Why grids should still consider licensing SpotON3D’s plugin

Despite the patent controversy, and public relations problems that ensued from it, SpotON3D has a good product.

It’s viewer plugin wrapper might not be a technological breakthrough, but it feels like a big technological breakthrough.

No other browser-based solution — neither Tipodean’s www.BuiltBuy.me, norย 3Di’s Rei, nor Rezzable’s Unity-based viewer — are currently usable.

Compared to the SpotON3D viewer, they are slow, clumsy and, oh, they don’t display avatars or have most of the functionality needed by OpenSim users — no inventory access, for example.

Since the SpotON3D browser-based viewer is just a wrapped version of a Hippo viewer, all of the existing viewer functionality is in place, including all the building and terrain editing and other high-end features.

Once the Facebook plugin is release, which is expected to happen next month, other grids should keep a close eye on whether this drives new users to the SpotON3D grid.

If it does, here are some reasons to consider licensing it.

SpotON3D's welcome and orientation area as seen from their browser-based viewer. (Click image to see larger view.)

1. Great voice

Today, OpenSim grids that want voice are faced with a difficult choice. They can pay for Vivox, the voice system used in Second Life. They can use Freeswitch, which barely works and is unusable for business meetings or classes.

Or they can use Whisper/Mumble, which is free like Freeswitch, but sounds as good as Vivox. Unfortunately, Whisper/Mumble isn’t yet integrated with the viewers — users have to manually install a file and then uninstall it again when they go to other grids that don’t use Whisper/Mumble — such as Second Life or any Freeswitch grid.

Since the SpotON3D plugin installs a customized viewer, it can have Whisper/Mumble baked right in. And, in fact, this is what SpotON3D did. As a result, the entire grid now has Second Life-quality voice, without the Second Life-sized price tag.

Similarly, a grid could use this wrapper to deploy a mesh-enabled viewer — meaning that all new visitors would automatically be able to see and use mesh throughout the grid.

2. Avoid copybots

The wrapper installs just one particular viewer when the user visits the website. In SpotON3D’s case, this is a customized version of Hippo.

As the user is logging in via the Web, the website could send a message to the grid server saying that this is a legimate user.

People logging in from outside viewers would have no way of faking this message because they can’t listen in to the conversations between the website and the server — whereas they can easily listen in to conversations between the viewer and the server (it’s how copybots got started in the first place).

Grids could then restrict certain high-value regions to people who log in via the Web, rather through a separate, standalone viewer — or prohibit outside logins altogether.

3. It might soon be moot, anyway

Several groups are working on native viewers for virtual worlds.

Kitely is trying to spearhead a campaign to get the standard OpenSim viewers recompiled into JavaScript.

Rezzable and Tipodean are using Unity 3D to create a browser-based viewer.

And Katalabs ย has an HTML 5 viewer for the Sirikata virtual world, calledKataspace. A similar approach could be used for OpenSim.

Any of these efforts might bear fruit in the next year or so. Or a kid could crawl out of his basement or dorm room tomorrow with a fully functional viewer that he hacked together with his friends.

Or someone might reverse-engineer SpotON3D’s technology — it will be a few years before a patent is granted, if one is granted at all. By the time that date rolls around, there will definitely be a native, browser-based solution.

With a viewer embedded in a website, a company can relatively easily swap out one viewer for another, or one plugin for another — your users would still come to the same website to access your world, after all.

Who needs it?

First of all, if you’re the kind of person who stopped shopping at Amazon whey they applied for their one-click patent, you don’t need this.

And OpenSim power users don’t need this browser-based viewer. It doesn’t give them anything they don’t already have, just adds some extra steps and a little extra lag.

Their friends, however, who are new to OpenSim, might appreciate just going to one website and having everything done for them.

In addition, any grid targeting a niche audience new to virtual worlds would benefit as well. For example, a school using a grid for their virtual classes. A company using it for employee training and collaboration. A role playing grid drawing its players from an offline or Web-based community rather than from Second Life. A social grid targeting particular groups, such as minority groups, or residents of a particular area, where people are new to the whole 3D thing.

And, of course, any grid using Facebook or other social network to find new members would benefit from being able to embed the viewer in their Facebook page.

Paying a license fee is usually significantly cheaper than developing the technology from scratch.

And if it turns out to be a short-term solution, which is likely, then spending any time and money on it would be a waste.

