HG Biz Plan: Hypergrid Post Office

The premise: I believe that we’re about to see the massive growth of a metaverse in which people can easily travel from one public world to another. Over time, the technology will become increasingly easy to use and realistic — and we will see an explosion of companies offering products and services in this metaverse.  My team and I have been brainstorming some ideas of what these products and services will look like.

The business

Spam is bad enough with email, but imagine how bad it can get when we are able to send virtual objects to one another! The damage done by malicious scripts would be combined with the large file size of the biggest objects — it could bring down entire grids. A hypergrid post office, where senders would pay a nominal amount for each object, would be a place where spam would get screened out before it ever reaches the recipient. In addition, the post office could serve an aggregation function — if a popular item is sent to many different people on a particular grid, it could make sure that the item is only delivered once to the destination grid, and all the recipients get copies of that original item, reducing asset storage load on the grid’s central servers.

The revenue streams

Virtual postage. Extra storage for those who decide to use their mailboxes as secure backups for purchased content. In addition, the post office could offer — as an opt-in service — “freebie of the week” deliveries, where virtual world merchants can pay a fee to give away samples of their products.

Scalability

The post office can issue personal mailboxes that can be setup on private regions which will automatically fetch deliveries, reducing the burden on the post office’s storage servers. Users could also opt for post office boxes that they can visit at the post office grid itself — as traffic grows, the post office might need to occupy a larger land area, or have multiple versions of the post office up and running simultaneously and send visitors to the ones that aren’t too crowded. Either way, this is a no-touch service with little customer support required, allowing it to scale as the hypergrid grows.

Competitive advantage

This is a “winner take all” area.  If there are two or more competing mail delivery companies, merchants will opt to use the one with the most customers, while the customers will use the one with the most merchants. At the beginning, some will hedge their bets and subscribe to multiple services but, over time, one will come to dominate. Once that happens, it will be extremely difficult for competitors to gain a foothold.

Risks

If third-party inventory services arise where users get their avatars — virtual closets, if you will — these platforms can also serve the role of virtual post offices, receiving virtual goods on behalf of their users from merchants, and screening out spam and trojans.

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

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.

  • Is this not what Kitely are doing by moving their inventory service to a separate cloud server?

    If it is then I guess they would be in a good position to make that service available to other simulators and grids and become a virtual post office apart from providing sim services in the Kitely cloud. Maybe even for people that can’t or don’t want to set up MySQL for their sims could use this sort of service which I would imagine would be highly scalable as inventories grow as well as providing a safe store that vendors might grow to trust when deciding if they would send virtual content to a particular grid. I think there is a serious business opportunity here.

    • Gaga —

      No, Kitely just traded one storage medium for another, bigger one. Their asset database is still their own, and still part of the Kitely grid. It’s just that instead of using the traditional hard drives to store this, they’re using cloud drives (technically, Amazon S3 cloud storage). 

      What I’m thinking is more like… remember when your ISP handled your email? If your ISP was AOL, you had AOL email. If you got your Internet through some local mom-and-pop outfit, they’d do your email. If you got it from the phone company, the phone company would set you up with an email account… and then Hotmail came out and email became separate from your ISP and suddenly you could store more emails, and access it anywhere, and switch ISPs without losing all your emails… 

      To me, avatar inventories are a lot like email mailboxes. Today, you get your inventory storage same place you get your virtual land — with whatever grid you’re on. If you’re in Second Life, Second Life handles both your land and your avatar. If you’re in InWorldz, InWorldz takes care of both. If you’re on Kitely, Kitely does both.

      But there’s nothing stopping anyone from setting up a Hotmail or Gmail-style service just for avatar inventories. They could offer you more space, maybe some better ways to organize your closet — and best of all, you wouldn’t be stuck with one particular grid for your avatar. So if a grid goes out of business — like Meta7 recently did — you don’t lose your avatar and inventory, just your land.

      — Maria

      • Ah yes. I see what you mean Maria. I was thinking cloud based MySQL data service to Opensim worlds which is entirely possible no doubt as a business service. But I didn’t think of my avatar inventory as something like an email application.

  • i worry about having any of my content on other people’s servers. as long as i can back it up then i won’t worry about the horror stories of people having their Gmail accounts closed and losing years of info . . .

    • Gmail offers POP and other download options, so you can load all the email into your Outlook client (or any other mail client you want). In fact, I know of people using Outlook to access their Gmail. 

      There is nothing keeping the virtual post office from giving you a download option as well, or allow access to third-party clients like Second Inventory. 

      The rights issue will have to be negotiated between all the vendors but I have a feeling that, over time, DRM will become less and less prevalent. Just as in the music industry, DRM is too easy to strip out, prevents people from doing legitimate things (like personal backups) and doesn’t really curb piracy. I believe that offering customers an easy, convenient and reasonably priced way to buy content (in combination with shutting down the biggest pirate distribution channels) will be the norm in the future.

  • If such a business could use a per to peer type service, then they wouldn’t need to store items on a single server.

    Using such a system they could have items stored over several servers, and then when someone wants to access it, they could use the P2P to download the items, a bit like a torrent file.

    This would provide large data storage, fast file access and good scalability.

    In fact such a system might be good for the Hypergrid in general. This is because if your data is stored only on 1 server, then the maximum download rate of that asset is limited by the speed of that server’s upload speed. With P2P however, as the asset is stored and transmitted from multiple locations, then the upload speeds from these multiple servers combine and allow faster delivery of the assets. If you have enough servers, then the download speed is only limited by the download speed of the clients connection.

    • Paul — That might be overkill. BitTorrent and Skype are designed to handle massive amounts of traffic — video files, voice and video conversations. Virtual goods are relatively small files by comparison and, since people tend to use the same things over and over, easy to cache locally so all you’d need to do is check for changes, not download the entire file each time. 

      Meanwhile, the cost of storage is dropping precipitously, and Amazon’s S3 storage, which is used by companies like Netflix, is specifically designed to be cheap, low-latency, fully backed up, and almost infinitely scalable. 

      If I was building a virtual closet today, or a virtual post office, I’d be using Amazon storage to handle the data. And, in fact, Kitely is doing just that for their asset database (they were already using the Amazon EC2 cloud for running regions).