Vivox may charge small grids for voice, seeks feedback

The Vivox voice platform is currently used on more than 500 OpenSim grids, according to Vivox co-founder and CTO Jim Toga.

The vast majority do not pay for the service, and do not need to, because they are non-profits, educational grids, or personal hobby grids.

The large commercial OpenSim grids already pay for their Vivox licenses.

Small commercial grids, however, fall into a gray area, and Vivox is exploring how to keep offering free or very low cost voice services to the smallest grids.

Jim Toga

Jim Toga

The issue, Toga told Hypergrid Business, is fairness.

Smaller grids can charge slightly less for land if they don’t have to pay for voice services, he said, giving them an advantage over larger grids that do.

“Some of the smaller operators are making some money, and voice is one of the ingredients in making their offering cool,” he said.

One issue, he said, is that Vivox doesn’t want to get into the business of policing grids, or of sending out bills for tiny amounts.

“Vivox can’t bill someone $2 a month,” he said. “The overhead to get my office manager to send out invoices — it’s not worth it.”

One alternative is a small annual fee, he said, for the smaller grids.

The question then would be the definition of who counts as a small grid, and who counts as a large grid.

“It’s a process we’re working through,” said Toga. “We need to have a cut-off line. And it can’t be the number of users, because we don’t want to get into the business of auditing grids.”

Just chilling, listening to myself talk, on my private company grid. Will I need a commercial license soon?

Just chilling, listening to myself talk, on my private company grid. Will I need a commercial license soon?

Another question is how Vivox would be able to enforce it without adding individual metering to each account.

Today, enforcement is strictly voluntary. New users who sign up for an account are currently asked to affirm that they are a non-commercial grid. Existing users have been getting letters informing them of the change of the terms, though not all have received them yet.

But there is, currently, no practical way for a small grid to sign up for a paid commercial account.

Toga is asking OpenSim users and grid operators to contact him at [email protected] with ideas and suggestions.

“We want to hear from people about the scenarios of what they’re doing with voice,” he said. “And some opinions of what would be reasonable.”

Toga added that Vivox is committed to the OpenSim platform.

“Second Life and OpenSim are very dear to our hearts,” he said. “We have built part of the platform directly in support of  Linden Lab, in the very early days. And we’re very much in support of the OpenSim community and have been for a number of years.  We offer, and will continue to offer, the free service.”

Possible gray areas

For many small grid owners — including our own Hyperica grid — it’s not clear whether we fall into the category of “commercial grid.”

Clearly, neither Hypergrid Business nor Hyperica are non-profits. We’re not making any profits, but that wasn’t our intent. We’re not an educational institution, and we’re not a personal hobby grid.

Fortunately, our agreement with Vivox doesn’t expire until the end of the year, so there’s time to figure things out. (Some options here: Vivox voice alternatives.)

Some other gray areas:

  • Someone can set up a virtual bookstore running on a home computer or low-cost rented server, and sell Amazon books. Customers would teleport in from other grids. Such a grid would be small in land area, and would have no registered users, and no in-world currency. But it would still make money, and have an advantage over a similar bookstore renting land on a commercial grid, where a commercial Vivox license would lead to an incrementally higher land cost than otherwise. Should the bookstore get free Vivox voice? What if the same store was selling high-end electronics equipment, and high-quality voice helps make the sale?
  • An architect sets up a grid to showcase their designs. Potential customers can walk around and go inside different models of homes or commercial buildings. The grid does not rent out land, or have a currency, or do any business in-world at all. The business contracts are signed off-line. But, again, high-quality voice would allow the architect to talk with the customers while giving them a tour, and help sell the service.
  • A small merchant sets up a store on a mini-grid and takes OMC or PayPal for payment. Customers arrive via hypergrid. The merchant doesn’t rent out land, there’s no grid-specific currency, no registered users. Should this merchant get free Vivox voice?
  • A small grid attracts hypergrid visitors by offering freebies, or throwing parties, and pays its costs by putting up ads. Should this grid get free voice?
  • A commercial grid doesn’t offer its own hosting, but allows people to connect regions hosted at home or with third-party vendors.  Typically, pure hosting vendors don’t have to get a Vivox license — instead, the customers who rent the grids get the licenses. And since individuals get free Vivox service, they don’t have to pay a license fee, either. But if the commercial grid was doing its own hosting, that same exact region would be operating under a commercial Vivox license, and those individual users would be paying slightly more for their regions. Should commercial grids that use third-party hosting vendors for individual regions get free voice?
  • A company uses a private OpenSim grid for training and collaboration. There’s no external commercial activity on this grid, and user numbers are low. Should this grid get free voice?

