Five ways make money with a viewer

All existing OpenSim viewers are based on the GPL-licensed open source version of the Second Life viewer. All derivative viewers also have to be open source — which makes it hard to build a business here. So it makes sense that we don’t have companies coming in and investing a lot of money into improving the viewer.

But OpenSim desperately needs a decent viewer. A good viewer could do for OpenSim what Netscape did for the World Wide Web — take it mainstream.

Here are five ideas for how investors can make their money back.

1. Charge the users

You might have forgotten by now, but Netscape wasn’t free until 1998.  It had to switch to a free model after Microsoft started including Internet Explorer for free with Windows.

I’d be willing to pay for a viewer that was a significant improvement over the Second Life viewer and its clones — especially if the viewer offered some extra features, such as better inventory management.

2. Charge grid owners

I would be willing to pay a little extra to my hosting provider if it meant that my employees and I have a decent viewer with which to access our company grid. I’d want something Web-based, that I could embed in my company website, with decent voice, and my company branding. It should automatically take visitors to my company welcome area when they arrive — though, since my grid is hypergrid-enabled, they would be able to travel to other grids afterwards.

Other grids may also be willing to pay for an easy-to-use, custom viewer for their users with their branding, especially if the viewer offered additional security measures not available in the standard Second Life viewers.

For example, if this new viewer supported an additional “hypergrid” permission setting, so that only those objects would be allowed to leave the grid, commercial grids may be more willing to embrace the hypergrid — and attract additional visitors and eventually turn them into permanent residents.

To spur adoption, the company could make its viewer free to individual grid owners and non-profits, and only charge commercial grid operators.

3. Build a secure marketplace

I don’t know about you, but dressing my avatar is a nightmare. I can never find what I want in my inventory. Why can’t it show little preview icons of what the clothes look like, and organize them by color or when I bought them?

Meanwhile, the SL Marketplace doesn’t seem to be designed with the needs of shoppers in mind. Where are my recommendations? Why can’t I follow my favorite designers?

Retailers know how to make their stores attractive to make shopping fun and easy. The newest trends are up front, with the latest colors and styles, grouped together and accessorized.

A viewer with a secure, built-in marketplace could also serve as a centralized virtual closet that can be accessed from any grid, reducing the load on individual grids’ asset servers.

The marketplace could use the iTunes approach to payment — keep payment information on file for each user, and then group purchases together and put them through as a single charge to reduce payment costs. It could also remember the user’s currency of choice — US dollars via PayPal, Linden dollars, OMC, or the in-grid currencies for Avination, InWorldz, or other grids.

4. Sell additional storage

If the viewer has a built-in inventory management system, users could be asked to pay a small fee if they go above the basic, free allotment — like what Google does for its Gmail service. Individual grids could pick up the storage fee on behalf of their users to reduce the load on their inventory servers.

If there’s a marketplace attached, then goods purchased through the marketplace don’t have to count against the storage limit — similar to what Apple is doing with its iCloud, and Amazon is planning for its Cloud Drive.

5. Sell server-side modules

OpenSim has a feature where grid owners can plug in extra modules for additional functionality — or even new scripting commands.

A company making a viewer can sell custom modules to grid owners to expand on the basic offerings available in OpenSim, or to integrate with grid websites, e-commerce sites, back-end databases, corporate directories, or other applications.

For example, a module could replace OpenSim’s default messaging system with a corporation’s internal messaging platform — or with Facebook messages.

Or a module could be used to pull item descriptions and price information from an e-commerce platform for a store that, say, sells real furniture.

One company already doing this is 3Di, based in Japan, which sells a custom version of the OpenSim software designed to work with its viewer, which has already been used to create a 3D e-commerce sites. Unfortunately, 3Di’s web viewer requires that users install a plugin, has some usability issues — and isn’t available outside of Japan.

3Di integrates OpenSim with e-commerce sites with its Web-based viewer.

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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.

11 Responses

  1. Yes. Money is the engine of all great developments. Free will not produce greatness. Free has to be promotional only.
    The other day I was on the beach and there I saw a tent with the name Snapple Ice Tea on it. They were giving free samples to everyoone. But if you wanted the FULL bottle; you needed to pay for it. 🙂

    •' sarahblogging says:

      That really sounds more like a statement of faith then anything else. And espacially in information technology it is not even true, as Open Source plays a hugh part and often is more advanced than products that come with a price tag.

  2.' Troy McConaghy says:

    Not all SL viewers are based on Linden Lab's viewer code. For example, there are some viewers (e.g. Radegast) based on the LibOpenMetaverse code, which was developed independently of Linden Lab's viewer code. Also, there are some viewers using Unity (e.g. the viewer Tipodean licensed from IBM).

    Furthermore, just because your viewer is free and open source doesn't mean you can't make bucketloads of money. The most obvious example of this is the Firefox viewer ("browser") for the World Wide Web. How does Firefox (Mozilla) make money? I'm glad you asked! The main way is from search ads. When a Firefox user does a Google search using that search box in the top right, then clicks on a paid (cost per click) Google ad in the search results page, Firefox gets a cut of the ad revenue. It ads up to tens of millions of US dollars per year.

