When is a Grid, not a Grid?

No this isn’t the start of a bad joke, although as you read on, you may find that it could be, only the joke is on you…or in this case, it was on me.

Like many grid owners, and even just regular OpenSim users, I was excited when I first discovered the OpenSim project and software. “At last”, I thought “here is an opportunity to be free of the oppressive Linden Lab regime in SecondLife, including its vendor lock-in and expense.”

I began my virtual life in the free metaverse in OSgrid, and rented a region there for about a year. At this point I decided to try my hand at actually hosting my own region, so I rented a small server, which would be adequate for my own personal usage, and began hosting my own region. The sweet smell of freedom was in the air.

As time passed virtual life was just going swimmingly, until there was a change of leadership at OSgrid in early 2013. At the time this was a bit of a controversy. Whatever the merits, the pros or the cons, this change caused quite a stir in the community, and indeed many long time users of OSgrid left to find homes on other grids.

This uncertainty made me realise that my virtual life was entirely dependant upon OSgrid servers continuing to run. If they decided to cease offering free connections to the central servers, or funding dried up, they could effectively disappear over night. I am pleased to see that it didn’t, and it is still running to this day and is still the largest non-commercial OpenSim grid, and along with the likes of Metropolis, is most people’s first point of contact with OpenSim grids.

It was at this time that I decided I wanted independence. I wanted to know that my inventory and assets were safely under my control, no longer reliant upon the whims of other grid owners and their personal circumstances, so I evolved from running my own regions on OSgrid, to actually running my own grid infrastructure.

I achieved my goal, which was independence and to have my own infrastructure. Now there may be different ideas of what a “grid” is, I have heard that a grid is a community, that it is a commercial operation, you may have your own ideas also – but to me, a grid is simply the infrastructure, and one or more regions connected to a separate robust back end, and that is all.

Once my grid was running, I had intended it only for private use for my friends and family, and nothing more. For the first six months, I had achieved my goal and was successful. It was then that like most grid owners, I thought “I have a grid, now may be I can make something of this and make some money.” Getting back to the title of this article, this is where things started to go wrong.

I and a few of my friends enjoy the Femdom lifestyle, some as a bit of light play, and for some it was more serious, and so I decided that I was going to set up a dedicated Femdom grid. Now, in real life I run and own my own business. I am not going to tell you about that as it is important that my real life identity is kept separate from my virtual one. Not because I am ashamed or embarrassed about my virtual interests of adult related activities, but simply because there are some people both in the virtual worlds and in real life who are all too ready to judge and cast aspersions, so as a matter of privacy and to avoid any aggravation, I keep the two separate.

However, my real life business is based in the service and education sector. Because of government legislation in the UK, my clients come to me as they require a permit, or licence to be able to go on and do what it is they want. This means my clients already know that they need me and my services, and so come looking for me. My clients already know they NEED my services. It is also important to point out that in my line of work, there is a zero-sum system, meaning any client that goes to my competitors is one less client for me. We do not have an endless supply of clients, and so it is important for those in my business field not to help, or collaborate with the competition. Don’t share your secrets of success with the next guy. Let them find it for themselves, or let them struggle.

If the rope is the customer, there's only one winner. (Image courtesy StayInSussex via Flickr.)

If the rope is the customer, there’s only one winner. (Image courtesy StayInSussex via Flickr.)

Unfortunately for me, I tried to apply this same strategy to the virtual world, and of course, it failed miserably, as virtual worlds are an entirely different business model. (Thank you to Maria for throwing a metaphorical bucket of cold water over me to help me see the error of my ways)

Then there was the next issue that caused me problems. For some successful grids, the virtual world is a business and a full time endeavour and some grids already have a purpose and a goal, and have the community to go with it – such as Littlefield Grid run by Walter Balazic.

But I attempted to operate a grid without the community to go with it, which is needed to succeed.

Again, relying upon my real life business model, I attempted to employ the “if you build it, they will come” strategy. This works very well for my daytime business, as my customers ALREADY need me, and so they come looking for me, and others in my industry. But it rarely works well in social virtual worlds. You need the community FIRST and then expansion to the grid as a business model.

Again relying upon my successful marketing methods of my real life business, I failed to follow the social media methods required for social virtual worlds. In other words, my project started out without a clear vision as to where it was going, I employed methods that were not suited to this sector, and quickly grew disappointed when the growth I was hoping for failed to materialise.

So what is the point of this article? After a frank email exchange with Maria Korolov — who should be a consultant by the way — I have come to the conclusion that I was going around this all the wrong way.

I have decided that for now, Avalonia Estate will continue as a dedicated Femdom grid but I am now going to focus on building a community, via events and networking with other adult-related grids. This is why I began the recently formed The Adult Metaverse Google+ community. For now, Avalonia Estate is not about making money, and running as a business, and so I wont be running any more knee-jerk plans to turn a quick buck. Hopefully in the future if things go well and I can build a community around the grid, then the money will come, but up until now, I was putting the cart before the horse.

I offer this article to other would-be grid owners, who have created a grid infrastructure and believe that they now wish to become a business and try to become the next big grid in OpenSim. Learn from my mistakes, and decide what it is you really want.

  1. What is your purpose? Just to have a private personal grid for your own amusement, or to run an organisation or run a business?
  2. Who is your target audience?
  3. Know how to reach that audience, don’t necessarily rely on current business models or experience, virtual worlds are something quite different.
  4. Ensure you have counted the cost – do you have the resources, time and energy to achieve your goal? Are you prepared to carry the costs of your grid including the necessary marketing budget to ensure your target audience is aware of your grid and why they need it?

If you know all the answers to these questions and have a plan, there is no reason you cannot succeed, but remember, almost anyone can run an OpenSim grid now, and setting up a grid infrastructure really is the easy part. It’s the marketing and business strategy that causes most to fail. Fortunately for Avalonia Estate, I believe that we are now turning around, and heading in the right direction. And it just goes to prove that my belief in the Femdom philosophy of “women really do know best,” has proved to be right again – Thank you Maria 🙂 lol.

Best of luck everyone.

Justin Ireman

Justin Ireman is the founder of the Avalonia Estate grid.

  • Justin — Thank you for your kind words!

    I’d like to point out that the “not a zero-sum game” advice applies specifically to hypergrid-enabled grids such as yours. For closed grids, it’s not a zero-sum game, but in that general direction, since there are only so many avatars and social lives a single person can maintain. Myself, I have an avatar on SL, and an avatar on my own grid that I use regularly. The rest are all ignored unless I specifically need to visit a particular closed grid for something.

    For a hypergrid-enabled grid, there is a single, hypergrid social community — I have friends on many of the grids, they all show up in my friends list, and I can IM any of them and quickly TP over to where they are. That means that as as any particular grid on the hypergrid grows, the value of ALL the grids on the hypergrid increases — more potential friends, more events, more content, more stuff to do and see. So two grids that would have been head-to-head competitors if both were closed can be partners if both are open.

    I think what you’re doing with The Adult Metaverse community — https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/112812844000583620045?cfem=1 — is a perfect example of this. Folks looking for adult stuff to do don’t have to choose between one grid or the other — they can get both. And merchants and event planners don’t have to limit themselves to residents of just one grid — they can target people on the entire hypergrid.

    I do have one (minor) quibble. Your idea of a grid is one that uses the full grid infrastructure, but I’d like to add that someone starting up a small grid should take a good look at setting it up as a mini-grid, where everything lives on a single server. It’s less expensive and takes fewer resources when you’re just starting out, and looks and feels just like a real grid to visitors. All the main OpenSim hosting vendors, like Zetamex and Dreamland, will set this up for you, and upgrade you to a full grid whenever you need more capacity.

  • Mircea Kitsune

    Overall, I think I agree with everything said here.

    There’s probably one relevant thing I can relate to, regarding the assets: Many years ago, back when I had set up my first region on OSGrid and was hosting it near Wright Plaza, I was uneasy with the thought that my region assets were kept on the grid rather than locally. Since this meant my region depends on OSGrid, and I couldn’t easily move it to another grid… which changed after the save-oar / load-oar system was added. Either way, I used “local assets” rather than “grid assets” due to this. I had to eventually convert however, because using local assets in grid mode had several issues… including people in neighboring sims not having textures on my region load until they crossed into that region.

    Ever since, I supported a system to let local assets work on any region in the same grid. This way, a region can host the textures / sounds / scripts of buildings on it, and therefore be started up on any grid at any time. There is however a problem if someone uploads a texture on a region with local assets, and wants to use it somewhere else on the grid… since if that simulator is down the asset is no longer available. So this should be used strictly for region specific assets, not items meant to be shared all over the grid. But I still support the change at this day overall.

