Entrepreneurs key to OpenSim success

New research released today dispels the myth that OpenSim is the sole product of work by people who expected no personal financial gain — academics, employees of large corporations, and volunteers working out of the goodness of their hearts.

In fact, entrepreneurs played a very important part in the early development of OpenSim, and continue to be key to the future development of the project.

The paper — written by Robin Teigland and Zeynep Yetis of the Stockholm School of Economics and Paul M. Di Gangi of Loyola University Maryland — analyses the contributions of OpenSim developers from 2007 to 2009.

“Notable from our research was the dominant presence of entrepreneurs in this community and the relatively weak presence of hobbyists, which is counter to traditional open source software communities,” the paper said. “Entrepreneurs are the driving engine of this community and contribute the most in terms of resources – developing code, helping and sharing with others, energizing, coordinating, etc.”

Researchers analysed contributions from entrepreneurs, hobbyists, large firm employees, academics, and other groups. Each group contributed in different yet vital ways.

“For example, the large company members provided legitimacy that the SME [small and medium enterprise] employees or entrepreneurs could not,” wrote the researchers.

Hobbyists were the glue that kept the community together, and the public sector provided funding and helped increase the perception of legitimacy of the project.

Network diagram of OpenSim contributions. (Image courtesy Robin Teigland.)

The researchers also analysed the relative frequency of words used by the different groups members in their communications on forums and discussion lists, and concluded that entrepreneurs tend to focus on the development of actual use of the OpenSim platform — with words like “region,” “physics,” and “currency” occurring more frequently than average.

“We found that academics focus on the development of the underlying platform and technology infrastructure as the words they use are inventory, servers, regions, modules, etc.,” they wrote. “The hobbyists are concerned with testing and debugging the software, e.g., debug, functions, fatal, patches, etc. For the employees, large firm employees seem to be interested in data processing and visualization while the SME employees are focused on programming since their words are very programming oriented. The non-profits have issues related to installation and the use of OpenSim while both the public sector categories discuss legal and financial issues.”

The researchers also looked at whether particular groups of community members tend to cluster together.

And in the years studied, that was not the case. Occasionally, two or three people would discuss a particular issue among themselves to deal with a particular problem. Other than that, “the community is characterized by a high degree of interaction between all members regardless of affiliation,” the paper said.

Next, the researchers will tackle the period from 2009 to the present.

“We will present our next round of research at the Sunbelt Conference in California in March,” said Teigland, a professor at the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness at the Stockholm School of Economics. She also heads up the Nordic Virtual Worlds Network.

Entrepreneurs and the future of OpenSim

The future of the OpenSim project depends on the extent to which the community has a whole recognizes the contributions of its entrepreneurial members.

Robin Teigland

In one future, the community may recognize the motivations of this group and work on making OpenSim more business-friendly, Teigland told Hypergrid Business. “This may lead to further strengthening of the network and perhaps even a push towards more efficient governance structures to ensure a tangible value by-product is present — making also more attractive to other potential entrepreneurs.”

In another future, the project splinters due to entrepreneurs competing against each other.

“The community can fracture — known as forking — based on the highly competitive nature of entrepreneurs and interest in preserving the competitive value created through their individual contributions,” she said.

The answer likely lies in the current state of the network, she said.

“We need to see the current interactions and gain insight into the meaningfulness of the interactions among those connected to one another,” she said.

In fact, there are already a couple of forks of OpenSim — and the two most signicant ones are, in fact, driven by business motivations.

One branch, realXtend, is dominated by startup companies looking to create a platform to build custom games and environments for clients, and was the first to support mesh.

Another branch, the version of OpenSim used by InWorldz, separated off a few versions back in order for the grid to add its own features and improvements, which include a proprietary scripting engine called Phlox. This has allowed the grid to differentiate itself from other grids running OpenSim, and may have helped make it the largest commercial social grid that it is today.

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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.

