using the standard grid access methods inside your viewer and instead must rely on our plugin to launch the viewer with the credentials for you. As an aside, that is also one of the reasons why teleporting between worlds is currently not available. Another is that we need to make changes to our backend so that teleporting triggers world provisioning. This is in our roadmap.

    Our .exe isn't signed yet because we haven't gotten around to buying an SSL certificate.

    We haven't finished the TOS because we didn't expect to go viral so quickly and we intend to get some legal consulting before we create potential long term legal liabilities.

    We don't have an office address because we still work out of two different homes.

    We chose Facebook because it prevents a lot of early griefing which we don't have the resources to deal with at this time. We will provide additional authentication options in the future.

    You can google us to see that we are mentioned in IVC-online, Israel's biggest portal for venture capital firms.

    We are legit, I hope you'll accept my invitation to try us out. In any case, all your concerns will be addressed in due time. We are just out of the gate so please don't be too quick to judge our very unpolished state.

  • http://sl.governormarley.com/ Ciaran Laval

    This looks interesting and has potential. There are a couple of glaring issues, Facebook being one, aside of my personal dislike of Facebook, there's also the cold harsh reality that many schools, colleges and Universities ban access to Facebook, this is going to hamper reach. I see that IIlan has mentioned they will be looking at providing additional authentication in the future, but at the start this makes it a no no for me.

    Metered access, there are many cases where this is a very good option, but option is the keyword there, there will be some use cases for whom metered access makes it more expensive than virtual worlds like Second Life, a flat fee option would really be a bit of a coup here, flat fee or metered access would suit so many different use cases and would give Kitely an edge over other virtual worlds.

    The concept of sims going idle when not in use has been discussed in Second Life, so the fact that Kitely can manage it is certainly a plus point.

  • Meco

    Would it be possible to have the URI login details for the grid? I am cautious about downloading an .exe without any kind of verification or terms of service. Also a little concerned there is very little on Facebook about Kitely to be honest nothing.

    For all I know the .exe could be harvesting my Facebook details and considering this is a RL account a little worrying. Would love to check out this system as it all looks great, but I am not going to download an .exe by someone I can not trace.

    This does bring me to an important question, why does it have to be done through Facebook, it is not a Facebook app, and all it is using is your login details, so why can an account not just be set up on the Kitely website if you don’t want to use your Facebook details.

    Maria you mention about DMCA, where would they be sent. I do not see any address of the company or where it is registered. Which takes me back to my concern about the .exe.

    I hope my mind can be put at easy here over these matters as it is nice to have a region set up so quickly, but I do know other grids can do that without using my Facebook details, even if Land prices are higher. But what is the price of my RL details.

  • http://www.kitely.com Ilan Tochner

    Hi Ciaran,

    We will evaluate alternative payment options once we have enough real-world statistics about how people use our service. It is not realistic for us to do so at this time but I agree that the type of flexibility you mentioned makes a lot of business sense in many cases.

    I wish I could say our system already includes most of the initial features we had planned to launch with but that is far from being the case. We currently lack features that are critical for people we would love to start using Kitely. With time we should be able to overcome those limitations. I hope you will forgive us for our current shortcomings.

  • Lateral Thinking

    Hi
    I am pretty surprised there’s not been more questions on this subject

    As to who are Kitley Ltd no email to contact you on the site in fact no contact us and as pointed out on another blog privacy and faq’s done but the most glaring omission is no terms of service at all,
    you need legal advice to set up you say but any limited company wherever they reside should do that as part one of opening up any project.

    your .exe (unsigned) plugin well why prey tell me is that writing too my pc’s registry absolutely no need what so ever to do so if it’s just a Uri hook to a viewer your plugin also allows you access too my facebook,
    Includes name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information
    to me classic harvesting of information.

    Your DMCA policy

    “What should I do if I find someone is using my content without permission?”
    If you find the unauthorized use of your content in some other company’s service (i.e., not in Kitely) then you should send a DMCA takedown notice to that company.
    Ok that can be acceptable in part but you have no contact details at all on your site so you can not/will not do anything?

    After all the CDS/Redzone problems in Second Life and that involved only IP addresses to an avatar you in fact you are gaining that to real life facebook details and IP addresses!

    I am pretty shocked people are jumping at this like Lemmings over the cliff
    If your genuine fine you will be able to dispel all this but as this is the way you have started out
    ill say Buyer Beware.

  • http://www.kitely.com Ilan Tochner

    Hi Lateral Thinking,

    You’re right, our business, operations and development are not ready for prime time yet. We’re just 2 guys working from home who had just made their public website available and were swept by some very welcome traction waaaay sooner than they had expected. We were sure we would have a lot of time to take care of all the missing pieces before anyone noticed us and now that we’ve gone viral we’re trying to do a million things at once and a lot of urgent tasks are still pending. I’ve already included the spirit of our terms of service in our FAQ but you’re right that that is not our legal agreement.