  • Nara Malone

    Hi Justin. My start in the Metaverse sounds a lot like yours. I came to it because I use virtual builds to inspire my fiction writing and eventually made those worlds open to readers to explore. As interest from writer and readers grew I moved to a standalone with hypergrid. Interest being more than we expected we eventually had to upgrade to full grid status (don’t let our port numbers fool you we have around the grid port 8002 requirement to keep life easy for users) and Siobhan Muir and Tina Glasneck joined me in running the grid. As authors, we get that in banding together we extend reach for all of us. The hypergrid story project was our first attempt to network with other grids, and we even managed some interaction with SL. We learned a lot doing that. Our focus is authors and books, and interactive worlds based on our books. But, given that the majority of us write at least some erotic romance/adult fiction, we’re in a perfect position to join you in building community. Another grid owner with adult regions who really gets this is Mike Hart of Next Reality. He’s been wonderful about supporting what we do and providing space in his adult regions for us to interact with him and his users. I would suggest a meet-up between us and anyone else (perhaps some of the writer groups in Kitely) to plan some group projects. We’ve got a nice little fire-circle in Greyville where we like to hold meetings. Maybe we could sit there and chat some evening. I’m sure we’ll have some time zone issues to juggle. world.narasnook.com:8900:Greyville We can usually be found at noon in the cafe across from the landing zone in Greyville and again at 9 pm. It being summer and moving season, several authors are on the move this summer to new homes or new states. I have been scarce myself but perseverance will pay off. Anyone on Facebook can follow Nara Malone and I will add you to our writer loop where we share when we are going to be online.

    P.S. for Maria: Being able to comment here requires a depressing amount of perseverance.

    • Hi Nara, I have already spoken to you and met you, but only just read your post. Sounds great 🙂

  • Awesome article, Justin, thanks for expounding your experiences in learning what works and doesn’t work when setting up your own grid — this should really be mandatory reading for any ‘grid start-up’ (and thanks to Maria who helped you out so much!).

    Like Maria, I also just use two avatars — one in SL, one in my own (private, HG-enabled) grid — but, for all other private grids (at least on the major ones), I also maintain a login and password (which I keep forgetting!) in case I need to visit them, which happens very rarely (even though the one I use most is Kitely — but that’s because one of my company’s projects is hosted there!). Personally, I don’t understand how, in the very long-term, there can be a non-SL ‘metaverse’ unless all grids — small, large, standalone — are the ‘same community’, and that means Hypergrid (that’s why I’m also so excited that Kitely, a commercial grid provider, broke the long taboo that ‘commercial grids have to be closed’ and activated Hypergrid).

    If that doesn’t happen, then the future of OpenSimulator will be as a ‘platform’ — merely a sophisticated infrastructure with lots of cool features, great for having fun, doing research and projects; just like, say, Unity, ActiveWorlds, etc. — but never evolve to become ‘a grid’: the sum of ‘platform’ + ‘community’, which is what made SL last a decade.

    Because interlinking all grids with Hypergrid is taking so long, I might be proved wrong about my own conjecture. All I can say is that I still remember ‘online sites’ before there was a Web — they managed to grow as independent networks up to a certain point, but there was a tipping point (I’d say it was in 1995, when Microsoft finally publicly embraced the Internet’s World-Wide Web, and mounted their own infrastructure on top of it, instead of relying on the ‘Microsoft Network’): it became simply impossible to stop the flow of small and large interconnected networks, with one account — through your ISP — allowing you to reach all of them.

    SL/OpenSim feel a lot like the days of Compuserve and AOL, giants of online services, while people would hang around on BBSes in the mid-1980s. Then the Internet came along, and all BBSes started to use FidoNet email, quickly moving to shuffling email via uucp, and finally becoming Web servers — while dozens of thousands of new networks, communities, and organizations jumped over that step and set themselves up directly on the Internet. At some time, the internetworked communities simply overwhelmed every other attempt to remain ‘isolated’ — and threw down the giants who had their own online networks, who had no choice but to surrender to the Internet.

    To see the same happening on the virtual world scene, the community needs ways to ‘knit themselves together’ as opposed to live in isolated grids — and one day it might even be impossible for Linden Lab to stay away from it. But, alas, it’s taking far, far longer than I predicted — and it might even never happen.