All the pieces are there

I belong to a business group in my area that recently expressed interest in setting up a virtual space for its members. The idea is that they could have meetings there, and individual members could get office space to use for their own projects and collaboration.

I was pleasantly surprised to realize that OpenSim can now offer them everything that they need — but not, unfortunately, all in one place.

Maybe there’s a vendor out there who can assemble the pieces?

First piece: easy install

A Facebook or Web page plugin like SpotOn3D’s — while not perfect — can make it easy for the organization’s members to find the world and to load the software that they need to get in.

In fact, SpotOn3D’s plugin would work, if the other pieces were there. This particular organization doesn’t have a position one way or another about software patents, so the controversy would be a moot point. They’d even be willing to pay extra for the license.

Second piece: easy login

With a click of a button, Kitely takes your Facebook identity and uses it to create your first avatar — then launches the world and takes you right in to your starting area. SpotOn3D’s plugin does something very similar.

For this organization, we’d want to create generic, business-appropriate starting avatars — one male, one female — that are automatically picked for the user based on their Facebook gender. Once in-world, they’d have more dress choices, but the main idea is to eliminate any need for decision making prior to world launch.

Third piece: voice

For business meetings, good in-world voice is a must. Second Life and Avination currently offer Vivox voice, the gold standard for virtual environments.

However, Whisper-Mumble would also work, as long as the users didn’t have to do anything to install it. Instead, the plugin mentioned in the first piece would have to install the Whisper-Mumble software code to replace Vivox.

Fourth piece: OAR and IAR exports and imports

There are some wonderful pre-built OAR files out there, and more coming out all the time. Self-serve OAR imports would allow the organization to use any of them, to buy custom-made ones, or to create its own. Self-serve exports would allow it to save existing OAR files for later use.

For example, the organization could create a set of OAR files for its annual meeting, with space for vendor booths, panel discussions, and other conference-type features. These OAR files could be stored away when not in use and replaced with more generic, general-purpose meeting space.

IAR exports and imports would also allow the organization to move avatar inventories as well — a must when switching vendors. The organization is a non-profit, so if another vendor comes along with a better deal or better service or better features, the move should be as easy as possible.

As a side benefit, vendors that make it easy to leave also tend to be the same vendors that make it easy to stay, keeping up-to-date with technology and pricing.

Another factor that comes into play here is ownership of content. The organization would not want to give up any intellectual property rights. Instead of a Second Life-style Terms of Service (TOS), it would need a Web hosting-style Service Level Agreement (SLA), instead. The difference is that the TOS limits the rights of the users — while the SLA mandates a certain level of performance on the part of the vendor.

The organization would take upon itself to police its grid and its members to ensure that there are no intellectual property violations.

Fifth piece: hypergrid switch

Since the organization plans to use their virtual world as a starting point from which to learn about the technology, the ability to teleport to other grids is a must.

However, hypergrid connectivity may be inappropriate at certain times or during private events. This requires a self-serve hypergrid on-off switch, as offered by PioneerX Estates and Talent Raspel.

Sixth piece: Maintenance and support

The organization doesn’t intend to get into the virtual worlds hosting business, so the vendor would need to take care of the OpenSim install and upgrades, backups, and technical support.

The vendor doesn’t have to provide in-world services, however, such as new user orientations, building or design, or event management — the organization will take care of this on its own.

The vendor would have to ensure that the organization’s grid is running the latest stable version of OpenSim, and have staff on hand to reboot servers or restore backups as necessary.

Seventh piece: price and scalability

Obviously, with infinitely deep pockets the organization could hire developers and have all this put together for them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Instead, the organization would need to start small — with just four regions — but have the option to add more regions as requirements increased.

All of these pieces are already available — from different vendors. Many OpenSim vendors have great prices and allow customers to start small. A couple of vendors offer self-serve exports and imports and hypergrid switches, and a couple offer Facebook-based avatar creation.

But nobody has it all in once place — as far as I know.

But then, I’ve been offline recently, dealing with storms and holidays. Maybe somebody has put it all together while I wasn’t watching?

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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.

8 Responses

  1. Ener Hax says:

    gee, i would think you’d either use Kitely (hopefully with other than only Facebook login when it comes to your type of business use)

    what you describe is more of a bespoken solution – perhaps a local “LinkedIn” type of ecosystem. i think, imo, it boils down to the buck having to start (lol, not stop) somewhere

    a dedicated server tied to some front-end piece, perhaps a BuddyPress site (very similar to Ning in functionality) where members would have their own page and have non-in-world options for communicating as well

    but . . . this type of solution requires at least one very dedicated person with technical and monetary resources and is basically creating their own Kitely/LinkedIn online space

    personally, i don’t think we are “there” yet and that it takes a huge effort like Reaction Grid’s main grid which is not very scalable due to where OpenSim is at

    my froggy two cents  =)

    •' Ilan Tochner says:

      Thank you Ener, I think your suggestion would be the best way to go about it. Once we provide LinkedIn integration in early 2012 (Feb?) a Kitely/LinkedIn online space should be available for projects such as Maria’s out of the box.

      • Ener Hax says:

        Ilan’s master plan is the one to use – he has thought about many of these issues and has the most attractive and scalable option around! =)

        Voice will eventually make it in there (and i have done many meetings in the last 4 years without any voice and believe i contribute effectively without it). But for mainstream, yes, people expect it.

        SpotOn3Dork’s viewer seems to be the exact same hurdle to me as a regular viewer, i don’t perceive it as any simpler or less technical to install and run . . . (i have corporate firewalls that prevent it from running)

    • Kitely with Facebook is actually a perfectly fine option, except for a couple of things which it doesn’t have yet:

      * Voice
      * Megaregions (so that we can have a large virtual campus and see who else is around)
      * Hypergrid (so we can attend meetings on other grids)

      All of these are in the works — and you can’t beat the ease of Kitely’s OAR exports and imports!

      However, some pieces aren’t there, such as a SpotOn3D-style plugin that makes it easy to load and run the viewer. If that was the only piece missing, however, then Kitely would be the first choice.

      — Maria

  2. And, really, the voice part of all this is the most critical. We can’t hold business meetings without voice.