You can try out SpotON3D’s web-based viewer here, atย 3durl.com/world, See if it works for you.

Some marketing advice for SpotON3D

  • Let non-profits like OSGrid and FrancoGrid and New World Grid use it for free. They don’t have the money to pay for it, anyway — and aren’t likely to, given the patent issue. But individual region owners on those grids might love to give their friends an easy way to visit their regions — and you’d have an opportunity to market SpotON3D to these users.
  • Let educators use it for free. Like non-profits, educators don’t have big budgets these days. It doesn’t cost anything to let them use the plugin, and would create some significant good will in the community.
  • Let individuals use it for free. Some guy running a mini-grid in his basement for his D&D roleplaying group isn’t likely to pay for a plugin license. But with the plugin, his grid might see more usage than it otherwise would, inspiring him to upgrade to commercial hosting. And since his roleplaying buddies are already used to using the plugin, he’ll be more likely to pick hosting from a vendor that offers the technology.
There is really no downside to doing any of this. Plug, if a free version is widely available, it will take some of the impetus out of developing an alternate product.

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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.

28 Responses

  1. ilan@kitely.com' Ilan Tochner says:

    Hi Maria,

    It is against the community's best interest to financially support a company that aims to use the broken patent system to monopolize ideas that are important for the future of the open metaverse.

    It is much better for everyone if this type of solution were provided as part of a standard TPV such as Imprudence. The implementation really isn't that difficult and some people have already provided open source reference code in the various blog posts that have discussed the SpotOn3D's patent threat.

    If we were to support one such company that acts against the community's best interest then why should other companies not do the same? Why shouldn't InWorldz, Avination, Kitely, ReactionGrid or any other for-profit OpenSim provider with in-house R&D resources not pursue a patent hoarding strategy if there are no financial consequences to doing so?

    There are many closed source virtual world platforms out there. Most are much bigger than the OpenSim ecosystem. We chose to pursue a strategy of sharing and cooperation in the belief that the metaverse should be kept open. If we see that other OpenSim service providers don't share this vision then why should we continue down a path that creates a competitive disadvantage for us? Why should any grid operator?

    The only way this ecosystem can thrive and remain open is if its community avoids doing business with people who act in ways that send us down the slippery slope towards a closed ecosystem. I don't believe the community should so quickly exchange an open future for a few lines of code that can be easily replicated in a way that doesn't come with such a high price.

    Do you think that we should just let this one slide and continue as if SpotOn3D's conduct isn't a threat to the entire premise of an open metaverse?

    • Ilan — The two are separate issues. I'm not a big fan of Amazon's one-click patent — but I buy books there. Principles are nice, but, for many business owners, pragmatism wins out at the end of the day.

      If the plugin actually serves to bring in new users — and that's a big IF — it doesn't make a lot of business sense for other grid owners to ignore it, at least, until a usable native app comes along.

      I don't think whether or not folks license SpotON3D's plugin will make much of a difference as to whether they patent other technologies — or whether or not other companies do.

      And SpotON3D's end users aren't going to care about the patent issue. The world is the way it is — until the laws get changed.

      Fortunately, the European patent system isn't a fan of business method patents — and neither is Israel — and a lot of OpenSim providers are based outside the US.

      • ilan@kitely.com' Ilan Tochner says:

        Hi Maria,

        Each company acting to serve its own interests leads us to the path of a closed ecosystem. Its all about applying game theory to this problem ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game_theory ). If we create an environment that punishes players that act to serve their own selfish needs while sacrificing the greater good then the benefit to those companies from acting in selfish ways will be less than that of serving the greater good and their best interest will be to serve the greater good.

        How we go about creating this environment is a matter for open debate by we should create it if we care about the future of the open metaverse.

        This isn't just idealism, their are several issues in the US that have been effected by such market pressure. Our community may be small but united it can apply pressure on small businesses to play nice with everyone else. As it grows, it will be able to deter attack from bigger companies as well.

        • What kind of pressure can you apply, though? They have the legal right to use BSD licensed software. They can modify the viewer. At least, with SpotON3D there is a little bit of leverage in terms of public pressure.

          However, this example could inspire other companies to spin off their patent divisions so that the entity applying for the patent is not the company with a public face to the community.

          The law needs to be reformed and the new legislation up before Congress seems to be focused on making patents easier to get — not harder.

