FireSabre launches Starlight grid for educators

Educators looking for OpenSim alternatives to Second Life are currently limited to ReactionGrid or Jokaydia Grid, which is operated by ReactionGrid — unless they want to set up their own grid or join a multi-purpose grid that’s about more than just education.

That changed this week when Houston-based FireSabre Consulting, a virtual world developer focused on educational and non-profit clients, launched its own Starlight grid.

Starlight will run on a later version of OpenSim than ReactionGrid, and will not be hypergrid-enabled to offer additional security to schools.

ReactionGrid and Jokaydia Grid are both hypergrid-enabled, allowing students to teleport out to other grids such as New World Grid or FrancoGrid, which may have adult content.

Fred Fuchs

“We have security and copyright concerns about hypergridding,” said FireSabre president Fred Fuchs. ” We also expect younger residents to be part of our project.”

The grid will have voice, and is currently testing both Freeswitch and Whisper.

“We’re also looking at other options,” Fuchs added. “We hope to get feedback from our residents on which they prefer.”

The maturity level of the grid will be appropriate to a young audience, he said.

“We expect to include students as young as 11 years old,” he said.

Universities who have curriculum content designed for older students will be able to have access controls that restrict younger students from visiting, he added.

FireSable will upload existing OAR files — region backups — for its clients, as well as IAR files — inventory backups.

“Our policies are driven both by the need to preserve copyright of content creators, and to allow educators to backup their content,” said Fuchs.

Ready-made, free OAR and IAR files are available from a number of sources.

See the following stories for additional information:

Pricing and usage

The basic cost of a region on Starlight is $60, with support for 40 to 50 simultaneous visitors and up to 15,000 prims.

This is a slightly higher price compared to Jokaydia Grid’s $25 regions, but also offers better performance.

“We offer higher performance regions which feature both more prims and support for more avatars,” said Fuchs.

In addition to the high performance regions — which can hold as many objects as two or more regular regions, and many more avatars — educators will also be able to rent half regions and quarter regions.

Educators will also be able to rent space in existing campus parks if they need to hold occasional events.

“These will allow users without the need for a full region — or even quarter region — to affordably collaborate and host learners in a well-designed space with rich content and professionally-developed infrastructure,” he said.

FireSabre also offers a-la-carte support and consulting, as well as subscription services.

“FireSabre started as an SLDEV provider,” Fuchs said. “We’ve specialized in virtual world projects for education and non-profit clients since we started the company more than five years ago. We’re continuing that focus by offering a professionally designed, hosted, and tuned OpenSim grid for education.”

Moving out from Second Life

To help educators make the switch to OpenSim, FireSabre is offering a $100 region migration service for Starlight customers — and does not insist that the customers be the creators of each piece of virtual content.

“We require the clients own rights to, or receive permissions to copy all content out of Second Life,” said Fuchs.

Many educational institutions use content created by outside consultants, teachers, or students — so there is no one single creator name on each object. In addition, many builds are created using open source components or images. Both of these factors make it difficult to export content using the standard third party viewers.

“Content transfers are discounted for those who obtain a region or more on our grid,” Fuchs added. “We will look at doing content transfer for other kinds of projects, but prices and policies may differ.”

FireSabre's Language Island in Second Life. (Image courtesy FireSabre Consulting.)

Educators interested in finding out more can sign up for the Starlight closed beta program here.

Applications are limited to individual educators, educational institutions, non-profits and NGOs, and governmental institutions such as outreach and education programs.

“Starlight is an education-focused grid aimed at schools, museums and other educationally-oriented non-profits,” Fuchs said. “It will also provide a home for those dedicated individual educators who have used their own resources to create virtual world resources for their students and other learners.”

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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. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

23 Responses

  1.' Ener Hax says:

    this is a nice offering but i to say it is significantly better than Reaction Grid or Jokaydia (both are the same to me since they are Reaction Grid) is a stretch. i have no particular love for Reaction Grid but i do have a love of seeing educator's setup what works best for them (incidentally, i don't sell anything and don't work for anyone in this regard)

    at $60 a region I still say it is worthwhile for educators to explore doing their own grids either on their own or with the school or sharing a very robust offering like what we use that costs less than 3 times this offering and gives you many times to capacity

    i also am suspect anytime i see a service offering to move a Second Life installation to OpenSim. to do so is to use the third party viewer created to steal content as it is the only way to copy Second Life OArs (which I believe violates LL's TOS regardless of permissions (because you license the right to create on a sim, but not the right to copy the sim)

    these are strictly my opinions and i am one that believes that one's content should be entirely in their own hands and that any third party introduces compromises

    at least with Jokaydia you have a very rich and passionate teacher community headed up by someone that has contributed greatly to educators, including myself

    i hope you do well FireSabre and your actions will speak the loudest and as anything else caveat emptor =)

  2.' CiderJack says:

    I would be *very* curious about how FireSabre manages to export entire regions out of SL without violating the TOS. I know many people who would like to be able to do the same!

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us '0 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. New World Grid is PG rated since its start, and though external visitors can register or teleport via Hypergrid, we are very watchful about adult content and behavior, which are not tolerated. Also, there's quite always an administrator, volunteer or moderator online to check content and grid status and help residents.

  4. Fred Fuchs says:

    Hi, thought I’d pop in and address the very valid comments and concerns raised by the readers.

    (A)Price: Of course, we encourage educators to evaluate their options. For some very tech-savvy educators or those with support from their IT departments, setting up their own server (or pooling with others) might be viable. However, our experience in serving the educational users leads us to believe there’s a need for “plug and play” virtual worlds aimed at education. The goal is to create a grid where they can concentrate on using the canvas to create their educational experience rather than building out their own grid infrastructure.

    Keep in mind, $60 includes hosting (maintenance, connection, infrastructure updates, web-based account creation, and project-specific default avatars), telephone and email support. Plus, there’s the advantage of being part of a grid where the provider is actively looking to grow the community and thus give educators access to a diverse world filled with an array of institutions.

    (B)Content Transfer Service: The elephant in the room is, of course, the content transfer service. Rest assured, we didn’t jump into this lightly. One goal for Starlight Education is to be proactive in making our world one of the most intellectual property violation-free grids available while still allowing educators fair-use rights on educational materials.

    This means for anything we back-up/transfer, the client must either be the creator of origin, as per the DMCA, or have physical, written documentation granting them the necessary license/permission from the copyright holder. Plus, all DMCA reports will be taken seriously and we plan to be proactive in monitoring this.

    When developing the content-transfer service, we reviewed Linden Lab’s TOS, and have determined we can provide it without violating either its spirit or specifics. The Lab’s TOS:

    (1) Doesn’t allow you to copy anyone else’s intellectual property (“You must obtain from the applicable Content Providers any necessary license rights in Content that you desire to use or access.”). FireSabre’s safeguards will likewise work to guarantee this. In other respects, the Lab’s TOS explicitly positions itself as a service provider and makes no claims to the content uploaded, nor generated by its building tools.

    (2) Allows third-party viewers to exist that can copy data, provided the system verifies the permissions and creator are those of the user. Keep in mind, despite some sensational headlines, there are many legitimate viewers that have a backup function for authorized/full-perm content only. The proof-of-transfer documentation FireSabre requires, and our status as providers for the client, mean that we are acting authorized representatives of the copyright holder (we won’t transfer if you aren’t) and were provided with access by the account holder.

    (3) Allows all content on a simulator to be transferred by the owner, but the sim itself is considered property of Linden Lab. The “virtual land” as defined by Linden Lab is the space created by the software and services running on their systems. We aren’t duplicating that and thus not taking the simulator — just its content. Likewise, assuming the user terraformed their island, the mesh they’ve created is not inherent as the sim and is also theirs to take in the form of a RAW file. The official Second Life viewer itself allows downloads of the RAW by the owner. Nor do we claim intellectual property rights upon anything uploaded, created with the inworld tools or imported via the transfer service.

    There is no lock-in with Starlight. In fact, our service allows educators more control over their content, as it will be available for them to archive in a platform-independent xml file. Many times, people associate the capability of the software to be misused (such as OpenSim and copyright) with inherent undesirability of the technology. However, it is the policies, philosophy and practices of the company that matter.

    The bottom line is FireSabre has worked with educators, has former educators on staff and will work toward nurturing a vibrant educational community of not only schools and colleges, but museums and other non-profit institutions. We also aim to provide the tools to empower educators with resources for students to access at the educator’s discretion.

    One example of our post-launch plans toward this goal (in addition to raw sim hosting) are virtual world campuses that give teachers tools and use of community space to develop their content. Our goal is to create a vibrant community.

  5. Fred — Do you have an automated methods for exporting sims? It can take a lot of manual labor otherwise — it doesn't seem like $100 would cover it.

    Thanks! — Maria

    •' Fred Fuchs says:

      Maria — Thanks for the follow-up question! Keep in mind that sim content transfers would start at $100. This covers straightforward back-up, and import into Starlight Grid. It also covers a basic validation of simple scripts, prim and texture integrity. Given the functionality needs for most education sims, we anticipate a majority would be covered by this fee. In addition, we feel that the value of educators on this grid allows us to offer this service at a discount.

      However, if a client’s build employs sophisticated functionality that needs updating — or clients want content refreshes, extensive validation and testing, or content adaptation as part of the transfer process — then we will provide an upfront quote before proceeding.

      For the imports, the tech and methods we use are mainly those available to users — if they wanted to research and install various (TOS-compliant) back-up capable viewers, tinker with the export settings and experiment with the method.

      The premise of Starlight Grid is educational users will want a plug-and-play solution for creating and sharing content. Thus the service lets educators to avoid this learning curve and leverage our expertise. We can do it quickly (and thus at low cost) simply because we know the methods and the destination server inside-out; and we have done the experimentation to make sure imports are smooth. We’ve also rolled-out specific optimizations to our grid to smooth the import process.

      Finally, new educational and institutional users are not obligated to use this transfer service. Like all material in Starlight, your content is yours and you can create or develop it in any way you like. However, we anticipate this option will be a welcome one for our educational and institutional users.

      • Fred —

        I think the big question on everyone's mind is that TOS-compliant viewers will only export items that you are the creator of. How are you able to export items that were, say, produced by teams working together, or by subcontractors?

        — Maria

      •' CiderJack says:

        “the tech and methods we use are mainly those available to users — if they wanted to research and install various (TOS-compliant) back-up capable viewers, tinker with the export settings and experiment with the method. ”

        Would it be safe to make the presumption that the ‘research’, ‘tinker[ing]’ and ‘experiment[ing]’ you describe here is generally referred to as ‘hacking’?

        IF the tools and techniques are indeed so readily ‘available to users’ as you claim, perhaps you wouldn’t mind sharing them, or perhaps point us at a blog post (or some other website) that explains in more detail?

        This information would be of great benefit to the community!

  6.' CiderJack says:

    That's actually the question I was asking Maria – thanks for stating it better than I had!

    @Fred – I'm still curious about what tools / techniques you are using? I'm not really interested in how you personally interpret LL's TOS, but I know of no way of accomplishing what you've described without violating them. I (and many others) would like to know how you manage this!

  7.' CiderJack says:

    Well, for some reason I'm not surprised Fred declines to answer such direct questions on this topic… Silence speaks volumes!


  8.' Ener Hax says:

    i dunno, but the only way that i know that you can copy someone else's object is via Reborn –

    •' Fred Fuchs says:

      As a reminder, the service isn't copying other peoples' objects. As per the original response, we are copying objects belonging to the client using an authorized access account and with written consent. We know concern runs strong among SL content creators, and after months of discussion, we chose a content transfer policy that would help protect their rights.

      We actually now have an FAQ up on our website, for anyone interested in further details:

      • Fred —

        When I asked about this before, you said that you *would* transfer content without creator rights, as long as there was permission or right assignments — "We require the clients own rights to, or receive permissions to copy all content out of Second Life."

        Has this policy changed?

        • In your FAQ:

          "This means for anything we back-up/transfer, the client must either be the creator of origin (as per the DMCA) or have physical, written documentation granting them the necessary license/permission from the copyright holder."

          … "The proof-of-transfer documentation FireSabre requires, and our status as providers for the client, mean that we are acting authorized representatives of the copyright holder."

          •' Fred Fuchs says:

            I think a simple example would help clarify this question.

            Let's take a small museum who has created a virtual art-gallery in Second Life®. They hired a contractor to build it, or did so themselves. (As a side note, if they hired a contractor, or did so through volunteer labor, the contract with those creators was work-for-hire).

            Let's further posit that, as part of their display, they are showing work from local galleries in their area. Thus, on their walls are virtual picture frames containing reproductions of those artists' work. In this case, while the build itself may be free-and-clear, either copyright ownership and/or appropriate licensing of the images (such that they are allowed to be displayed in more than one outlet/platform) would need to be documented before we move it.

            Keep in mind that this form of "license clearing" is SOP for most ad agencies, design agencies, and publishers in the creative industries. However, for virtual worlds, this extra level of due-diligence in IP-clearance is relatively rare. Thus, the extra written-requirement reads as a willingness to bypass in-world permissions rather than as an additional level of safeguards for the creators' rights. Those creators are not restricted to inworld "builders". I think the confusion is partly because in Second Life® and OpenSim, preception of "ip rights" has become synonymous with prim permissions. Our policies were designed with the wider, medium-independent view of "creator/copyright holder".

          •' CiderJack says:

            I see, so you _do_ export other creator’s objects. Fascinating. Again I ask, how do you accomplish what you do without violating SL’s TOS?

            From SL’s Policy on Third-Party Viewers:
            2. Prohibited Features and Functionality

            If you are a user or Developer of Third-Party Viewers, the following features and functionality are expressly prohibited in all Third-Party Viewers:

            a. You must not circumvent our intended limitations on Second Life features. For example:

            i. You must not circumvent the Second Life permissions system or any features that limit copying, transfer, or use of content within Second Life.

            b. You must not use or provide any functionality that Linden Lab’s viewers do not have for exporting content from Second Life unless the functionality verifies that the content to be exported was created by the Second Life user who is using the Third-Party Viewer. Specifically, before allowing the user to export the content, the Third-Party Viewer must verify that the Second Life creator name for each and every content component to be exported, including each and every primitive or other content type, is the same as the Second Life name of the Third-Party Viewer user. This must be done for all content in Second Life, including content that may be set to “full permissions.”

