Alife stats questioned

Leventica, Alife Virtual's welcome region, looks creepy and abandoned. (Snapshot by Maria Korolov.)

Leventica, Alife Virtual’s welcome region, looks creepy and abandoned. (Snapshot by Maria Korolov.)

Alife Virtual reported a dramatic increase in active users this month, to 1,576 unique monthly visitors, but those stats may not be accurate, according to technology expert Magnuz Binder, who has previously submitted patches to OpenSim. In his non-OpenSim life, Binder is a former academic focusing on technology and now works as a developer on Internet infrastructure-related projects in Sweden.

Binder has also been collecting daily OpenSim statistics for the past ten months, which are archived here. He then uses non-parametric ANOVA analysis to evaluate that data.

And there’s something unusual about the Alife data, he told Hypergrid Business.

“There are jumps in total users, actives, concurrency and regions for Alife Virtual at certain times during 2016, which are very hard to find any other explanation to than that the padding of the figures is manually altered at those times,” he said.

For example, he said, the grid’s active user numbers jumped from 732 at 2 p.m. on March 19 to 1,132 at 3 p.m. the same day that’s an increase of exactly 400 active users. Meanwhile, the online visitors went up from 53 to 103 during the same hour.

“The jumps are very hard to find any other explanation to than that the padding of the figures is manually altered at those times,” he said.

There was also a sudden jump of 100 users on January 5, February 9, a 200 active-user jump within a single half-hour on February 11, and jump of exactly 2,000 active users on April 25.

Alife Virtual's unusual statistics. Typically, a chart of grid stats shows jagged lines going up and down over time, not straight vertical lines. (Data courtesy Magnuz Binder.)

Alife Virtual’s unusual statistics. Typically, a chart of grid stats shows jagged lines going up and down over time, not straight vertical lines. (Data courtesy Magnuz Binder.)

“I suggest you visit Alife Virtual yourself and see all those regions, users and visitors,” he said. “I did, a number of times, even besides my regular grid monitoring.”

I did, in fact, follow his advice, visiting the grid yesterday afternoon, which was a Friday, and during the day today. I did not find anyone online yesterday, even though the grid showed 50 currently logged-in users, and only one person today.

That one person, a hypergrid visitor from The Great Canadian Grid, said that he has been in-world since 10 p.m. on Friday night and that I was the first visitor he had seen.

Maybe the other 50 users were hiding somewhere else on the grid other than the welcome region and the 60-or-so surrounding regions that I checked?

I contacted grid owner Sorin Todys, who denied that there was a problem with the statistics.

Sorin Todys

Sorin Todys

“About people in-world, the statement is very superficial and is not true,” he told Hypergrid Business. “There are many people from Second Life who asked to have regions who are situated very far from welcome region.”

 

Could he let me know whether those people were hanging out?

“I really don’t know,” he said. “I must dig in the database for get this information and now I can’t do that because I’m busy deploying new servers for new customers and you know they are top priority.”

Maybe these users have online community pages such as forums or discussion boards?

“I have the info about communities but it is hard for me to share that info,” he said.

How about confirmation from a third-party hosting firm that there is, in fact, traffic to the grid? For example, when there was a question about AviWorlds’ traffic numbers, the grid’s hosting company at the time, Zetamex, confirmed that they did, in fact, have the active users they claimed.

“We don’t use in production any third-party hosting company,” said Todys.

Maybe there are other explanations for the active user numbers besides faked stats. For example, could there be bots on the grid?

That does happen, Binder said.

Several grids pad their numbers, whether deliberately or not, by leaving avatars idling online for extended periods. And there’s a flaw in OpenSim in which avatars are sometimes not logged out correctly when they leave a grid.

“I have four such ghosts from visitors to my own test-grid, but re-wrote the SQL for stats to handle it properly,” he said. “My ANOVA analysis handles it automatically for most other grids.”

Some grids also have camping bots. Avination, for example, had to issue a policy restricting bots because, while they do increase traffic numbers, they also place a performance burden on the grid.

Binder said that he’s found a handful of bots on other grids, but they usually number a dozen or less. DigiWorldz occasionally runs endurance and performance tests using campbots, he added, but the tests aren’t done in secret, and have been mentioned in their blog.

But that wouldn’t account for a sudden jump of 400 users all at once, especially since registered user number have also increased in similar jumps. On March 19, for example, the number of registered users on Alife went up by 500, and by 1,000 on April 25 and on June 12. It doesn’t seem particularly likely that 1,000 new users all created new accounts within half an hour of each other.

It’s not just active user numbers that seem fishy, according to Binder.

The region numbers seem to be padded by 500, leaving the grid with just 67 real regions.

Maybe they have varregions?

Alife Virtual only has 256 by 256 meter regions now,” said Binder, referring to the standard region size.

Todys confirmed this.

“We don’t use verregions, just on special request if a customer ask for that,” he said.

Binder said that he didn’t expect me to fall for the fake numbers.

“I was surprised to see you publish Alife Virtual’s fantasy stats this month,” he said. “You should see that the stats stated are ludicrous, or do you really believe Alife Virtual is competing with Great Canadian Grid, Lost Paradise, Island Oasis and Kitely in activity?”