    An SL viewer-maker (open source or not) could pursue the exact same strategy. Of course, there first needs to be the equivalent of Google for OpenSim (i.e. a company selling search ads for OpenSim). Why isn't there already? Because OpenSim worlds are still a joke in terms of their total user base (but maybe not forever).

    Linden Lab makes money with something similar — their so-called "classified ads" which appear alongside SL search results. Some SL businesses pay thousands of US dollars per week (to LL) to get top-ranking SL classified ads. Yet Linden Lab's viewer software is GPL — it's free!

    • Troy —

      Great idea! And OpenSim doesn’t have to wait for a Google to come around — that will take millions of hypergates connecting grids. Advertising could also be sold off of a curated, Yahoo-style directory.

      I hope a viewer developer somewhere is paying attention to this!

  3. I agree with one thing for sure. Open Sim urgently needs it's own viewer and perhaps one can be set for several modes even. Mode 1 to access Open Sim worlds with a greater array of features and mode 2 to access Second Life and it's seriously limited feature set.

    There is now another sister project to Aurora sim apart from the Imprudence/Kokua one. The new project is based on Astra viewer and the developers are working to give better support to Open Sim in general and Aurora sim in particular while still being compatible with Second Life content. I had been pushing the Imprudence devs for a long time to include an improved grid list feature but nothing came of it although it was acknowledged. I wrote an article about all this on my blog back in April here…

    However, I had better luck with the Astra devs because I became more directly involved and, already, Revolution Smythe did some preliminary work on the grid list function in preparation. I had asked Rev to improve the listing window to include options for owners to add their own grids so users can search for grids that better meet their needs. This, I hope, will be a feature of the new Astra viewer where you can find a grid and add your login info to favourites before you even login to a grid.

    I think it could be developed much further too to actually have search focus on a wide range of individual sims as well as grids so one can find places to visit and content to buy right there in the viewer splash pages when you open it rather than wait to login to open search which is limited to a single service associated with the grid you enter. It just needs the viewer developers to be willing to maintain a back end database server to support the viewer.

    The viewer developers could stand to actually make money from this kind of service in order to meet costs too while the viewer remains free to download. Adding your grid or sim should be free but only a simple description at most and the login address of course. But the developers could charge a fee to owners who want to add a picture and a more detailed description as well as key words to aid search results. Perhaps there could even be bidding for placement results and this would increase revenue to fund more development.

    Anyway, the current version of Astra is for development and testing so is not suitable for public use. A lot of work is going on however but I will cover it soon on my blog once I get more information and a public release becomes available. I should say though that this is my personal vision of what a viewer should be able to do to support the open Metaverse better. Maria gives some good ideas above that could also find a solution in the viewer. We just have to break out of the limited Second Life framework and get a bit more cutting edge.


  4.' Ener Hax says:

    my take – bah on #1, people expect free on the web and since it's free now, most would never pay. haviing said that, if it were a solid product, like FRAPS, and came with updates – i'd pay like $35 for it, maybe even a yearly subscription

    #2 – i'd be all over that and so would subQuark, we'd pay big for a viewer that also had built-in account creation. one downloadable viewer that allows for in the viewer account creation! wow, we'd love that! should not be hard since the viewer just pulls up a web page when it loads. if the viewer only had our grid in it (no grid manager) and an account module that ties to our grid (we want the accounts in our db), we'd pay real rates for that (ie, like $75 – 90 an hour development and maintenance)

    (ugh it says my comment's too long)

    • hi Ener

      Actually, Astra viewer already has direct account creation which is as simple as adding any name not currently used on the grid and add new password for it. And it logs you in with the new name and thereafter its all yours. This only works on Aurora grids which are set to allow it though.

      Not a lot of people know that *grins*


  5.' Ener Hax says:

    #3 – that's what folders are for – sure it takes time to create an outfit but then save it all in a folder (ie, gala gown) that is in an outfits folder – that's just organisation no different than at home. the virtual closet though is a decent idea once someone uber reputable had it set up. i'm talking Google credibility for this and even at that, i'd probably not use it for fear of account deletion – but for the masses, it would work well (no, i have never used iTunes)

    #4 – same issue on trust abd deletion. right now i pay $25 a year to Flickr for pics, but they can delete my account any time and there would be little i could do about it and i'd lose 12,000 pics. i don't like not actually "owning" my stuff

    #5 – custom modules is like any custom development work and is available to anyone willing to pay. want instant item delivery in-world from a PayPal transaction? hire our DreamWalker!

  6.' Bristle says:

    well i wanted for a long time to have a skeleton viewer where you can added stuff to it. my case, i would add local home (yes,a mini- server), more animations like motion builder, more texture like normals, blah blah. actually i am thinking of a virtuals game kit that you can play with. now that radegast has come out with the 3D viewer, it makes it possible to do ironpython and c#.

    so if the kit come out (maybe by 2061) it will be sort some of F2P (free-2-play) and addons could cost money depending on what it is used for.

  7.' Lord says:

    Has RealXtend's "Naali" viewer been forgotten ? The current one is not based on SL's viewer and is OpenSim compatible. They also recently made a web-based version called "WebNaali". Perhaps they could be approached to provide these viewers some of you are willing to pay money for ? It's at least worth a dialog with them isn't it ?

  8.' Lord says:

    Oh, yes, my bad…here is the website to learn about what RealXtend is doing these days: