Hypergrid travels to get safer

Content creators may worry about preserving their content in an era of ubiquitous hypergrid connectivity, but most users have a different worry — preserving their stuff.

Hypergrid 1.5 rolled out security measures that protect rogue grid owners from dipping into the inventories of hypergrid visitors and causing trouble.

But there were still problems.

In particular, several hypergrid travelers have told me that they have sometimes lost attachments while traveling the hypergrid.

Crista Lopes

“That was a bug, but it has been fixed in the last release,”  hypergrid inventor Crista Lopes told Hypergrid Business. Lopes is also a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine.

Scripted attachments are particularly problematic.

“In theory, hypergridding with scripted attachments should work,” said OpenSim core developer Melanie Thielker, who is also the founder and owner of the Avination grid. “However, in theory, theory and practice re the same, while they differ in practice.”

When a user teleports from one grid to another, it may seem that the entire avatar, and its whole inventory, travels along. The way it actually works, however, is that everything remains on the home grid and worn items are just fetched temporarily by the destination grid so that they can be displayed. But they’re not fetched all at once.

“The avatar’s current state and all the attachment objects are packed into what we term a ‘fatpack’,” Thielker explained. “This is a single message that defines the entire avatar. This is then sent to the destination. However, assets that comprise the contents of the objects are not sent in the fatpack. These must be loaded from the origin if the destination wants them.”

And that’s where problems can come up, she said. The destination grid might refused to accept outside scripts, for example, or demand scripts that are in compiled form instead of binary form — even though they’re only sent in binary form. Or the origin grid may refuse to provide script source code if it’s not full perm, or if it’s not in the hypergrid-friendly “suitcase” folder in the inventory — or just because the grid’s policy is not to allow scripts to travel out.

Melanie Thielker

“Finally, the source may arrive to late and cause a compilation failure at the destination,” she said.  “IIn all the above cases, the scripts will not run, however, the object itself should still survive. I can not see how an object could be removed from the source grid’s main avatar inventory, if that happens it certainly bears investigating.”

Meanwhile, both Thielker and Canto are working on the next generation of hypergrid security — Hypergrid 2.0 — which will allow creators to set a new permission for their creations, allowing or disallowing hypergrid travel for that particular object.

With the new system, creators of high-end content on commercial grids can choose to have their objects restricted to their home grids — while other creators can choose to allow their creations to travel the hypergrid.

The reason this is needed is that some grids have very strict content protection standards. This typically means that the grid owners control all regions and don’t allow third-party to connect regions, that users aren’t allowed to have “God powers” that would enable them to change permissions on objects, and users can’t export entire, unfiltered region backups — OAR files — or inventory backups — IAR files. This ensures a similar level of content security as available in Second Life.

Other grids have different policies. For example, owners of small grids set their own policies. They can make backups of any region on their grid, give themselves “God powers,” or even access the asset database directly and make changes to content permissions. This can make a lot of sense — after all, a school district, say, should have the ability to manage its own grid and manage all its content.

Similarly, non-profit, open grids like OSGrid and Francogrid and ScienceSim allow anyone to connect their own regions. Users who run regions on their own computers can also, if they have the technical skills, to access the underlying database of region objects. They can also give themselves “God powers” and make backups of the entire region.

A hypergate on the Festa 24H region on OSGrid, part of the Oliveira Grid Portal network.

Many creators are concerned about the possibility of seeing their products travel to these grids, where there are fewer technical protections for their content.

Other creators don’t mind. They might be producing promotional content, for example, and want to see it spread as far as possible. Or they might focus on corporate and education buyers who need to take content to their private grids, but can usually be counted on to respect copyright. Or they might simply feel that there is really no good practical way to protect content against the most determined hackers, and that offering content with few restrictions at a reasonable price is the best way to fight piracy — together, of course, with promptly filing takedown notices against distributors of infringing content.

It’s a hot-topic issue in OpenSim, with many vocal supporters on both sides.

With Hypergrid 2.0, the decision can be left up to the people most concerned — the creators themselves.

Avination and Kitely are expected to open up to the hypergrid once the new standard is in place, increasing the hypergrid population from  a little over 7,000 active monthly users today on the 81 hypergrid-enabled grids that report these numbers, to around 10,000 active users.

The Hyperica hypergrid directory currently tracks 98 hypergrid-enabled grids, but not all report their user numbers. In addition, there are also non-public grid that allow hypergrid travel, such as Georgia’s Noble grid, which allows teachers — but not students — to travel to other grids.


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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.

7 Responses

  1. gagagracious@aol.com' GagaGracious says:

    I look forward to HG 2 and the greater focus on Opensim by the viewer developers – hopefully, with further development of the grid manager to include search. Personally, I’m still holding back and sitting on the fence waiting to see how all this pans out. I am just making stuff, developing scripts and building in anticipation of great things to come for the open Metaverse.

  2. jigs@westernprairies.net' Jigs says:

    The attachements I’ve lost in HG were  totally destroyed at the ORIGIN- Osgrid, not lost, just destroyed, and the way it happened was: If any time on a HG tp I CRASHED on another grid, locked up and had to force quit, or the viewer simply quit suddenly, when I logged back into Osgrid again and go to wear the now missing parts, I could SEE them listed in my inventory, but when clicking on them to wear or rez, the console would error with a message about the object not being found, even though I could see the name of it, and the UUID number, nothing I did was ever able to bring the item back. It didn’t matetr if I cleared caches, switched viewers, restarted my computer or even  emptied the region caches and restarted my home region- the items were simply GONE.

    Some of the items so affected included my av’s entire head, body parts, radar hud, items one might consider clothing or accessories. It was frequent and consistant enough I wound up making multiple backup copies of my complete AV because I knew that every time I HG tp’d if I crashed there, I’d come back missing parts.
    Maybe it’s fixed now, but I would still suggest that anyone who has a valuable AV or one they can’t replace, or any attachments that can’t be easily replaced- taken them all off and go with a default AV you don’t care about.

    • amy88smith@yahoo.com' Lani Global says:

      A agree with Jigs. I had exactly same thing happen to me:

      HyperGrid literally reached into the OSGrid Inventory System and corrupted my avatar’s Inventory of objects, body parts, textures, scripted attachments, hair, etc. These items still appear listed in my inventory, but they are gone FOREVER.
      Fortunately, I keep backup copies of my inventory and avatar objects using a variety of methods, including IAR and OAR.
      I once was an active cheerleader for HyperGrid, but since that catastrophic HG version was released upon OpenSim metaverse, I have actively informed friends and noobs about the risk of losing everything by using HyperGrid.
      In fact, I put a big “Use at your own risk” sign in red hovertext in front of my HyperGate!
      Since each region owner using HyperGrid controls which version of HyperGrid and OpenSim server version they use, It will be a long time before this awful problem totally subsides. HG will need to achieve a longer track record, perhaps another year, before I recommend it to common users.

      • susannah.avonside@gmail.com' Susannah Avonside says:

        That sadly is a large part of the problem – people using outdated server an HG versions. Whilst I agree that a small amount of backwards compatibility is needed, if it then starts to cause problems like the one you’ve outlined then surely there is a case to argue that anything that old and basically incompatible should not be allowed to connect? People would still have the freedom to run their older versions, but if they wanted to enable HG then they’d have to upgrade to a more recent version. That might sound hard, and if lots of money was changing hands then there may be a better case for keeping a greater level of backwards compatibility. I guess that I have been fortunate in that I have had relatively few mishaps with HG. I had a few with those awful hypergate thingies, when they actually worked, mainly the usual problem with left shoes and attachment AOs. HG has got better, and I no longer lose shoes with my OS Grid avi, and as I now use an AO in the viewer (something I recommend anyway, but something I consider essential for HG). It’s always a good idea to make backups of any inventory, as most of us do with any other variety of computer data. Those grids where the admins are on the ball, and actually seem to know what they are doing are the places to be.