    Our plugin is based on the open-source Firebreath cross-platform plugin architecture (thank you Firebreath team :-)). Our own code only reads the registry to find which viewer is registered for the secondlife:// URL’s. The plugin installer writes to the registry because that’s part of installing a browser plugin. I’m not aware of other writes to the registry but if you find any let us know and we’ll ask the Firebreath team why they are required.

    I appreciate your privacy concerns but more than 600 million people share the Facebook information you mentioned with the millions of websites that use Facebook Connect without ever installing anything from us. Every time someone presses a “Login with Facebook” button anywhere on the net they are sharing that information and sometimes a lot more.

    Our account creation process only asks that you give Kitely access to your basic profile information so we can automatically create your account. We ask for access to your groups information so we can allow you to select which one you wish to give access to a world.

    As for DMCA takedown notices, I practically live inside our support forums and have been answering people’s questions and requests for days. If you want to find me then that is where to do so. Our support page enables you to send me private messages. I know that is not the legal requirement for DMCA. We’ll get to it once we have a proper office in place.

    We are currently subsidizing everybody’s usage, if our free service isn’t appealing enough for you to use then continue using what does suit your needs and, hopefully, you’ll be willing to give us a try once we’ve taken care of everything your cautious about.

    Have a great day, I’ll see you everywhere else you’ve copy/pasted your comment ;-)

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

    I just received a note from Heart Botanicals (http://dollyandlilithheart.blogspot.com/) that the photo originally posted with this article included copyrighted lilies that were not authorized for distribution in OpenSim.

    I immediately took the offending content down from the region and, of course, apologized to the creator.

    The content was acquired in good faith — and, unfortunately, it’s hard to think of a practical way to check whether 3D content previously appeared elsewhere and, if it did, whether the distributor actually has a legitimate license to distribute it or not.

    I’ve written about this before — http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2010/03/how-to-get-content-for-a-business-grid/ — and revisit the issue frequently.

    With text-based content, you can Google it, and get a Google alert on key words to make sure it doesn’t reappear where it’s not supposed to.

    Nothing like that available — yet — for 3D content. (Although Google’s image search, which finds similar images, is nice for photographers and graphics artists.)

    As the hypergrid evolves, and search engine spiders are able to crawl it and catalog content, I’m sure we’ll see something like that develop.

    Content providers have to file DMCA notices, and help promote large, reputable merchants and content distributors.

    Unfortunately, we don’t have anything like iTunes yet for 3D content, but when we do, it will be a big step forward.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=622664200 Eurominuteman

    Sorry to say, but all those barking cries about theft are equal to ZERO. The due legal process first requires that Opensim Content Creators establish and prove their Ownership Titleship, check the expert article:
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/39525822/Licensing-Cons

  • Darkfyre

    Ok Lilith Heart has now including Maria's post accused OSGrid two places bout the use of HER trees. Now from what I understand these things have been floating around OSG and the HG for a couple of years.

    Lilith goes in harasses and complains and they are removed from the "locations" she has spotted yet never once has she filed a DMCA with any grid over it. So the question begs if your going to spot and scream but only about what you see and file no DMCA, then how are we sure it really is hers?

    I not only think this is a valid question but would make a good article for you Maria so here goes; How do we know Lilith Heart truly made the stuff and did not gank it from OSG or a HG and is now passing it off as her own in SL and complains only when it's seen in a photo used in HG/OSG on the internet.

    Seriously if it -really- is yours and you don't want it on other grids then file a DMCA already.

    Because by DMCA laws the Grid operators cannot legally completely remove said items from a grid wide database asset store until a DMCA is filed and proven. So Lilith Heart I say to you DMCA or shut up…. Prove it's yours.

    Just because you sell it in SL doesn't mean she didn't steal it from OSG/HG and are now passing off as your own. Maybe that's why she won't file a DMCA, because she is afraid the truth will come out that in truth she ganked it from the metaverse.

    And Lilith if you come here and argue you only have one recourse DMCA or shut it. There is nothing you can say to relegate yourself to a better position in this game of he said she said.

    Maybe she did make the stuff herself and is tired of seeing it everywhere, however if this were true DMCA. Otherwise your going to see them for well now to eternity. One might say well it's all over the HG you'll never get it all, I counter with then DMCA the few (grids) that exist. Once DMCA is filed and proven, at any point past that if someone leaves standalone and joins a grid problem solved.

    Also going through all 39 pages of Lilith Heart's stuff on filthy SL marketplace – not saying the marketplace is filthy all of SL is- is not my job to make sure a OSG freebie isn't hers. It's her job to file a DMCA.

    All I'm saying here is prove it lady.