Why my autism project left ReactionGrid

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In April of 2011, I canceled my subscription to ReactionGrid. The reason why I selected ReactionGrid and the reason why I canceled my subscription are the same –services offered and customer support.

I do volunteer work for the autism community, and among the projects that I am developing is the use of OpenSim as a virtual world for people who have an autism diagnosis. There is an active autism community in Second Life, but most members cannot afford to own land due to the high monthly tier costs. There are also parental concerns about younger people with autism being in the unmonitored areas of Second Life that may have a high sexual content.

To start my grid, I received a grant from a local autism organization to pay for six months of hosting, and I volunteered my time to work out the bugs for group members. I registered a domain and developed a specification which I provided to Kyle Gomboy at ReactionGrid. Simply stated, I needed to have all the functionality of Second Life working in OpenSim to create a useful forum for the autism community. In addition, I needed a logon website which would provide simple avatar creation, currency exchange, a way to see who is already in-world, and email verification to assure autism diagnosis. Once logged on, I needed voice communication, the ability to purchase items in-world, and the ability to transport to other grids so that we didn’t need to create every item and every script ourselves. Providing hypergrid transport became the stumbling block for ReactionGrid.

A typical hypergate connecting one OpenSim grid to another.

I selected ReactionGrid because I believed that a commercial grid would be able to get the functionality I needed working quickly. If I had the website and grid working, I could start inviting members so that the grid could pay for itself. Prior to starting the project, I had an extensive email exchange with Kyle Gomboy where I provided him a list of the features that I needed. He assured me that all of the functionality I needed would be possible with ReactionGrid. On launching my grid, I spoke with Kyle and received a one hour phone tutorial covering backup and restoring Sims and setting user rights. I was struck by how manual managing a grid still is, requiring that commands be typed into one of four text-based windows. I was also surprised that I needed to manually edit the underlying database for user rights management. OpenSim is in an earlier state of alpha than I had understood. At the end of our conversation, Kyle told me that the tutorial he gave me was more than he gave most customers. Retrospectively, I should have canceled my subscription on that day.

What I came to understand is that ReactionGrid primarily rents server space, and OpenSim is just a preinstalled application that they provide. Their expectation is that you will be able to manage your own grid without assistance. When ReactionGrid failed to supply a logon web site for my users, I attempted unsuccessfully to use Microsoft’s application installer to load WordPress onto my ReactionGrid server. I heard about Simon Gutteridge, an OpenSim consultant who runs PioneerX Estates. He installed WordPress so I could build at least a minimal site, and he was able to provide a hypergate for me to use in-world.  Simon explained that since ReactionGrid was still using OpenSim version 0.6.9, I could only transport to locations that had not yet upgraded to 0.7.0. Since most other grids had already upgraded to 0.7.0, this meant that I could only transport to one other grid in the list that I had.

I felt that if I had even a month or two of hypergrid transport working before my grant ran out, this would be enough to build an impressive demonstration world. I repeatedly asked the people at ReactionGrid when they would upgrade to a later version of OpenSim, and waited while their upgrade estimate went from January to March 2011. In March, I contacted ReactionGrid again, through their help site MetaverseHeroes.com. I was told that due to a problem with the integration of their billing system, the upgrade to OpenSim 0.7.0 was going more slowly than expected.

While waiting, my builders and I experienced several in-world mishaps. One large structure exploded into hundreds of disjointed parts while being moved. Due to ReactionGrid’s limited backup and restore ability, this structure needed to be manually rebuilt. We also had a problem where the gaps between the regions allowed avatars to fall thousands of meters before being suddenly transported to the other side of the sim. We built in-world walkways over these gaps to prevent this from happening.

Nine months into my subscription, ReactionGrid still had not yet upgraded to OpenSim 0.7.0, although 0.7.1 was by then available. I still did not have a working hypergrid transport or integrated website. My time was up and my funding ended after a three-month extension. I backed up my sims to OAR files and I canceled my subscription with ReactionGrid.

I am surprised that ReactionGrid is making their customers wait for upgrades when it is likely that OpenSim will reach full adoption in five years or less. At the moment, OpenSim is in the development phase where the technology is hard enough to maintain that it is offered as a service. As the technology becomes more stable, OpenSim will become another standard web application with a single-click installation and upgrades. When full adoption of OpenSim occurs, there will be much less need for companies like ReactionGrid. History has shown that the companies that survive these kinds of transitions develop enough infrastructure to have consistent customer service.

phil.garrow@hypergridbusiness.com'

Phil Garrow

Phil Garrow is an independent Web design professional based in the greater Pittsburg area, a volunteer in the autism community, and co-founder of Autism-consultants.com.