6 Responses

  1. kripkensteinr@gmail.com' Anonymous says:

    realXtend is no longer active,


    The developers have stopped working on a Second Life/Open Sim compatible viewer and server, and are working on something completely from scratch and not directly comparable in its goals (Tundra).

  2. Huh?  Differentiation based upon different words used in some questionable statistical analysis?  Why not focus on something a bit more direct like who contributed what and which efforts tend to build communities of grid users without which there are no ways to monetize at all?   The future of opensim depends on everyone interested, not primarily entrepreneurs or non-entrepreneurs.  Many of the best innovations are in fact coming from open source efforts.  The very differentiation from SecondLife is in large part because the code based is open and thus gives much more room for 3D ambitions, monetized or not.  That it is open also means that wonderful developments and power to the end user like sim-on-a-stick exist.

    • The paper goes in depth in what exactly they looked at — including at the code commits. Academics and others also contributed a lot to OpenSim. I’m not at all trying to say that entrepreneurs were responsible for all of it.

      But since this is Hypergrid Business, I wanted to point out that OpenSim differs from most other open source projects in the number of entrepreneurs involved, and the weight of their contributions.

      These entrepreneurs are also donating their time and their efforts, they’re not charging OpenSim for their work — but they also have particular goals in mind. 

      Personally, I think it’s because entrepreneurs can see the huge potential here — potential similar of, say, the Apache project on the 2D Web site. Apache is also free and open source, and runs the majority of Websites out there. Most hosting companies out there use Apache to run Websites on behalf of their clients, and are able to create viable, successful businesses this way, without having to pay license fees to Microsoft for their Web server software. Apache reduced the cost of doing business, and helped the Web grow faster than it would have otherwise.

      The fact that OpenSim is open source will also reduce the cost of business for 3D entrepreneurs and, I believe, help the hypergrid grow faster than it would have if it depended exclusively on proprietary, commercial platforms like Second Life Enterprise, Protosphere, and so on.

      Meanwhile, I do believe that entrepreneurs should be contributing their developments — at least their core developments — back to OpenSim. They can keep their add-ons private and proprietary, but if they don’t contribute their core improvements, then the OpenSim community will develop its own solutions — and leave those entrepreneurs stuck with out-of-date, incompatible software. 

      The fact that so much of the commit code base comes from entrepreneurs show that they are doing just that — donating their work back, and letting everyone share in it, and so that everyone is moving in the same direction. 

      OpenSim is truly a remarkable achievement, and remarkable in part because of how many different groups come together to work on it, work collaboratively, while appreciating each others’ strengths. 

      Sim-on-a-stick, which you mention, is a great example. Built on top of the Diva Distro (created by Crista Lopes, an academic) and packaged by Ener Hax (an education entrepreneur), and used in for-profit projects as well as non-profit projects by folks around the globe. 

  3. Ener Hax says:

    well, our purpose is ultimately financial and i would say that i am NOT a hobbyist. but i was not a hobbyists inSL either . . . 

    i suppose that i act as hobbyist when i 3d doodle which is about 2 hours per month at most

  4. I think that highlighting the important of the OpenSimulator ‘entrepreneurs’ is very apt.  For an ecosystem to survive in the long term, I believe that it must allow both commercial and non-commercial interests to interact and mutually benefit.

    However, I also doubt that anybody is driven purely by the desire to make money, particularly in such a wild and emerging field as open-source virtual environments.  All the entrepreneurially inclined OpenSimulator people that I know (as well as those not involved in this way!) also have a tremendous passion for the potential and power of virtual worlds and environments and I think that’s what ultimately drives them.

  5. Well, it starts from an implied strawman that opensim is thought to be only the work of hobbyists and so on.  Then it continues on to say that entrepreneurs are the key to such an extent that it seems to be less balanced, to me at least, on the importance of all those that do not have some monetization in mind for their work and simply do it anyway.  Taking the example of open source generally a tremendous amount is in fact done by those with no monetary interest simply because they understand that all benefit by such activities.  Then there is the sheer love of creating..