  2. @iliveisl says:

    it's not truly a plug-in! it is nothing like Unity or Flash – it's an app wrapped in HTML

    it still installs a viewer outside of the browser unlike a true plugin which only lives in the browser

    it really does not remove a hurdle because you still need an account, you still use the grid manager, you still must meet the viewer's hardware requirements

    it's not original (there was a firefox plugin in GIT back in 2008)

    • Ener — It's not technically a plugin viewer — it's a plugin viewer wrapper. It doesn't add anything except maybe some lag. It's totally not appropriate for existing OpenSim users. That's all true.

      BUT you DON'T need to use the grid manager — it takes you right in.

      And the way SpotON3D set up the Facebook app, it can create an account for you based on your Facebook name (or you can pick a new user name).

      It's not a perfect solution. It's nowhere near a perfect solution. But, for first-time OpenSim users it is significantly easier to use than anything else out there.

  3. @iliveisl says:

    "The world is the way it is — until the laws get changed. "

    that's not a black and white statement – we have shifted from a justice driven world to a law driven world. there is a big difference between doing what is legal and doing what is just.

    • Even if you're running a super-ethical business, there's nothing "unjust" about you paying someone to use technology they developed if it helps your users and grows your company. We're paying for patented stuff all the time. And for patent-pending stuff. When we buy stuff from iTunes, they're paying Amazon license fees for their one-click patent.

      Even the Free Software Foundation cancelled their Amazon boycott: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/amazon.html

      • I would not pay to license a one-click shopping system from Amazon – would you?
        I also would not pay microsoft to license "a method and system for shutting down a computer". Would you?

        I'm disappointed in this article, your others have either been neutral or in opposition to SpotOn3D.

  4. ilan@kitely.com' Ilan Tochner says:

    Hi Ener,

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

    I don’t know if any of you paid attention to this but in Israel the middle class is out on the streets to protest injustice caused by decades of interest groups eating more than their share of the country’s resources. What began with one woman pitching a tent in a public garden has been growing for several weeks now with 5%-10% of the population participating in protests. An old order that doesn’t serve the common good is not an act of god. It is the result of people not paying attention to how their interests are being eroded over time.

    Now before anyone starts calling me a communist please let me point out that I have an MBA in Finance, I’m not living off of welfare, I’m a big supporter of free market enterprise and have been working very hard using my partner’s and my own limited personal savings to start a for-profit business. All that being said, there is a lot of injustice about how things are being decided and there is no reason what-so-ever that the middle class shouldn’t unite to protect its various interests.

    Software and business method patents are evil. Those that try to use them deserve being put on the spot until they change their immoral ways.

  5. ilan@kitely.com' Ilan Tochner says:

    Hi Maria,

    There comes a time when people need to say "no more".

    No more to letting interests groups decide that they can claim an idea for software or for how to run a business as their own.

    No more to small businesses getting screwed with needing to spend money on getting patents, protecting themselves from patents and paying patent royalties for something that should never have been patentable in the first place.

    No more to having everything cost more than it needs to because all those patent-related costs of doing business need to be covered somehow.

    It is time for the community to take a stand and say that if you use this twisted immoral patent system to threaten to hurt others then you will see no more of our money.

  6. jim@gridmail.org' Jim Tarber says:

    In this community of emerging technologies and social pioneers, part of what drives the advances is the potential for commercial success. I contribute at InWorldz so obviously I don’t have a problem with trying to succeed commercially; instead I look to who can lead the effort in a ethical, moral, and beneficial manner. There are those who only wish to succeed commercially so that they can provide that place where people — anyone and everyone — can live their dreams… and a reliable, scalable, high-performance environment cannot be provided without some commercial give and take.

    But there is a big difference between not *giving* away the many months or years of hard work that represent your differentiating innovation (e.g. InWorldz Phlox script engine), versus actually taking steps to restrict the *concepts* from others.

    Patents are all about removing the ability of others to replicate and build on what someone believes is a good idea. It’s about being afraid that you cannot leverage your lead into ongoing business success.

    Great grid management will try to take that lead and leverage it into commercial success. For example, offering to sell and license such an innovation makes sense. However applying for a patent, in the interests of restricting others from coming up with something similar, possibly better, is going too far.

    The one disrupting force here is if others take those efforts and try to create patents that *restrict* grids from continuing to improve and build on their own breakthroughs. So as a precedent, this patent (and the lack of information on it) are a serious threat to the whole alternative grid and virtual world industries.

    Any support for licensing such a patent puts the development and innovation of alternative grids at great risk, well beyond the scope of this patent.

    • Phlox is a great example – it's a trade secret, sure, but it is not to my knowledge patented.
      How would InWorldz respond if someone else replicated the same featureset? I imagine they'd extend their version – this is how the market should work and how innovation is pushed forward.

  7. peter_finn@hotmail.com' Nink says:

    Clive and I did this years ago but not just second life. I presented it to 100′s of people at virtual worlds 2007 and it was voted best new innovation at the show. It worked with multiple virtual worlds swapping plug-ins in and out. I would suggest this is prior art sorry Spoton3D http://metaversestandards.org/induality/


  8. DaleInnisEmail@gmail.com' daleinnis says:

    Somewhat puzzled by the content of the article; none of the three reasons given to license the tech actually seem to be reasons to license the tech.

    (1) Having your viewer install Whisper/Mumble so that your grid can have good voice almost certainly has nothing to do with whatever quasi-plugin technology the patent application covers. So it's neither necessary nor sufficient to license the technology in order to get this advantage.

    (2) There's nothing at all magic about having a web page between the viewer and the grid; in particular it doesn't allow you to reliably keep non-authorized viewers off of the grid. All someone has to do is spoof the "here I am being the authorized viewer, running in the quasi-plugin in the browser!" message that the viewer sends to the web site. So there is no 'copybot' prevention against anyone who knows what they are doing (and protecting yourself against people who DON'T know what they are doing doesn't require licensing this; there are lots of free ways to do that).

    (3) The fact that it might soon be moot is presumably reason NOT to spend money licensing the soon-to-be-moot technology. So… ๐Ÿ™‚


  9. DaleInnisEmail@gmail.com' daleinnis says:

    Somewhat puzzled by the content of the article; none of the three reasons given to license the tech actually seem to be reasons to license the tech.

    (1) Having your viewer install Whisper/Mumble so that your grid can have good voice almost certainly has nothing to do with whatever quasi-plugin technology the patent application covers. So it's neither necessary nor sufficient to license the technology in order to get this advantage.

    (2) There's nothing at all magic about having a web page between the viewer and the grid; in particular it doesn't allow you to reliably keep non-authorized viewers off of the grid. All someone has to do is spoof the "here I am being the authorized viewer, running in the quasi-plugin in the browser!" message that the viewer sends to the web site. So there is no 'copybot' prevention against anyone who knows what they are doing (and protecting yourself against people who DON'T know what they are doing doesn't require licensing this; there are lots of free ways to do that).

    (3) The fact that it might soon be moot is presumably reason NOT to spend money licensing the soon-to-be-moot technology. So… ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Dale —

      Yes, you can have your users install the Whisper/Mumble option on their own (and switch the file in and out when they visit other grids that use different voice systems) or create a custom viewer for them to use when they visit your grid. These are both cumbersome work-arounds compared to simply having Whisper/Mumble working as part of your Web login.

      Eventually, I'm hoping that Imprudence or another viewer will have automatic switching between Whisper/Mumble and Freeswitch/Vivox so that grids can roll out either one at will and not worry about people logging in with the wrong viewer.

      2. The Website automatically initiates the correct viewer to run — the website isn't going to launch a copybot viewer. Are you saying that someone could replace the legitimate custom viewer after it's downloaded, with a cobybot viewer with the same name, so the website triggers that one instead of the legitimate one?

      3. A good-enough technology today can give a grid a few months — or a year's — advantage over its competitors until a native plugin comes out. It will be moot at that point — but those months could be significant. Avination, for example, in the course of a few months, leapfrogged ahead of most other grids. Kitely did the same. When a market is developing rapidly, those first few months can be very important.

      • DaleInnisEmail@gmail.com' daleinnis says:

        (1) What Gareth said: having your installer install Whisper/Mumble doesn't require licensing this particular installer or their patent. I guess you are saying that if you use exactly the same quasi-plugin installer that they do, you'll get this for free. But you'll also get a viewer that points at THEIR grid rather than yours, so that's not too useful. ๐Ÿ™‚

        (2) I think you're confused about how this actually works. The website doesn't run the viewer, the user's computer runs the viewer. The viewer runs on the user's computer, it's started up by the user's operating system, and so on. It's just loosely hooked into the browser, so its display appears inside the browser window, and it gets keys and mouse movements that occur when the browser has focus. So it's trivial to watch what the browser and the viewer say to the website in the authorized case, and make your unauthorized viewer say the same thing. And yes, one way to do that would be to replace the authorized viewer with an unauthorized one after it's download. Another way would be to just spoof the whole process locally, making sure that the web site and the remote grid see the right messages coming out of your computer.