Please weigh in in the comments below, and don’t forget to email  Jim Toga with your ideas and suggestions. Tell him I sent you.

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.

  • “Vivox can’t bill someone $2 a month,” he said. “The overhead to get my office manager to send out invoices — it’s not worth it.”

    Tell the grids how much to pay per user, post a public Bitcoin address per grid (anybody can check the balance), post an email address to report people who aren’t paying enough to then forget about it for a year. They’ll mostly pay, and if someone starts to get to a size that threatens the bigger grids but hasn’t been paying one of their competitors will email you. Withdraw all the money in one go once a year.

    • I think a good option would be usage. As with Maria we have until the end of the year before we need to make a choice.

  • interesting….I would say that is it is a commercial grid renting regions then it would obviously have to pay.

    I mean, those who are non-profit can show whatever their country has for such things, right?

    Or, alternatively, if it is a commercial for-profit grid over some number of regions, say 100? That would be simple enough to see.

    I don’t really know as I am not involved in this but having been in business for some years I always thought it was cool they offer it for free to so many.

    And I don’t know who is paying them now of course….it just seems that if one is making money off opensim or is sl then they should pay for any services they receive from others who are in business too….it does cost vivox to supply even free service..right?

  • Hannah

    I’m not really seeing voice used much on Metropolis grid, or much of anywhere else,honestly. I think this is a great and much needed kick-in-the-pants for the opensim community to get behind an open-source voice solution such as mumble or whatever.

    All in all, I think this is win-win for Opensim and for Vivox.

  • Samuel Greenway

    Vivox should charge per usage per account, on bigger accounts with high usage, they could offer a tiered fees, and minimal accounts up to a certain usage level could be free. Vivox should send out usage reports via email. It shouldnt be difficult for them to monitor usage per account. If they believe in Opensim and sounds like they are or they wouldnt be considering charging, then they should be implementing monitoring per account. Non-profit discounts if evidence is provided that they are non-profit. they can figure this out, they have to monitor usage.

  • hack13

    This is something I was talking about before, saying we need to go back and try and develop mumble again. It works, it can be done, SpotOn3D did it cross-platform so yeah. It can be done, just we got to figure out a way to do it.

    I am not saying vivox is bad, just that we should try and focus on opensource alternatives!

  • Gaga

    I gave my response in Google Plus but I will repeat it here…

    I said I agree with what +Shelenn Ayres who said, quote;”
    The answer is quite simple: We need to integrate text to speech and speech to text with the chat in Open Simulator. That way, users can choose a voice that will be broadcast to users who want to listen. When the user types, the text to speech conversion occurs in the chosen voice. This way, users can still have their avatar personality and folks who need to hear voice will hear it. On the flip side, when a user speaks to the computer, the speech to text conversion makes it appear in chat. This way users who have a need to use their voice instead of typing can do so and the users who need to read text will not miss what was said. It’s a win win for the differently-abled and everyone else – an equalizer that makes virtual world technology better for us all. Who is writing the grant??”

    Now, me being one who is hearing impaired, who hears music but can’t make out lyrics and can’t make out exactly what people are saying without reading lips on cam then there has to be text, text to chat, text to voice whatever. Oh, and lip sink wont work for avatars cos it just don’t match in any way that I can understand.

    Vivox need to think of new ways to communication. Voice all on it’s own is fine for people in the real world without hearing difficulty but we live in virtual worlds where all our imperfections are glossed over by animating beautiful avatars of choice so try to understand us, Vivox and don’t assume everyone is perfect. Perhaps you only want to do business with perfect humans that have lots of disposable income, eh?

    https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/116284417302234467612

  • feralkat

    We were using Vivox for voice solution on our grid however after receiving an updated tos from them we e-mailed them to see if we could obtain a commercial license and they never wrote back to us we e-mail 2 different e-mails and nothing. A simple reply would of been nice but nope nothing.

  • Alicia Stone

    I only think this will encourage freeswitch self-hosted solutions, bandwidth is getting on the cheap side with many server providers not even limiting it.

    Voice is a needed part of opensim, but there has to be a better way for Vivox to gain income by OpenSim users, perhaps in partnerships with an ad being placed on the websites?