The hypergrid is a social web

I’ve been listening to Vanish Seriath’s interview with OpenSim core developer Justin Clark-Casey today and I was struck by Clark-Casey’s pessimism about the growth of the hypergrid.

He was worried about scalability, security, and whether or not it even serves any purpose. He expressed surprise that people would want to use the same avatar on multiple grids.

But then Seriath — who runs the TGIB blog, as well as the content sharing site OpenSim Creations — asked Clark-Casey about how he first got into OpenSim, and whether he originally started out in Second Life.

“I’ve been in Second Life a little bit before, but not enormously, not a lot,” he said at the 5:35 mark in the interview. “I’ve done a few little scripting things. But I’m not a big social person. I wasn’t in a lot of groups and stuff.”

From left: TGIB's Vanish Seriath and OpenSim core developer Justin Clark-Casey.

Myself, I am a big social person. If I have a problem, I prefer to ask someone for help than to look it up. Which isn’t a bad attitude for a journalist to have, by the way.

Developers like Clark-Casey often tend to be more data-oriented. They’ll check the manual first, or Google the question. So it kind of makes sense that Clark-Casey said that the hypergrid won’t replace the Web because the Web is so useful. It is very useful — for anyone looking for data.

In retrospect, it’s a miracle that we have OpenSim at all — the people who get the most value out of virtual environments might well be the kind of people who are least likely to become software developers.

But then again, Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook, and he’s not exactly a social butterfly, either.

According to standard surveys, about 75 percent of the U.S. population are extroverts and 25 percent are introverts. In the software development community, however, the ratio is the reverse — 75 percent are introverts. (See research by Marti Olsen Laney, such as the book “The Introvert Advantage,” and “Information Technology Project Management” by Kathy Schwalbe.)

So if you’re a developer reading this blog, here are some ways in which the hypergrid is a wonderful thing for people of a more outgoing personality type.

Looks matter

The way I look is a reflection of who I am, and how I feel about myself, and how I want to present myself to the world. I judge other people by how they look. If I see people in a hospital dressed as nurses, I assume that they are nurses. If I see someone at McDonald’s dressed in the chain’s uniform, I assume they work there. If I see someone on a street corner wearing fishnets and a fake wig, I know not to ask them for the time.

I often decide whether or not to talk to someone based just on how they look. Are they in my age bracket? Are they dressed too conservatively — or do they look like they’re on their way to a party? Are they clean and well-groomed?

If I walk into a bar or club and nobody looks like me — everyone is dressed differently, or is a different age — I will probably walk right out again.

All of this applies to virtual settings, as well.

My appearance matters to me. And it takes time — a lot of time — to get an avatar looking right. And then you have to look different, for different occasions, so you have to have not just one outfit, but a whole selection of clothes.

 

Will I ever find a perfect pair of heels?

So I have an absolute allergy to going to any grid that requires that I create a new avatar. Seriously. Unless a grid has something super-duper-super special to offer, I’m not creating a new account. If I can’t visit with the avatar I already have, I’m not going.

By the way, if you’re an introverted developer reading this to get some business ideas, here are a few related to being an extrovert, that the other introverted developers might be overlooking:

  • The inventory sucks. I don’t like arranging things into folders and subfolders. I want to be able to see things. I’m willing to pay money for an inventory organizer that lets me preview my outfits. I would even — gasp! — create an account on a new grid and keep my primary social avatar there if the grid offered such a feature. Seriously. It’s that important to me.
  • I want to know how I look to others. If I can see my clothes — but I’m naked to everyone else — that’s a big problem! I don’t know how you’d go about solving this, but it’s something I care about. If you have a product that includes a solution to this issue and other, similar products don’t — I’ll pick yours over theirs, even if it costs me more money.
  • I want to be able to look at people when I talk to them. I would like an easy way to turn my head to face the person I’m speaking with. Without having to adjust sitting pose balls. Eye contact is important. If I meet someone who stares off into the distance while talking to me, it kind of creeps me out a little bit. I don’t want to be the one creeping people out!
  • I want brand-name labels on my stuff. Designers — seriously! If I pay a lot of money for an outfit, I want there to be some indication of this. A unique visual style, trademark colors, something! Otherwise, I’m indistinguishable from someone who shops at Goodwill or the corner freebie store. Not that there’s anything wrong with incorporating stylish yet vintage pieces into your wardrobe…
  • Oh — and I want to be able to buy things! On the hypergrid, I’m stuck with freebies. Sure, some of these freebies are fantastic and wonderful. (Linda Kellie rocks!) But going into an important meeting, I get a confidence boost from wearing new, expensive clothes. Even if “expensive” is just a couple of bucks. If I’m walking into a new club, or meeting new people for the first time, I want to wear something nice. Something fancy. Something special. And I’m willing to pay for it. There’s money burning a hole in my pocket right now. Not much money — the economy is what it is, after all — but some money. And I’m not alone — the hypergrid population is growing fast. Tip: the first things I want to buy are hair, shoes, and nice jackets. I don’t mind wearing freebie slacks or tanks — for now, at least. But eventually, I’ll want to upgrade those, too. And designers, you don’t have to worry about me giving stuff away. I don’t mind passing along freebies, but if I paid good money for something, I’m not going to just give it to someone, unless I buy it for them as a present.
  • And I want to be able to give things to people. Not give copies. Give the thing itself. Practically, this would be the same as giving the item, then deleting the original in my inventory — but without the emotional cost of having to go and deliberately delete something. I know that the current permission system allows for this. But when I buy something, I want to be be able to make copies for my personal use — in case I modify the original and break it. If I buy something to give as a present, yes, I can copy it first, then give the original — but again, it would require a deliberate act on my part. I would know that I was cheating — that I was giving someone a present that, in effect, cost me nothing. The virtual equivalent of re-gifting. And you just don’t get the same emotional satisfaction from that. People cement social relationships by exchanging gifts and favors. And it’s hardly much of a favor if it requires zero effort or cost on my part.

The social net

The World Wide Web is all about bringing data together. All kinds of data, including, of course, data about people — as with Facebook.

The Hypergrid is about bringing the people themselves together in shared experiences.

For maximum usability, we need tools that can help us find the people we want, when we want them. So if we feel like dancing, we want to know where the people we want to dance with are currently dancing.