  3. susannah.avonside@gmail.com' Susannah Avonside says:

    Anything that improves inventory mutability has to be applauded, however I personally fail to understand why on earth any one would want to teleport to grids where the primary consideration is making money – sure, they may indeed have content that is desirable, (for instance, there is a dire lack of decent hair in OS Grid) but if that purchased content then has to remain on the grid on which it was created, what is the point of buying it in the first place? 

    The notion of Avination being reachable by HG makes me smile, are there really that many avatars out there on other Open Sim grids addicted to gambling?  Sure, shopping opportunities galore exist on Avination, but the prices are eye-wateringly expensive, even by SL standards, and not even bad freebies are available there to ameliorate that fact.  About the only up side to shopping in Avination is that it’s great if you like solitude, because you’ll almost certainly not see a soul, and even the ‘busy’ places, the casinos, are hardly bursting at the seams.   How big is a crowd on Avination?  Four seems a reasonable number.

    Kitely is a different matter, and is certainly a brilliant idea if all you want is a place to build or try out ideas, though at this juncture Kitely seems to me, to be a solution looking for a problem, though in a discussion elsewhere on Hypergrid Business it was suggested that Kitely would make a great place for residential sims in a HG enabled metaverse.  That sounds to be reasonable to me.

    I still maintain a presence on SL, though my visits there are less and less frequent.  SL has improved in a technical sense immensely in the relatively short time I’ve been there, but whether that will be enough to halt the slide I’m unsure.  Certainly I seem to be aware of more and more people starting to take a serious interest in Open Sim and OS Grid in particular – many still almost overwhelmed by the idea that they could run their own region, or a grid even, at a fraction of the cost of running a region in SL.  There is still the perception that Open Sim and running a region is technically difficult, but that is more down to the lack of easy-to-understand-and-follow directions.  Too often information is obsolete, confusing, contradictory or just plain ambiguous –  too often it’s wannabe geeks who have written a ‘tutorial’ but not tested it on a complete technophobe (the only acid test in my opinion) and then edited their work in the interests of clarity and comprehension. 

    Open Sim needs to emphasise its openess, and hopefully HG 2.0 will encourage more to use it.  Personally I don’t worry about so called content theft, as I suspect that only the greedy need worry about that.  Those who charge a reasonable amount for the content they create have little to worry about – low or reasonable prices go a long way to discouraging the desire to infringe a creators rights to the fruits of their labours.  That of itself won’t rule out people copying stuff, but it will probably only be those who see the act of copying an item as a technical challenge, and I don’t think any of us have much to fear from people like that.

    There are certainly interesting times ahead for those of us who take a keen interest in the development of the 3D web, and certainly it’s nice to think that a virtual economy could develop and allow us to earn some virtual currency to offset our costs, but as with the 2D web, it’s the relevance to the real world that matters.

    • Susanna —

      I totally agree with you about charging reasonable prices to fight IP theft. I always point people to the iTunes model — skip the DRM (i.e., make it full perm), set a reasonable price, and make it easy for folks to find it and buy it.

      You can’t stop the hackers. A recent survey by Vanish Seriath (http://tgib.co.uk/2012/07/15/piracy-a-survey/) shows they steal everything, even in worlds where content is locked down, like Second Life. 

      That doesn’t mean you can’t try — I disagree with Vanish on this point. I think creators can and should go after the biggest distribution points of pirated content. Not the end users — most tend to be innocent bystanders and, also, potential customers! — but the big freebie stores offering acres of ripped content. From what I’ve seen over the past three years, there are a LOT less of those stores than there used to be, as a result of policing by grid admins, DMCA filings, and resident complaints. Instead, they’ve been replaced by legal, licensed freebie stores with content from Linda Kellie, Fleep, Neb, OpenSim Creations, and a growing number of other legitimate sources.


      Back to your question — why would anyone want to HG TP to a commercial grid like Avination? 

      One reason is that Avination — or 3Rd Rock or some other commercial grid — might be having a big event. Or you might have friends there you want to visit who are, say, having a housewarming. Or your bookclub is meeting at a nice cafe there. Or you want to cheer on your friends in a sailing race. 

      Second, some creators might choose to allow their creations to travel — maybe at a markup. Or they might have end-of-season sales where the outgoing merchandise can travel, clearing it out to make room for the new season’s fashions, which are for local residents, only. (Which might inspire some folks to join the grid to participate in that.)

      Then, you’ve got content that’s supposed to travel. A promotional T-shirt for a bar, club, or band, for example, would serve as an advertisement whenever you wear it. Or you might have breedables or other kind of pets that only perform key actions when you bring them back to that home grid — you might be able to raise them at home, say, but you can only race your breedable race horses on the HorseRacing Grid because it’s got a special back-end module that no other grid has. (Well, until your chief competitor reverse-engineers it. Then you either decide to spend the rest of your life in court, or you team up with them to create a multi-grid horse racing circuit.)

      Or you could have breedables that only breed in the particular environment of their home grid. You can take them home with you to grow them, but you’ve got to come back if you want babies.

      But the single biggest benefit for commercial grids of being on the hypergrid is that their own residents can now travel. Say you’ve got a small startup commercial grid. You’ve got a few hundred residents — hardly anyone on at any given time. But you’re great with support, are nice and stable, everyone loves renting land from you. There’s just nothing to do while they’re there. You didn’t want to turn on hypergrid before because you have some high-end exclusive content, and the creators didn’t want all their stuff to go everywhere. So you turn on the new hypergrid, with the permissions in place, and now your residents can go to events on the 100+ grids out there that are already HG enabled — including huge grids like OSGrid. They can visit freebie stores galore, go to concerts and operas and speedbuilt contests, and building lessons, and art gallery openings, and all the other stuff happening out there. And then they can come back home to their own cozy regions on your commercial grid. 

      • susannah.avonside@gmail.com' Susannah Avonside says:

        Thanks for the reply Maria. There will always be those who will copy stuff, for all sorts of reasons. It’s my belief that part of the perceived problem of content ‘theft’ (it exists, but not at anything like the extent that Open Sim hating trolls/SL fanbois would have us believe) is the lack of any alternative in Open Sim. There are some really good designers and creators of content in Open Sim, but nowhere near the level that there is in SL. Naturally enough many from SL would like to bring at least some of their wardrobe with them if/when they come to Open Sim. One of the most asked questions I get in conversations about Open Sim with residents in SL is about whether they can bring their wardrobe with them. Understandably people who have invested considerable amounts of time and money in acquiring their wardrobe are going to be reluctant to leave it behind. or may wish to retain their ‘usual’ look when visiting/moving to other virtual worlds. They are not primarily interested in copying those items for personal gain, or even to give away. They merely wish to enjoy items they ‘own’ (Yes, we could no doubt argue the modern day equivalent of how many angels can stand on the point of a needle here, but for most of us the distinction between ownership and possession is pretty irrelevant) and I for one empathise greatly with that desire. It’s my personal wish that some creators of the better quality, reasonably priced content would take a bit of a punt and dip their toes into opening shops on Open Sim worlds where they have their creations on sale. There is certainly no problem with virtual currency as there is the well tried and proven VirWox system, which seems to be well organised – as organised and safe as anything else in the Metaverse, and at the very least is independent of any one virtual world so your money would be safe in the event of any particular world going belly up. There isn’t even that level of security with the SL Linden Dollar. It would certainly be interesting to start a debate on this, to see if there is a ‘critical mass’ of Open Sim residents who would be prepared to support creators of reasonably priced ‘paid for’ content. Maybe that would be enough to persuade some creators to take a gamble on Open Sim virtual worlds. I’d certainly support the likes of House of Curios and Cute, as well as many others if they came to Open Sim worlds – I already have a VirWox account with money in it… all I need now is something to spend it on.