  • Kyle G
  • Peter Miller

    Firstly, I don't think this kind of thing is unique to OpenSim grids despite the alpha status of the platform — I've seen much the same sort of comment on SLED, the SL educators list, and it was just as unfortunate there. Clearly it has been a learning experience for all concerned but I do hope that Mr Garrow perseveres, yes, for the sake of the children. Indeed, fundamentally ReactionGrid does sell server space with some installed software (as does Linden Lab) and, yes, OpenSim is somewhat technical on the server side (I only have limited experience there myself but the sim-on-a-stick solution is a good place to start). That said, some of the negatives listed (access to command line, for example) would be seen as positives on other grids and other aspects can be worked round easily enough (e.g. the sim edges). However, it also highlights the need for folk new to this area to start small and either network with people with complementary skills (there is at least one non-profit grid where residents undertake some pro bono work of this kind) or, if time is of the essence, to hire a contractor with suitable experience. Unfortunately, SL contractors have been slow to embrace the wider metaverse, often for reasons of IPR or "instability". Upgrading the OpenSim version is, I suspect, non-trivial on the scale of RG as there is much to potentially break and they doubtless wanted to evaluate 0.7.1 as well. Even so, until very recently there has been a good number of grids on 0.6.9 though they are slowly starting to migrate away now with the release of 0.7.1. Of course, the Hypergrid is an open system and there is, as yet, no walled-off educational system so it might be inappropriate to install it.

  • Shenlei

    This is regrettably the case of someone who didn't do their homework.

    Having worked with Kyle since ReactionGrid was formed, we would find it very difficult to believe that he would tell a customer that OpenSim offers the exact same functionality as Second Life. As those of of us who have worked in OpenSim since its earliest days well know, it does not yet. Reactiongrid also offers web sig n up options, with avatar selection up front. It's an additional charge, but it's available and works well (the last time we sent someone in, they registered through that system and it worked very well().

    It's not a surprise at all to us that ReactionGrid did not choose not to upgrade to the bleeding edge of the OpenSim codebase, but to lag behind a bit. In fact, if Mr. Garrow had read the OpenSimulator.org web site or talked to any of the Core developers, he would find that they specifically warn against anyone running a grid from running on the most recent release of the code. And if he had dug a little further back, he would have known why the ReactionGrid team is understandably leery of running the most recent release of the code base.

    Mr. Garrow, it's unfortunate that you had a negative experience, but we feel if you had done a bit of homework — for example, reading the disclaimers on the OpenSimulator.org web site where they specifically said that OpenSim is alpha code- you might have made a more informed decision. OpenSim is alpha code and it's very clearly marked and labeled that by the people who develop the platform. Many of the mishaps you describe are simply a result of that state of alphaness, and possibly, having people on your team who lacked experience in OpenSim (A Second Life builder cannot just 'step over' into OpenSim and expect things to be the same. They aren't).

    OpenSim and Second Life both have advantages and disadvantages. We use both equally with the platform selected based upon our needs — there are things we need OpenSim for that we simply cannot achieve in Second Life, and vice versa. This is a wonderful example of why users need to do their homework and make an informed decision about their choice of platform.

    Shenlei WInkler
    CEO, Fashion Research Institute
    Author: Shengri La Spirit: The Making of OpenSim from a Designer's Perspective, available on Amazon

  • we left Reaction Grid also, for some similar reasons. i really became upset when Kyle smacked me down on my own blog while i was till a customer! but i was not angry with them for their prices, that is something we agree to when going into a service

    i was miffed by the lack of good advice about our performance. tickets were answered quickly and Chris was always polite, but the issues that we had were in relation to our hardware and my expectations. rather than simply tell me that 4 sims would run better on our setup up, we were told to reboot the server! hardly a good solution – especially when that sometimes meant twice a night

    i think Kyle means well but he may not realize how he comes across. he is a very nice guy and even told our subQuark that he was thinking of bringing him in as an Officer in the company! well that turned out to be an offer to hold tours and get half the setup up fee for any sims sold . . . oh well, that was between subbie and them

    i will say that i never received a single thank you for the six regions that were purchased directly because of my glowiing blog posts about them

    they have a lot on their plate and i believe they want to do what they say but stuff falls through the cracks. they had said that making a stick build of OpenSim was easy and that they would for one of subQ's workshops, but that never happened. to them that was no big deal, but to my subQ it was rude

    who new that little old me and my very low tech confidence would actually create an entire website dedicated to the free distribution of sim-on-a-stick!

    i suppose i should thank Reaction Grid for that because had they come through, i would have never made one and subsequently have it downloaded by so many

    that credit of course goes to Crista Lopes and Roger Stack

    i was sad to hear of your frustration Phil because despite my initial experience, i have found that with great hardware (at a lower cost) the OpenSim experience is far more rewarding

    perhaps we can increase the awareness of your work and see about donations?

    my blog is at your disposal and enjoys being in the top 3% of web traffic and readers trust me (what's not to trust? i don't sell anything!)

    good luck Phil and i hope you come into a situation where my personal advice (the blog) can be helpful – nothing beats running OpenSim of your own server – maximum safety, freedom, and control

  • Nick Zwart

    Phil,
    When I read your story, ReactionGrid starts to look like LindenLab. I had a whole island on TeenSL for education and when I wanted to move it was very difficult to choose the right OpenSim provider to have all things working like in SL. After testing several provider I ended up with VIRTYOU. They are not that big but the technical staff is great, voice and HG is working fine. And whenever I need something special they always have time to come up with a solution. Sure, OpenSim is an alpha so anything can happen, but as you say within 5 years all bugs are solved and VIRTYOU is one of the technically advanced providers that really know how it works. That's why I stick with them.
    Nick

  • mariakorolov

    The folks at ReactionGrid just posted a very detailed response here:
    http://reactiongrid.blogspot.com/2011/05/every-si

  • What the technically genius members of OpenSIim community seem unable to wrap their wondrous brains around is that the average end user does not have the will nor the innate understanding of this stuff to run a grid based on the system described. Nor do they have the time to learn it, because in this economy everyone is doing the work of five people to cover for the ones who were laid off. Regardless of how easy our techno-geniuses THINK it is, we need to learn to listen to these users and learn from them as to how we're missing the boat on their needs. We can snub our noses at them and say PBKAC user all we want, but that will not solve these problems. The reality is Mr Garrow's frustration was clear and he has openly critized one of our peers and he won’t stop there. This impacts us all. If we don't become active listeners, pulling out the things they are asking, we run the risk of being seen as just another technically brilliant community that can't seem to relate or trust their own user base to help them grow. Hmmm …. who might that remind us of? 😛

    What’s Mr. Garrow saying he needs? 5 simple things:

    1. Security
    2. Stability
    3. Click-n-GO Solutions
    4. Management of the backend to keep it current
    5. Find some way to create an economy so that they can tap into affordable and legal content so they won't have to worry so much about DMCA take downs and such which can create terrible distractions and take up too many hours to remedy that loss of content.

    As far as no upgrades on Reaction Grid, I've heard these complaints for over a year I think and it is distressing. We upgraded to 7.2 and have seen huge payoffs for doing so. The only pesky problem we've ran into is that stupid "HUD of a Neighbor" problem, where you see either a weird piece of hair or someone else's HUD in the middle of your screen.

    I suspect the real culprit for Reaction Grid's lack of upgrades might be that Kyle has become enamored with his Unity project, Jibe. While I don't share Kyle's vision for Unity/Jibe as an alternative virtual worlds system, I applaud is efforts in that area. I hear Jibe shows great potential. I just don't see it as a DIY option, which is what got business, education and hobbyist users excited in this technology – that they could DIY their own vision for the 3D Web for an affordable price and that’s been our main focus at SpotON3D. But that doesn't make the fact that we've probably lost an excellent contributor that could have showcased our industry – all because we didn't hear their needs and act on them.

    I think, in the end, this is about managing expectations. Mr. Garrow expected the system that was presented to him to be much easier and with customer support if things did get unclear. After well beyond 6 months he's scratching his head as to why he's not further along. Well Mr. Garrow, I get it. I hear you and some of us do indeed have the solutions you're looking for. I just hope its not too late to save your projects, because working with autistic young adults and children is a very worthy cause. I also hope our OpenSim geniuses can get themselves out of the way long enough to hear what you are asking for too. Only then, as a community, can we become more than just a hobbyist game designer’s wet dream.