This is going to be a tricky challenge for developers to solve, by the way. A solution will bring together a Facebook-style social graph (or maybe Facebook’s social graph itself) and combine it with events listings and traffic patterns.

The hypergrid is unique in that it allows a person, a group, or an organization to create an experience, host it on their own servers, and share it with the world.

That experience could be a virtual book signing. A live music performance. Virtual theater. An artist giving a tour of a virtual art installation. A movie opening. A building or scripting class. A language lesson. A store opening. A fashion show. A charity fundraiser. Or a bike race (like on the Miki Kiti Tiki grid).

The Miki Kiti Tiki grid is a fun place, but it's just not the same without people.

Note that it’s not enough to just have the location. The location itself is almost irrelevant — the language lesson could be held in any meeting facility on any grid, or can be even be conducted in the form of tour of a new grid. If learning materials are needed, the teacher can simply whip them out of inventory.

Similarly, a dance party can move around from grid to grid, visiting different dance halls on different nights.

The hypergrid makes this possible. But it is the people who make it real.

And, of course, some business opportunities:

  • A social map of the hypergrid. Where are your friends now?  What groups are your friends in?
  • An events calendar, searchable so you can find the sales, classes, or parties you’re looking for. If you find an event you like, what are some similar events at different times, or in different languages, or in different groups? Also, what’s happening now — or happening on Friday night — in the groups you belong to? What events have been popular with your friends in the past, and you might want to check out in the future? And, of course, what events are being heavily promoted now? After all, there’s got to be a way to promote an event to someone who doesn’t yet know that they would be interested in it. This is what advertising is for.
  • And I want to see more ads. I know — weird, huh? But I like seeing movie previews. I like hearing about new products, about sales, about stuff going on. And I like to be surprised by them. So I’m driving along, and I see a billboard for a new kind of pizza — cool! I don’t want too many ads. I’ll probably avoid locations cluttered with them. But I like going to places like downtown Shanghai or Times Square and seeing all the lights and the billboards. It feels … exciting. Like I’m in the middle of things. We don’t have any advertising networks on the hypergrid yet that I’ve seen, but there’s room for both commercial and non-commercial ones. For example, educators could get together and set up an ad network to promote educational events. Anyone who wants to can grab a billboard and put it up on their land, and the billboard will randomly cycle through upcoming events. In fact, this would be super easy to do with Google Forms — I’ll post instructions for it later on tonight.
  • Event planning agencies will probably be springing up right and left, helping companies organize and market events on the hypergrid. They’ll have to be able to navigate the new social networks, tap into various advertising opportunities, form promotional partnerships with key groups. Everyone and his brother will be rebranding themselves as a virtual networking expert — quick, get in first! Plus, they’ll have to hold the event itself — build the right environment, provide security, manage traffic flow, ensure that all systems run smoothly, and so on.

Hypergrid vs. the Web

I don’t think the hypergrid will ever replace the Web, since the two serve very different fuctions. The hypergrid is a way to distributed experiences — the Web is a way to distribute information.

So if you’re looking at something from the outside — sports scores, a news report, a 3D model of a jetliner — then the Web is perfect. Just as you wouldn’t replace your phonebook with a system of driving around randomly looking for the right store, so you wouldn’t throw out the Web in favor of trying to find the right information by navigating a 3D space. A phonebook — whether printed on paper or delivered on line — is a great time saver.

And you can also use a phone book to look up the store’s number, call it, and place your order. The hypergrid isn’t going to replace that — the Web does that very well.

But the hypergrid might replace the experience of driving to the store and trying on clothes, especially if you do it with your friends.

So yes, what few stores the Web hasn’t already killed off, will be finished off by the hypergrid. Sorry about that.

And the hypergrid and the Web work very well together. The Web will be used to convey information about virtual events and locations — on top of all the information it already conveys — and will be used in-world, as well.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I did an experiment where I spent the day working in my virtual office. I created virtual computer monitors and used media-on-a-prim to bring in my company databases and my Google apps — email, calendar, and docs. I had my browser up. In fact, I had more monitors on my virtual desk than I do on my physical desk. Then I wrote an article and filed it to my editor — all without leaving the virtual desk.

What’s the advantage of doing it that way? After all, it is is a little bit slower than the traditional way of doing the same thing, running the browser natively.

Other than the coolness factor — not much, because I was working alone. But imagine if the rest of my colleagues were there, with me. My editor could drop by announced and ask me how the story was coming along, peer over my shoulder, make tsk-tsk-ing noises. You know, the way editors do. Make some completely unnecessary editing suggestions to my copy.

I could edit my employees’ copy while they watched. If they had trouble with the database, I could come over and help them with it. Visiting vendors could tour our virtual offices, and be impressed by the awards we had up on our walls, and by the busy bustle at our desks. And by the gorgeous virtual views outside our windows.

We could have our weekly editorial meetings, and our pitch meetings, and all the other millions of meetings you have in a physical office.

In other words, we could all be telecommuting, without missing out on the social aspects — and the career advantages — of being present in the office.

If you’re reading this and you fall into the 25 percent introverted category, you might be saying to yourself, “Those social aspects are what’s keeping me from my work! I don’t want to go to a meeting — just send me the memo, thank you!”

But if you’re in the 75 percent extroverted crowd, you know you’d ignore the memo — you’d rather get your information face-to-face. If someone doesn’t tell you about it, it’s probably not that important. And you need to meet with people in order to develop a connection with them, and feelings of trust.

And it goes beyond the work place. Since many managers are extroverted, they will often decide on promotions not based on just work performance but on external, social factors — especially if the new job will depend heavily on interpersonal skills. That’s why many employees, when climbing the corporate career ladder, will participate in sporting events, charity events, religious and other social groups, and non-profits in order to further their relationships with senior executives — and with key customers.

As more of these events become virtual, telecommuters will gain access to them, as well.

That, in turn, will help lubricate business, speed up deals, and, of course, make career opportunities and business partnerships accessible to people and companies who aren’t located in the key cities for their industries.

The hypergrid — like the Web — will give a boost to every industrial sector that it touches.

And the business opportunities here — well, there are too many to even imagine the tip of this iceberg. But here are a few ideas:

  • Consultants will come out of the woodwork to help companies go virtual. How do you transition employees to the new virtual workplace? They’ll go kicking and screaming! But think of the savings on facilities, on transportation. The time workers spend commuting to work, they can now spend at their desks. Bwa ha ha! And no more sick days. No more “family emergency” days. No more snow days. If your Internet connection is working, and you can type — you can work.
  • Management book authors will have a field day. “The One-Minute Virtual Manager.” “The 7 Habits of Virtual Success.” “In Search of Virtual Excellence.”
  • A new industry — the virtual meeting industry — will be created overnight. Companies will temporarily rent virtual facilities for company off-sites, conferences, trade shows, and other major events. Facilities vendors will be expected to provide not just the meeting venues but also ensure accessibility, security, and provide ancillary experiences such as networking events and trivia competitions and virtual sports and team-building and community outreach activities .

The hypergrid can already do this

It may come as a surprise, but the hypergrid as we know it today can already support all this.

I’m sure there will be many improvements before it actually goes mass-market — connections will get faster, the graphics will get better, we’ll have more in-world tools and better viewers, and so on and so forth.

But even if none of that happens, the hypergrid is already pretty darn good.

But — you might ask — what about content security?

See, here’s the thing. There’s no security to speak of on the Web. You can copy-and-paste entire Websites. Nobody will stop you. They’ll just step in after the fact and make you take stuff down. And it didn’t stop the Web from growing.

At the end of the day, anything you can see with your eyes, and hear with your ears, you can copy. It’s the one big inevitable flaw in every single digital rights management system out there, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.

You cannot prevent crime.

We can’t even prevent murder, the worst crime there is. I can come up to someone with a rock or a stick — or I could choke them with my bare hands. You can’t stop me. Nobody can stop me. And this is a crime much, much, much worse than copying digital content.

The best we can do is change the situation, so that the likelihood of crime goes down. And have punishments in place, for people who commit crimes anyway.

So, when it comes to digital content, we can make it as easy as possible for people to buy stuff legitimately. This is the iTunes approach. There’s no DRM (content protection) on iTunes music. If you want, you can copy it and distribute it. But it doesn’t matter. Because whether or not iTunes had DRM, hackers could still copy and distribute any music they wanted. DRM just makes life harder for legitimate customers — it makes it harder for them to play their music on different devices, or to make backups in case their computer crashes. DRM does nothing to stop the hackers.

And when other people distribute it illegally — like MegaUpload did with movie videos — and DMCA isn’t working because the bad guys just keep reposting stuff — the authorities can step in and shut the whole thing down and put the criminals in jail. Which they did. Even though the bad guys were scattered around the world.

Sure, the guys who steal virtual shoes are small potatoes. Nobody is going to create a multinational task force to go after them. But we have mechanisms in place to deal with them right now. If they take their stolen shoes and put a stolen shoe shop on any major grid, a simple DMCA report will get their store closed, and the backers banned from the grid. Every major grid has a DMCA policy in place — whether or not they’re based in the US — because they want to stay open, and they don’t want to deal with lawsuits. Lawsuits are expensive. Complying with DMCA requests is cheap.

So the bad guys set up their own grids to sell their stolen shoes, right? The grid has to be on a server somewhere. A report to their hosting company will get the entire grid shut down. If they run the grid from a home computer, they can lose their Internet access. If they host their grid in China somewhere — well, first of all, the connection will be really really slow. Second, China is cracking down more and more on digital piracy because they’re starting to produce digital content themselves — and don’t want people stealing their stuff.

By the time their Internet connections are good enough for foreign hackers to host pirate grids there, their legal system will have matured to the point where its ready to deal with it.

Finally, how are people going to find out about the availability of stolen shoes on this grid in China? The hackers can’t advertise — if word gets out, their grid will be shut down. They’ll have to use word-of-mouth.

And if you’re a typical, average customer, are you going to go to the nice, brand-name, well-promoted, heavily-advertised store that’s got outlets on every major grid and has reasonable prices and helpful staff and support and guarantees? Or are you going to go to some shady store on an unknown grid with a slow connection where you’re likely to get infected by worms and viruses to give money to a stranger?

Yes, some folks will deliberately seek out the pirated stuff. But those folks aren’t anyone’s target customers, anyway.

The thing that many introverts fail to realize is the social value of goods.

You might look at an inexpensive, man-made diamond, and the same diamond in a jewelry store selling for millions, and say to yourself, “Why would someone ever pay millions for a diamond when the fake is absolutely identical even to a professional?”

People buy real diamonds — and real designer purses and real designer dresses and real brand-name shoes — because it makes them feel better. It makes them feel fancy and dressed up. Classy. Elegant. Not because of the intrinsic value of the products themselves, but because of the social value.

I can’t drink anything but Diet Coke. I can’t taste the difference between Diet Coke and any other diet soda when served in a plain glass in a restaurant. But if I’m drinking it from a can, generic soda — or Diet Pepsi — tastes bad. Because I know what it is. I’m a Diet Coke person, and I will pay extra for Diet Coke. I’m more than happy to buy Diet Coke on sale. But if there’s anything iffy about the packaging — anything that makes me suspect that it’s not actually Diet Coke but a knock-off — I’m not going to buy it. I want the real thing.

It’s no different for me when it comes to virtual goods. I feel better wearing expensive stuff than freebies. Even though neither I, nor anyone else, can tell the difference. People say they can tell the difference, but I suspect they’re lying — like the people who say they can taste the difference between different sodas or different wines. Remember how expensive French wines used to win all the awards before they started doing blind taste tests and cheap California wines started winning? Even the experts can’t tell until they see the brand-name label. We’re conditioned to place more value on expensive stuff.

So if you’re a designer of virtual clothing — start selling on the hypergrid. The 75 percent of us who are extroverts will pay you money for your goods and will be happy to do it. And the other 25 percent — well, they’re not your target customers anyway. Let them wear freebies. Or, if they’re smart, they’ll let their mothers, fashion-savvy girlfriends, or gay best friends do their shopping for them.

As the hypergrid grows, more and more of its user base will be average people, instead of the cutting-edge technologists who were the early pioneers. And the customer base for virtual goods producers will only grow.

 

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.

  • What a great article Maria – I really enjoyed reading this as I think you have painted a very realistic picture of what the Hypergrid may become. Interestingly though I think sharing experiences is really what we humans crave – sharing information is often just a substitute which is why I believe the Hypergrid will eventually become people’s cyber-location of choice.  Of course the flat web will still be the most efficient way of sharing some information but I would much rather call into your virtual office pick up and read a copy of your latest blog post from the coffee table while sharing the 3d space in real time with other readers! In this way, rather than discussing it via written blog comments we can also have a real, real-time conversation – serendipitous in nature perhaps but often more compelling than a comment written a week before….

    Incidentally, I love how your photo of V and Justin illustrates so nicely some of the points you make 🙂

    • I think you would fall into the category of socially-oriented people! 

      And, yes, Vanish does look great in his photo, doesn’t he? But the fact that they’re not looking at each other is a little weird. 

      The thing is, while watching the interview, I kept expecting Vanish to turn towards Justin — but based on Justin’s clothing and appearance, I was ready to give him a lot more leeway in the making-eye-contact department! You know, when you meet an engineer — you’re ready to make allowances.

      Similarly, I’m sure that when engineers see someone coming who’s fashionably dressed, and in full makeup, they start talking slower and using shorter words! Ha ha ha. 

      Ah, stereotypes cut both ways, don’t they? 

      And they’re bad. It’s bad, bad to stereotype people. 

      But I guess it’s hard-coded into us. Is the stranger coming toward us from the same tribe or an affiliated tribe? Or are they from an enemy tribe and we should run and hide? Or is that not a person at all, but a tiger?

      (Which is why, in the U.S., you’re not supposed to include a photo with your resume — you don’t want your HR managers to be influenced by appearance during the initial evaluation of prospective candidates. Because even if they try not to be, you can’t avoid it.)

  • Are there really secure ways to buy and/or sell things on OpenSim based worlds? And I mean real secure ways, like the L$ on Second Life?

    To who do I talk, if something goes wrong? Who is going to pay me back when I loose RL $ if someone hacked a payment system? Who is taking the responsibly if it comes down to real money?

    I’m not talking about copybotting. As you said: It’s inevitable. 
    I’m talking about other people getting access to my rl payment accounts, like paypal and such.

    In SL there was (or maybe still is, not sure) a bug which made vendors kinda useless; folks who knew about this bug could get anything from a vendor for free.
    In OpenSim based worlds, online security is not even near the security SL has. It’s pretty easy to change an object from no perm to full perm on opensim, so I can look in scripts and change things there. Same goes for OpenSim Modules.

    I agree with you that HyperGrid is about bringing the people themselves together in shared experiences. And I hope that lots of people are going to use hypergrid. But for now, I think hypergrid is very young, very new and very insecure.

    • There are two ways that people are dealing with security right now in OpenSim. Well, three ways.

      The first, is to have payments be made on a trusted grid, where the grid owners control all the servers. There, the payments are as secure as on Second Life. So, for example, this is how it’s done on Avination and InWorldz. 

      The second way is to have final confirmation of transactions take place on a website, so the payment is as secure as any Web-based payment. This is how the PayPal and OMC modules work, and is typical for grids where the grid owners don’t control the servers — or where grid owners simply don’t want to deal with having their own currencies. The OMC, for example, is currently used on over 30 grids, and is compatible with hypergrid.

      The third way, which OMC recently rolled out, is their Pocket Money system. You put a certain — small — amount of your OMC holdings into this pocket money, and you can spend it on any OMC-enabled grid without the additional Web-based confirmation step. 

      Of course, none of these will protect you against crooked merchants who take your money and don’t give you anything in return. If you’re on an established grid, you can complain to the grid owners. They’ll either get you a refund, or shut down that merchant, or both — nobody wants their grid to be thought of as a place where visitors get ripped off. It’s bad for business, and a potential legal liability.

      If you’re dealing with an established merchant, you can also ask them directly for a refund. I’d like to see more chain stores spring up, backed by reputable brands, where you know when you go in you can buy something, and actually get it, and if something goes wrong, you’ll get a refund, or support, or something. 

      If you go to some creepy startup grid based in China which promises you unbelievable deals on brand-name merchandise in return for your credit card number — don’t do it. Turn around and leave. Just like if you were on some iffy website with a bunch of popup porno ads and they’re trying to get you to download stuff — you just know you’ll get ripped off *and* infected.

      I haven’t seen any bad grids like that out there yet. Maybe because they tend not to advertise themselves to people like me — I’ll write about them, and they’ll get shut down. 

      My advice, if you do want to go shopping on the hypergrid, is to pick established merchants on large, reputable grids — GermanGrid is a great place for OMC shopping. Buy something inexpensive to start with. Make sure you can bring it home and use it. Talk with the shop owner about getting replacements if you lose the original, find out what kind of support you get. If you have a good experience, buy more, and tell your friends and let me know, as well. Or set up a blog about where to shop on the hypergrid. The good guys should be rewarded for doing a good job.

  • Hi.

    First off, I’m one of those damn introverts myself, and very muchly so. It’s not, that I don’t like to be social, it’s just harder and more exhausting for me to be. But I don’t think this is really about extraverts vs. introverts.

    Rather, I think the rules have changed fundamentally in a virtual environment. The things you ask for above all have one thing in common: They strive to re-create the laws of the physical world inside the virtual.

    Now the first question is: Why would you want to do that? Why have a *desk* with *screens* in an *office* when you have the very thing already in the “real” world, and could instead have a tropical island with a hammock and a few bamboo frames that serve as your MOAP screen? Why re-create trophies and the watercooler environment, when you can do so much more and better things with this incredible technology?

    And secondly: You can’t bend the rules of the virtual. There are significant differences that just won’t go away, however much we’re used to the opposite. The virtual is an environment of copies, and sharing, and things that have almost no production cost and likewise almost no value to them. I don’t think paying the highest price will ensure status on the hypergrid, but rather the creativity and skill to create a truly unique outfit for yourself.

    Again, this is not really about extraverts against introverts. But this is an environment made by introverts, that serves our needs better than others, so things are naturally somewhat different here.

    P.S.: It’s incredibly hard to post a comment here, twitter failed me and I had to get out my old-yet-trusted OpenID account on CC. Whatever happened to the pure and simple nickname-and-email approach?

  • I think it is telling that you never really mention the gaming and role playing aspect of virtual worlds, Maria. For you VRs appear to be little more than a means to social network in a virtual environment. Forgive me for saying but yours is a very limited vision as Vanish noted, quote; “The things you ask for above all have one thing in common: They strive to re-create the laws of the physical world inside the virtual.”

    Seems to me you want social networking to work for virtual environments so bad you make all kinds of real world demands probably in the belief that is how Facebook people think. I mean, designer labels!

    There are many ways to use virtual worlds  from education to showcasing, conferencing and venues of entertainment for music and the arts but, from my experience, the majority of virtual world users one way or another step out of their real world shoes and enter into fantasy gaming and role play adventure – much of it exotic and erotic, escapism. Most role players don’t care about social networking or Second Life would have exploded like Facebook did some time ago. These people don’t care about designer labels either or about being themselves, they want props and costumes for their gaming and role play. The kinky people want latex and lace, the Nekos ears and tails, the vampires dark Gothic outfits and fangs – I could go on!

    Naturally, content makers creating clothes and props for role players is a highly specialized trade which often demands a deep understanding of the game genre. They are not turning out designer labeled clothes but a standard of couture that needs to impress the eye seen in it’s wider setting of the role play theme. Like it or not, most, if not all the best RP content makers are in SL and because of the level of work going into their creations they want a degree of security that Opensim doesn’t have presently unless the grid operator opts to set up a walled garden. InWorldz and Avination have more RP content makers than OSgrid or the rest of Hypergrid.

    The only way to change that is for the grid operators to apply the Outward bounds setting which Island Oasis could have done instead of turning HG off and shutting themselves off from the rest of the open Metaverse. Whitestar Magic proposed a perfectly good middle ground solution in the 4th permission method so content makers could control if their items left a grid but I suspect, with many other good ideas, if it didn’t come from a developers then it ain’t going to happen and Justine’s limited view of the Hypergrid will prevail.

    I really am grateful to the developers for all their hard work but really, sometimes they need to have their eyes opened for them or they will end up just as blinkered at the people who run Linden Labs.

    • I don’t think lobbying developers into making feature XYZ is a good idea. At best, they’ll just ignore it, at worst it’ll make the whole project less enjoyable for them. OpenSim is a volunteer-driven project, nobody’s getting paid for working on it, which is the one big difference to SL. So naturally, people are working on things they like to work on, and I don’t think “opening their eyes” is a good incentive for them to work on something else.

      • Every developer has their own motivations for doing things. Some do it out of intellectual curiosity or personal satisfaction. Some have their own vision of the future that they want to bring to fruition.

        Some like to do it because they like making people happy and they like seeing people use their stuff.And some are looking for business opportunities. I’m writing for the latter two groups. (Though there’s a lot of overlap and many developers work for a variety of different reasons.)

      • I used the “opening their eyes” comment as a way of saying that many of us out here are putting a lot of effort into promoting the notion of a open Metaverse based on Hypergrid which is the developer’s invention. We bought into it and are building on it in anticipation of what the future virtual environments might be like. The developers need feedback (most appreciate it) and to learn how their work is used. Naturally, as users we all have ideas about the way things might work for the better. Blogs are a great way to share those ideas and, yes, it can be very frustrating when progress is slow and yet the way ahead seems so clear.

        I am hearing impaired so I was not able to listen to the interview properly though I did try but, without a transcript, I only have Maria’s article here to base any opinion on so no offense was meant to any developer in particular.

    • Gaga —

      Actually, when it comes to role playing, I think this is one area where closed grids work. I’ve mentioned this a few times — closed non-hypergrid grids make sense when you want to create a unique environment, with unique content.

      Games have long been sold on proprietary platforms even as the rest of the world has moved to commodity environments. For example, everyone has a laptop or PC capable of playing games — but we still buy PlayStations, XBoxes, Wiis, and so on. They offer a premium experience, and demand a premium price.

      Similarly, the big commercial games like World of Warcraft demand that their users download special software, pay for access, and so on, even as many games are playable in the browser. It’s more work to get to them, but folks are willing to do the work, and pay the money, for the unique experience.

      I think there will always be a place for closed, proprietary games. When you have a role playing game, you WANT people to create a new character. You DON’T want them to bring in stuff from outside the game (you don’t want someone sending a nuke at your medieval village). 

      Another reason I don’t focus on RP as much is that I have an enterprise orientation. Other folks write about games, or about fashion — I care primarily about businesses and other organizations using virtual environments for collaboration, training, meetings, rapid prototyping, and so on.

      Putting all that aside — and putting away that I think DRM in the digital space is not only wasted effort but only servers to hurt the good customers, not stop the hackers — I agree with you that the choice should be up to the content creators and the grid owners. 

      We need better filtering on hypergrid exports. Either a fourth permission, or filtering by existing perms (for example, only allowing full-perm items to travel). This is already in place in the latest version of OpenSim for OAR exports. And we already have all-or-nothing filtering for hypergrid exports. 

      Maybe one of the grids — like Kitely, say — will step up and write the code, then contribute it back to the community, like they did with the OAR filtering code.

      • Maria

        Leaving aside the trivia games and simple quests developed by so-called Linden Realms many, perhaps most serious games in Second Life are actually role playing in one form or another and combat is a large part of the action. The one thing I did learn early on in my Second Life experience was that the interaction between role playing regions was very high so, I disagree that closed grids are necessarily a good thing for role players. You said…

        “I think there will always be a place for closed, proprietary games. When you have a role playing game, you WANT people to create a new character. You DON’T want them to bring in stuff from outside the game (you don’t want someone sending a nuke at your medieval village).”

        Well, that really is not  what I would concern myself with as one who runs an existing RPG in SL. As I develop my Opensim regions and systems in order to bring my RPG experience to the open Metaverse I’m more concerned with physics, content security (especially my scripts) and in terms of the viewer the means to promote my grid and RPG for which I have been urging TPV developers to replace the grid manager with a grid search function. However, getting to the point, take Gor in SL for example. There you have over 300 regions dedicated to Gorean slave-owning culture, which, love it or hate it, represents a male dominated society of warriors who raid other Gor sims and take slaves and hostages. It is believed SL has around 15,000 Gorean account holders with a fair number regularly logged in at any one time. Raiding is the Gorean way of instgating much of the role play between Gorean cities/regions and if all those were closed regions then no interaction would be possible and a lot of the excitement of Gor would be lost.

        The same is true of many other games involving group combat and for this hypergrid if perfectly suited. In fact, being able to visit a region or standalone without full registration is positively useful both to the visitor and the grid operator. The visitor gets to see what it’s all about without commitment and the grid operator avoids another wasteful load on their asset database if the visitor doesn’t register. Naturally, the games master will want the visitor to register fully if they plan on doing anything more but this way the Outward Bounds permission can be left null so hypergrid is enabled but the combat meter and other local content can’t leave the grid and thus, a degree of security is maintained.

        Certainly, for me that is a good solution at the present time and one I am working with for my regions in OSgrid and the maga sailing regions I am developing which link back to OSgrid and the rest of the Hypergrid. I have absolute faith that Hypergrid can serve role playing in much the same way it works in SL for Gorean’s and, in fact, perhaps new more exciting ways particularly in the realms of Science Fiction when considering the development of Mesh, Bots and AI.

        And again, this is why I consider a 4th perm should be seriously considered. It would certainly work for me in that we can avoid the blanket Outward Bounds setting and protect just what needs protecting while leaving individual content creators to make their own decisions, and the traveling avatars to surf the hypergrid with full appearance.

        The bottom line for role players is that for their games to function efficiently they need open doors to traffic. The flow of people is the life blood of role play and I can’t say I know of many in SL that would restrict access to any great extent. Trust me, Hypergrid is perfect for role playing!

        Gaga

        • That’s interesting .. I would never have thought to consider a role playing game that spans multiple grids — as opposed to spanning many regions on a single grid. 

          Meanwhile, I’m wondering why more grid owners aren’t taking advantage of the server-side scripting possible in OpenSim. We already have OMC and PayPal modules that run on the server-side, to ensure security.

          On my grid, my hosting company offers the osRegionSay command, which is a scripting command that works only on my grid (and, I guess, other grids the hosting company hosts) that provides me with some needed functionality.

          Why not have the key parts of the game — the combat scripts, etc… — run on the server, accessed from within the game by unique scripting commands? Even if you take the objects off grid and open up the script, you’ll see nothing but a bunch of commands that don’t have any effect anywhere else.

          • When I first found Opensim ages ago I got MeerKat viewer which had in it the means to teleport from Second Life to OSgrid and back. I found I could effectively log out of SL without closing the viewer and log back into OSgrid with an avatar of the same name already set up there. That was before Hypergrid, and I was sold on the notion of clusters of sims in lots of small grids all using MeerKat to connect. I had a lot of experience in SL role play and to me it was clear as day how the SL way of doing things could be easily transplanted to an open Metaverse. I had a long discussion with Arimal – former owner of Role PLay Worlds (formerly, the original Gor Grid). Arimal had been in SL Gor for a long time and built up the Askari Mercenaries there before turning his attention very early on in the life of Opensim to setting up the first Gorean grid. We both agreed hypergrid could server perfectly for cross-grid raiding and trading. But it would work for many role play themes including some like Ancient Empires, Pirate sailing such as Antiquity and yet more like Steampunk even. Imagine Steampunk; Space 1889 set on a standalone cluster of sims that are built to represent Mars in the Victorian era. The potential for suppliers of content is huge.

            I think the reason more owners aren’t yet taking advantage of this virgin market is that they simply don’t know enough yet about Opensim and even less about how hypergrid works. There is a lot to learn and we are still just at the beginning really. Most owners that set up grids are generally working on the SL model of host provider to all comers but we are beginning to see themed grids like Littlefield BDSM community and United Starfleet. Other role play ventures have gone to Avination and InWorldz like The Elf Clan, The Ragland Shire Tinies. My own grid, once it opens will follow a similar model to Starfleet and Littlefield but I still have a lot of work to do and I am not interested in trying to cash in on the hosting model. I think we will see many more attempting to do the SL wannabe walled garden and many will fail, merge with others of be bought out by the bigger grids that survive. That is all a matter of time but I do believe those who build solid game and role play experiences in hypergrid enabled clusters will do well if they let the traffic flow just as it dose in Second Life. Make a good product and gain your share of the market. That is what I believe.

            I will write a new blog post soon on the subject of Role play and the Hypergrid.

            Gaga

  • I agree with the distinction between Virtual Worlds and the Web. The web, despite having more multimedia, is still a basically text based medium (just like magazines are text based but still have pictures). Virtual worlds are a spatial medium, that is they deliver their content in terms of spatial (and visual) relationships.

    Socialisation in people is essentially a spatial relationship (think of the words you use to describe relationships you have – “close” friends, etc). This means that virtual worlds actually offer a more intuitive way of socialising than something like Facebook or Google+ (and Google+ offers “circles” to represent a spatial relationship anyway).

    As for the economics of virtual worlds, I disagree and it brings to mind the saying: “Those that fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat the same mistakes”. What has happened is that virtual worlds are trying to replicate the scarcity system of the real world in a place where such concepts are as artificial as the landscape.

    As digital information is easily replicable without errors, it means that information is non-scarce. Once a piece of information exists, the number of copies that can exist is not limited by the difficulty that the information took to create.

    This is why trying to force information to be scarce is doomed to failure. And, trying to run a business based on scarcity, and selling digital information is also not going to work well.

    However, there are other business models that will work with a non-scarcity system and there are businesses that do implement such practices (and they can do really well – eg: Google).

    What a business has to focus on is not a specific product (in virtual worlds this is just digital information), but instead to offer a service. This service is something beyond just the digital items sold in the store, but something that will encourage people to return to the store; a social space focusing on similar interests (eg: Fashion, Role Play, etc)

    Not just with virtual worlds, but in many forms of businesses (including real life businesses) we are experiencing an economic shift similar to what occurred with the industrial revolution.

    Back then there were many businesses that had established practices based on that many products were hard to manufacture in bulk. But with the mass production that the Industrial Revolution spawned, many of these businesses suffered economic failure (and also as a repeat of history, they tried to prevent mass production with the same arguments that today are against digital information – eg: it will destroy the industries).

    Also like then, there are the people who can see past the limitations of the “business as usual” mindset and can see how to develop strategies and practices that take advantage of the new tools and methods available. It is these kinds of businesses that will succeed.

    In the business landscape of the future “name brands” won’t be a specific type of item or object, but will be something that serves a certain type of customer base. You are seeing the beginnings of this with Facebook, Google and such. They are not specific products, but are services catering to the specific needs of their customers.

    There are many more web search engines than just Google, and they are usually designed to cater to very specific need (see “Wolfram Alpha” as an example). And, there are more and more social networks springing up (although Facebook still caters to the vast majority). Many of these smaller start-ups won’t be able to compete against the giants, but once they realise they don’t have to, then they will stand a chance of becoming economically feasible and succeeding.

  • Gray —

    I agree. Justin has been doing a phenomenal job at communicating. He’s got his weekly status updates. And he’s also been extremely fast at responding to my questions — he’s the OpenSim developer I turn to first when I have a question about a story I’m working on, because he’s always polite and always helpful and knows what he’s talking about.I don’t think he’s ever gotten impatient with me, no matter how dumb my questions, which is an amazing and heroic act right there!They picked the right guy to head up Overte.

  • I disagree that we are in the grips of an introvert versus extrovert dichotomy.

    An interesting and valuable complement to this article is Justin Clark-Casey’s dissertation entitled, “Scaling OpenSimulator: An Examination of Possible Architectures for an Internet-Scale Virtual Environment Network”, available here: http://justincc.org/blog/2010/10/25/my-masters-dissertation-on-internet-scale-virtual-environment-architectures/

    Despite the technical sounding title, the paper is well written and highly readable by a non-technical audience. I strongly recommend it to anyone who follows OpenSim growth issues. It has an excellent conceptual overview of how OpenSim works, includes a formal description using Z notation which can be passed over without missing the salient points, and it addresses the strengths and weaknesses of various virtual world architectures, including the use of the Hypergrid.  

    It’s best to refer directly to Clark-Casey’s own words, but my impression of his perspective is that a scalable architecture for the broad distribution and interconnectivity of sims, including avatar travel with the retention of avatar assets, is highly desirable. If he has reservations, it is because he so clearly understands the demands that must be addressed on the level of what I will call the infrastructure of a worldwide metaverse. I found nothing in his analysis, interpretations or conclusions that suggest in the least he has reservations because he is more data-oriented than social, or because he works in a profession characterized by more introversion than extroversion. In Justin’s own words: “Although in principle a VE [Virtual Environment] could be accessed by just a single user, the most interesting ones allow many people to be present in the same environment at once.”

    The things we want and hope for from OpenSim virtual worlds are all well and good. Still, many of the features we expect are amazingly difficult to implement for reasons we do not always appreciate.  For example, most users understand the issue of permissions and content creation rights.  Yet on a deeper lever, developers like Clark-Casey struggle with security risks that put the underlying systems themselves at risk from malicious behavior as well, not to mention myriad other technical challenges as virtual world systems grow.

    I think this is an important point because this article started with an emphasis on Clark-Casey’s pessimism about the growth of the Hypergrid, and the ensuing segue to an introvert versus extrovert issue seems unfounded to me.

    • I second this comment.

    •  Lawrence

      I did read Justin’s dissertation when he first published it and really was very interesting and informative leaving aside the z notation.

      Gaga
       

    • Lawrence — You’re right. I just re-listened to the parts of the transcript that I was most surprised by and I noticed that Justin also has an “on the other hand…” 

      For example, at the 11:00 mark:

      Justin: “I would love to be wrong, and that this approach will scale completely, but I’m pessimistic…”

      (Talking about ability of hypergrid to scale, and whether it will become the 3D Web.)

      14:00

      Vanish: “Why are you still here then? If you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not going to be the 3D Web, why are you still working on it?”

      (Then some discussion about content security and copybots.)

      Justin: “But really, to the first question, I do actually think that you could evolve OpenSim to do something like what I’ve described [have a scalable system without a single point of failure]. The server elements are there.”

      Then the conversation moves on to whether there’s value in having a single avatar, a single virtual identity, that can travel from world to world.

      18:30

      Vanish: “The one thing that you have over Unity 3D is that you retail your identity and your inventory and your appearance wherever you go. But there isn’t much that comes to mind where this is actually required. Even education, I think people in education will be more happy with a very protected environment like Unity where they can control everything that goes on in the world.”

      Justin: “I see the point… [but] there are two sides to that. It depends on the context. With very very young children, you want a protected environment. But when you start getting on to older individuals… they’re already in the world, interacting with people.”

      I was actually very confused about the whole “single point of failure” discussion. In Second Life, there is a very clear single point of failure — the Second Life servers. If anything happens to them, the entire grid goes down. And that’s it. 

      With OpenSim, if any individual grid goes down — well, you can just teleport to other grids. If a grid goes down it has no effect on what’s going on at other grids, just like on the Web — if a Website goes down, it doesn’t affect any other websites. 

      You can’t shut down the hypergrid any more than you can shut down the Web – not unless you shut down the entire Internet, and that itself is also a very resilient system without single points of failure. 

      And the hypergrid is already scaling. Today, I’m tracking 73 different hypergrid-accessible grids in Hyperica. And you can keep adding more grids to the hypergrid. You can keep adding grids indefinitely without slowing down the system at all — the performance of any one grid has no effect on the performance of another grid, because they’re on different servers, with different asset databases, separate everything.

      The only way one grid can affect another is — like on the Web itself — by sending too much stuff over — a 3D version of a denial-of-service attack. If one grid sent a million bot avatars to another grid, it could shut it down. (Probably with a lot less than a million, in fact. A lot less.) Grid owners will have to respond the way Website managers do when they’re the target of a DDOS attack — block incoming traffic from the attackers before it gets to the grid, and report the source of the attacks to the relevant ISPs so they can shut down those servers — or the botnet that the attack is coming from. 

      Even today, with the Web being 20 years old, websites are still vulnerable to DDOS – but, again, it’s not a single point of failure. Attackers can take down one website. Or two. But they can’t take down all of them. 

      • “The biggest issue with the Hypergrid, as with the open grid,” according to Justin’s dissertation, “is the potential exposure of sensitive service operations” (p. 68). This stems from the fact that when a user visits another grid, that grid will gain access to the user’s entire inventory, and, once it knows how to access it, can gain access at any time in the future again, even if the user is not (or no longer) visiting. This is a very real security threat for malicious grid operators to gain access to a lot of assets (including potentially private notecards, scripts, etc.) that they really shouldn’t be able to access. Later hypergrid versions try to get some security back in with using the suitcase as the only folder that’s accessible on hypergrid. (But, as they say on the internet: Now we have two problems – keeping the bad boys from circumventing the suitcase and making it easy and convenient for users to access the suitcase themselves.) 

