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.