  9.' Neil Canham says:

    The other way is to use the libomv TestClient or something based on it.

    If the process described is adhered to in terms of getting permissions, it would be impossibly time consuming surely? Or is the responsibility actually being passed on – if I ask the supplier of my classroom complex "Can I take this out of SL" am I assuming that they are answering on behalf of the creators of all the textures and scripts that classroom may contain?

    When exporting / importing objects between SL/OpenSIm environments, one of the big difficulties is the UUIDs of the creator – typically they won't refer to any user that exists in the final system – this means that attribution of the original creator is lost, and also that trying to back the content up for your own purposes, or copy it to a local test server may fail. I'm interested to know how that is handled.

    • Neil —

      The OpenSim folks are working to preserve creator names when content is export/re-imported via OARs and IARs — I believe there is something in place for that in the latest release.

      However, I would recommend that content creators take some extra steps, as well (and may need to write them into their contracts). These include putting brand names in the textures of items — just like physical goods manufacturers do. A manufacturer's label in some unobtrusive location.

      Creators can also add their names, and websites, into the item descriptions, or into attached notecards.

      Content creators working in other media already have to deal with this — photographers, copywriters, website designers. And, with some projects, you never get credited at all — when a company hires someone to write a press release, for example, no writing credit is attached to that. And the same goes for content designers and developers working on work-for-hire contracts. On the plus side, the money is usually pretty good, and your clients are more likely to be good citizens, observe contract terms, and not try to pirate and re-distribute your content.

  10.' Caliburn Susanto says:

    And who will guard the guards? If only the service provider (who has immediate access to all content uploaded and can make it theirs in all respects — this is true of all grids) and the client who says "Yeah, great! Move my region over to your grid! Super!" are allowed into the service, who is going to be able to see stolen content? Or report any suspicious content to creators?

    Sticky wicket.

  11.' Thadicus Caligari says:

    I don't think there is a sim in SL where every piece was created by the owner. And getting verification information from the creators often won't happen as many have left, especially consulting creators. In our inworld EDU builds we just outright told the others involved if we move anywhere its got to be fresh build as we can't trust all the content. There is no such thing as a clean move.

    Anyone who thinks so is just lying to themselves.

    • I think there's an important lesson here for any company or school looking to have a region in Second Life — have your builders and creators build everything in OpenSim first, where you have all the rights (assuming you've got the right contracts in place, but enterprises already know how to handle that part of it). Then you can upload the region to (almost) any OpenSim grid, to any OpenSim hosting provider. And you can upload the region using a TPV to Second Life — and still have the original as a backup.

  12.' Fred Fuchs says:

    I agree that building originally in OpenSim, if that is your chosen platform, is of course a fine approach. However, there will be cases where an educator might want similar or related content across multiple platforms. Here is where making sure that your build has cross-media "license clearance" for content is good policy.

    In fact, I suggest that there are a few steps that educator clients (or anyone with content to create for non-personal purposes) should take — steps that would make it essentially irrelevant whether they are doing it originally in SL, OpenSim grids or any other virtual world. This is also important if you want to adapt or reuse content, as any legitimate developer will require similar due-diligence.

    A good example of this is a particular museum in SL for whom reaching the requirements to transfer would likely not be an issue. Because they did a few simple things:

    1. For the original build, the developer was work-for-hire, documented in the written agreement. Therefore, regardless of creator or origin, they hold both the digital materials and written permissions by virtue of the contract.

    * If you use a contractor that isn't work-for-hire, ensure that you get cross-platform rights. Your agreement with them should serve as documentation for most devs. If it was volunteer or student work, it is a good idea to at minimum get some form of project-specific TOS (understanding that work done as a volunteer grants the institution license to use the work). This is a common practice in art schools for portfolio shows, etc. If minors, work done as part of a documented class serves this purpose.

    2. The museum had user-created exhibits and, in fact, its purpose was a bit of a sandbox. This is tied to a website for the project wherein participants could interact. For these exhibits, users had to agree that building the exhibits for the museum granted them non-exclusive license as part of the "TOS" for the project. So, although the exhibits have many creators or origin, the documentation exists and they don't have to hunt-down everyone. This goes back to the suggestion regarding student or volunteer work above.

    3. The museum built-in "credits" as a notecard into an area near the entrance of the site for the original creators, thus allowing credit to survive. In addition, for those individuals who wanted credit under their RL names, this is a good solution.

    We of course, as consultants, advise this approach to our clients. For those for whom perhaps this wasn't executed, FireSabre can help with license clearing as an additional service.

  13.' Cinthia Bradford says:

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