    .

  • cubicspace

    interesting.. and not all unexpected.

  • BUY TESSA'S PREFABS!

  • Seren Seraph

    It is somewhat difficult to find the right OpenSim solution. There are many interlocking problems in the way. Grids that seek to solve some of the problems of the OpenSim code of necessity tend to fork. They then drift away from mainline opensim developments and develop various incompatibilities. If you want to have a grid with a strong merchant community need to roll some means of ensuring creator rights protection. This limits what other grids they can connect to via hypergrid or under what terms. But without the strong merchant friendly ecology the users are left having to create too much from scratch and it is difficult to grow as a world.

    In any software project it is essential to big a base point and stabilize upon that base point only upgrading the base slowly and carefully. To be always bleeding edge but more unstable is not a good tradeoff. That said I found ReactionGrid relatively unperformant and more buggy than running my own regions both on my own servers and in the Amazon cloud. So I was not impressed by either their stability or performance and left.

    For a relatively full package I like inworldz, especially if the primary goal is development and community. What I don't like there is that they two forked off around 0.6.8 or so. They have some great devs doing excellent work though. In my limited experience there regions are much more performant and have far fewer issues. Inworldz also has a very extensive merchant ecology so a about everything you could want for your own regions is available at very affordable prices if not for free (in many cases). The people are good and community reminds me of SL many years ago. What I don't like as much is no media on prim support and no hypergrid support of any kind.

    To solve rights management and hypergrid at once will take substantial rearchitecture imho. I know there is a need and desire but it takes more than that to make it so.

  • Upgrading RG-hosted grids to OpenSim 0.7 would be a godsend. I'm worried that in a year or two I'll need to move my content to another grid yet again, but we are set for the next academic year.

  • Anonymous

    I will chime in with a comment about opensim and this article by Phil.
    As everyone has said, opensim is alpha software, ok, well not everyone understands what “alpha” is exactly and they don’t bother to look that term up- they should.
    Basically it means things can and do go wrong because the software is under development and is being constatly tested and bugs worked out.
    With the said, the other thing is, hey if you dont MIND paying the equiv of a new car’s monthly payment $295 every month for ONE region in SL that’s great, but don’t expect to go to another grid where the same size regions, 15,000 prims etc are $25/mo or something and expect it to be Second Life!
    On the other hand, on OSgrid you can get regions inexpensively or host them yourself at no cost at all. It takes an amazingly small amount of a machine to run opensim, I was/am running 6-10 regions on 1 or 2 (depending on if I have both on) on a couple of used Dell Gx520 pc’s with 2 gb of ram for my educational regions.
    Now however I decided to run the 3 most dense regions on  a Dell precision work station, also purchased used on Ebay ($320) with dual core, 8 gb ram, 3.0 gzh. All run from home.

    One of my regions has 11,000 prims, with about 9,000 of them in this build of the University of Idaho I am working on in the region named

    wolf reference library

  • I will chime in with a comment about opensim and this article by Phil.
    As
    everyone has said, opensim is alpha software, ok, well not everyone
    understands what “alpha” is exactly and they don’t bother to look that
    term up- they should.
    Basically it means things can and do go wrong
    because the software is under development and is being constatly tested
    and bugs worked out.
    With the said, the other thing is, hey if you
    dont MIND paying the equiv of a new car’s monthly payment $295 every
    month for ONE region in SL that’s great, but don’t expect to go to
    another grid where the same size regions, 15,000 prims etc are $25/mo or
    something and expect it to be Second Life!
    On the other hand, on
    OSgrid you can get regions inexpensively or host them yourself at no
    cost at all. It takes an amazingly small amount of a machine to run
    opensim, I was/am running 6-10 regions on 1 or 2 (depending on if I have
    both on) on a couple of used Dell Gx520 pc’s with 2 gb of ram for my
    educational regions.
    Now however I decided to run the 3 most dense
    regions on  a Dell precision work station, also purchased used on Ebay
    ($320) with dual core, 8 gb ram, 3.0 gzh. All run from home.

    One of my regions has 11,000 prims, with about 9,000 of them in this build
    of the University of Idaho I am working on in the region named:

    wolf reference library

    (Sorry about the double post, I couldn’t change my email so I deleted the old acct and created a new one with the new email.)