        Personally, I don’t mind, really. I don’t keep anything confidential or valuable in my inventory, and once anyone’s aware of these issues, they might make it good practice not to go on hypergrid travels with an avatar that has valuable assets in their inventory.

        • Justin also points out that malicious activity could include harming sims themselves.  For example, he points out that inappropriate textures can be substituted throughout a sim and so on.  For reasons like this the security issues run deeper than individual users losing inventory.

      • Maria–

        In Justin’s paper, he addresses the use of the Hypergrid and on the issue of scalability such an architecture scales well.  His concerns about the Hypergrid involve service operations:

        “The biggest issue with the Hypergrid, as with the open grid [a schema he also discusses], is the potential exposure of sensitive service operations.  Service connections exposed to foreign simulators can be abused to perform arbitrary operations in just the same way as they [sic] independent simulator operators can abuse them on an open grid… One could respond to this with the same user session ID checks and trust restrictions that we’ve previously discussed. But once again, these are either of very imperfect effectiveness or severely restrict the Internet-scale independent hosting goal that we are trying to achieve in the first place.” (source: Justin Clark-Casey dissertation)

        Justin notes that his paper was based on Hypergrid 1.0.  However, what I gather from his paper and from what I know of current systems, the issues at the center of his concerns have not been resolved.

        My take on all this is that as a user I may be able to have the experience I want with the Hypergrid and it may appear to scale without obvious issues, but it sounds like there is still important work to be done before the Hypergrid, or another comparable service, can provide the infrastructure security (working “behind the scenes”) that we and hosts would implicitly expect.

        • I think most of these problems were solved with HG 1.5, which is currently used by all grids except ReactionGrid, and with the “suitcase” system of quaranteeing content. In addition, a grid can choose to allow hypergrid travel while restricting any content from leaving the grid. (Hopefully, more fine-grained controls will be available soon, such as allowing full-perm items to travel and restricting all others.)

          There’s a hypergrid 2.0 in the works as well, which will take security a step further still. But, at a certain point you have to say: okay, this is secure enough. Let’s start working. 

          I think, if you make plenty of backups, the hypergrid is secure enough right now. I’ve certainly had fewer security issues on my Hyperica grid (i.e., none) than I’ve had on my website, which has been hacked several times just this year, with various nasty links added, Google search hijacked — even breaking the site itself, at some point. 

          • The issues you discuss relate to user security, yet Justin’s considerations include system security, for example, the ability for malicious changes to or destruction of sims themselves, and so on.  In an Internet-scale metaverse, this problem will grow exponentially.  High and/or rising visibility always seems to attract malicious activity ( just read an interesting article about security hacks on LinkedIn: http://money.cnn.com/2012/03/12/technology/linkedin-hackers/index.htm?source=cnn_bin ) Nonetheless, (ironically) the metaverse should be so lucky to attract so much attention!

            Users are already using the Hypergrid and as long as they understand the risks, why not? Since, however, hosts have deeper security considerations, such as what I have noted that Justin addresses, users are still impacted by the fact that we want hosts to be comfortable and onboard as well.  Likewise, privately hosted regions open people to security concerns that they may not appreciate until something malicious happens to them personally. Again, I’m not thinking only of user content stolen from the inventory, but system damage as well.

            I expect that the Hypergrid will grow even as these deeper issues are worked on.  And I agree that as far as security goes, there is no perfect system. My original response to this article was simply to state that I do not believe necessarily that the developers raise security or growth concerns because they do not relate to the social nature of virtual worlds. My impression is that they want our experiences to be as rewarding as possible while minimizing the potential pitfalls.

  • Lawrence

    I did read Justin’s dissertation when he first published it and really was very interesting and informative leaving aside the z notation.

    Gaga

  • argh, it’s not extrovert, it’s extravert and people are not one or the other – they are on a scale of it – having both traits which vary in a person and vary over time (even hour to hour and “extra” as in latin to be outside or beyond)

    extraversion tends to look outside the self for gratification and introversion tends become energised (ener-gised) from reflection (yes, i am Jungian-trained)

    a person like Justin can be just as extraverted and he is introverted (no charge on the analysis Justin!) =p

    i love being social, having dinner parties, and being big in the community (when i was a firefighter i did lots of school programmes) but i also love being lost in a project for days at a time and can stay home for a week at a time without ever going out – most people are a balance and i’d argue that a balance is a good thing

    i’m just wanting to help dispel this concept that extraversion is good and introversion is bad – an underlying assumption made by many (but not saying you did Maria – this is just another one of my soap boxes) =)

  • Heh as an introvert who hides most of the time as a result of it I can safely say that opensim/hypergrid is the ultimate social media.  I also think its what makes opensim so appealing to many.    Anyhow (goes back into the shadows) I had to just comment on the introvert/extravert thing.     One of the big things that makes opensim different from unity and so “useful” is the hypergrid ability.   That and the ability of people to build their own world without fancy software and years of training makes it the perfect social media. 🙂

  • Justin Clark-Casey

    Hi folks, thanks for the kind words.  I am anxious to play down
    expectations – as Lawrence says, designing massively distributed systems
    is enormously complicated (akin to assembling an aircraft in flight
    whilst discovering flight mechanics at the same time) and I’m very aware
    of the current shortcomings.  I don’t want people to expect too much of
    these systems before they can deliver.

    Having said that, I should probably emphasise the upside more, people often say I’m too pessimistic :).

    I will confirm the analysis – I am very data/idea oriented.  One of
    my favourite ways to find out how something works is to read the source
    code.  My own appearance is not particularly important to me but that’s
    mainly because I never have time to pick out clothes or adjust
    parameters – there’s always an opportunity cost!

    However, like Maria, I do believe the real value in these systems is social.  But I
    don’t know exactly how that plays out, which is why I’m always
    interested to see what people are doing.

    •  Hi Justin

      It’s good you took a moment to comment here Justin so let me take the opportunity to thank you for all the work you do for us. It is really appreciated even if we push for the impossible at times – well, maybe the impossible comes tomorrow as some General said.

      Gaga

    •  Hi Justin

      It’s good you took a moment to comment here Justin so let me take the opportunity to thank you for all the work you do for us. It is really appreciated even if we push for the impossible at times – well, maybe the impossible comes tomorrow as some General said.

      Gaga

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