        (3) Ah, okay, so you don't really mean "it could be moot soon" as a reason, you mean "you'll get an early foot in the door" or something like that.

        Vaguely plausible, but again since viewer-in-a-browser technologies have been played with for years without having a noticeable impact on the field, it's not clear why this particular one is suddenly so important that every week counts…

        • 1. I'm assuming that if they're selling you a license for the viewer for your grid, they'll have it pointing at your grid. But then, they're not particularly good at sales and not include this feature!

          2. Drat. Will these copybots never go away?

          3. I don't know if it will work. But if SpotON3D suddenly sees a sudden influx of customers because of this, other grids should pay attention.

          And yes, these technologies have been played with, but I've never seen one actually out and working for an OpenSim grid. Customers haven't actually been exposed to them.

          • DaleInnisEmail@gmail.com' daleinnis says:

            Well, a license is just a license; it says "you have our permission to use our patented technology". It doesn't include any software per se. I don't know if SpotOn3D is planning to sell customized versions of their quasi-plugin-installer for use by other grid-owners; but maybe I haven't read the announcements carefully enough…

            The main thing that would be a real blow to copybots would be cloud rendering; but I still don't see the cost calculation working out for anyone doing that on the large scale anytime soon. That's a whole 'nother issue. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. 1 – There are many other existing solutions for voice which do not involve paying money to these parasites. If you want voice "baked in", that's easy to do – include it in your installer for your own plugin or standalone viewer OR your own dynamically downloaded plugin ๐Ÿ˜‰

    2 – Sorry, I have to laugh – do you want me to actually write a working copybot for this to prove you wrong? "The website isn't going to launch a copybot viewer" – yes it is, if I tell my computer to do so, it will do so. Or do you honestly think that it's possible to trust the client? Copybot will always be possible.

    3 – No need to reverse engineer, lots of people have already developed similar systems. Do I have to embed it into a facebook app or what? Should I do so, like right now? Because I could – I wrote the code for it 3 years ago, and it was so simple it's laughable. Others could easily do the same.

    So your reasons for licensing this plugin are total nonsense, and there are so many reasons not to support patent parasites.

  11. Seriously, someone else release a plugin+facebook app or i'm going to have to.
    I live in the EU, software patents are not enforceable here – should I just do it? My code is based on the older viewers though, and it only runs on linux so I doubt it'd do much good…… but someone has to right?

  12. I suspect a major reason why nobody has released such a product yet is that open source developers themselves wouldn't have a use for it – it's for noobs. And most grids have enough customers flowing in just from Second Life refugees.

    In fact, right now, most commercial grids are targeting the savviest virtual world users — builders who want more land, larger prims, and lower costs. Or role playing communities who want more land at less cost.

    What I *am* surprised about is why Second Life hasn't done this. Okay, not too surprised — they seem to be stumbling around lately. And, in any case, their architecture probably isn't scalable enough to handle a sudden large influx of users.

    Meanwhile, another grid owner recently told me that's he's working on a way to keep out copybot viewers by checking viewer signatures and only allowing those on his approved list. Do you think this works? Or can copybots spoof signatures, as well?

    • DaleInnisEmail@gmail.com' daleinnis says:

      On your last question: no, that doesn't work. It's trivial for a malicious viewer to claim to be an approved one. You can make it very slightly harder for someone who doesn't know what he's doing to log in with an unapproved viewer. But the security against someone who is actually trying to steal, rather than just casually fooling around, is basically zero.

    • No, it won't work.
      It's an axiom of security that the client can not be trusted. The client can just send the signature of another viewer, not itself.

      You can't even protect against clueless newbies either, because once someone with a brain releases their work, it doesn't take a genius to use it.

  13. baloo@ursamundi.org' Baloo Uriza says:

    Seems like a better argument for SpotON3D's developers to get a license that doesn't suck, much like the Lindens did with their official viewer.

  14. I would never go for their patent license. I would develop something better and beat them by releasing my idea as no patent just a small free advertisement area would be requested. Simple.