 

In fact, until this month, I have not been running Alife’s active user numbers exactly because they didn’t seem accurate to me, but Todys provided an explanation for the increase that — without seeing the daily changes that Binder pointed out — seemed credible. Namely, that the grid has been running a big promotional campaign this summer.

“Starting in July, we began offering a currency gift, a quality avatar gift, a small land gift and a shop gift,” he said. The grid also ran a limited-time $5 region offer.

I normally contact grid owners individually when the stats don’t add up. Usually, there’s some explanation of server problems or database errors, I take the grid’s word for it that the error was not intentional, the stats are fixed, and there’s no story. Other times, the grid owners do not respond, and I remove those stats from my data collection.

When a grid owners responds, confirms the stats, and offers an explanation for them, I typically take their word for it.

In this particular case, that may have been a mistake.

I’ve adjusted the monthly stats report, and will only be checking Alife’s uptime, not its statistics, until there is further information.

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.

  • Carlos Loff

    I did not know the bots or NPCs counted as user or for traffic, anyway, since I have my private dedicated server at Digiworlkdz I can rest assure I will not harm other folks servers, but it was new to me to see NPCs count for users

    • I don’t believe that the issue is with NPCs, but rather a type of bot that basically uses a stripped down viewer to log in as a registered avatar, and do automated things. This is useful when you want to test the capacity of a grid. But it can also be abused, like with “copybot” viewers.

      • Carlos Loff

        ahhh, ok, I use some cool NPCs but they are generated into prims, very low lag and phantom and I can setup any animation I want and they detect nearby folks, so when folks go away they rezz off, but ok, they are no boots and no traffic boosters

    • Da Hayward

      a lot of regions in SL used to use them Carlos to hype their traffic up, the silly sods never clicked on that bots don’t actually spend money though lol

    • Hi Carlos, NPC’s typically aren’t counted as users in grid stats due to the way they work in OpenSim. “Bots” on the other hand are “Real” avatars, but are controlled by external programs. These Bots can be logged in using a regular viewer if wanted. Bots do count towards the stats since they are regular avatars.
      DigiWorldz uses bots from time to time for monitoring, load/stress testing, and for some other projects.

      • Carlos Loff

        Oki doki, I will stick to my animated phantom low lag NPCs, cheers

  • George Miller

    Is this working NOW . . . ?

  • George Miller

    Maria are you still around ?
    GMinteractive here

  • George Miller

    anyway . . . very simple reason that the increase in people signing up is that i’m promoting to my music people about my new SIM to begin handling more traffic then normal as i’m building my head off . . .If you look at my page on G+ . . . you will see there are more then 10,000,000 (10 milloion hits on my page . . people listen when i talk . . . To me it is very simple numbers of increased people . . . Now . . . I’m not involved in WORLD PEACE but i think you should be promoting good things about the worlds out here trying their hardest to get things done . . .I’m going back to work on my stuff and leaving you to do your guess work here . . . I build worlds . . . Not tear them apart . . 73’s to all my followers that happen to read this crazy article . . .

    George Miller . . known as GMinteractive for over 20 years now . . . POOF . . .

    • Han Held

      quote:
      . . .If you look at my page on G+ . . . you will see there are more
      then 10,000,000 (10 milloion hits on my page . . people listen when i
      talk . . .
      /quote

      Link please? At your invitation I did a search for GMinteractive on G+ and the only pages I found had 70k, 9k, 3k and 24k views. Nothing wrong with that (views ..like grid stats…are a poor indicator of influence), but it doesn’t match up with your claim of 10 million hits.

  • Han Held

    My posts aren’t showing up.
    At all.
    And haven’t been.
    Why is that?
    Hello?
    Hello?

    Anyways, I only came by to vouch for Magnuz. He’s extremely professional and in the time I’ve known him he always backs up his claims with numbers and facts. Number padding is extremely common out here.

    For that reason, “grid statistics” are largely meaningless garbage.

  • I felt the same, Han. To came along to … to do what? For something like a laudatory speech, I guess. Yes, he is very professional. But he is also a nice, gentle and a smart person. He did (and do) so much for OpenSim, the Hypergrid and also for our Grid.

    Metropolis would be history without Magnuz Binder. He supported us in very hard times (and today).

    Thank you for all, Magnuz. Especialy for your kindness and warmth.

    We love you!

  • Frank Corsi

    Sorry to see another grid owner attacked over stats! I can never understand why Maria has to humiliate grid owners over stats.
    I have still a negative article here over a grid that was not even open yet. My Under development grid got blasted over what was called fake stats. This effects business for many years to come for a grid owner. I constantly have to explain to people how the article is about a grid that was UNDER DEVELOPMENT… and Im asked why did maria feel the need to warn everyone about this?? I say who knows! LOL

  • SkyLifeGrid

    I. Sure all of this was a big mistake and Sorin Todys is a super smart and great guy I’m sure his grid will prosper and if he needs any help. I’m here if you need. You have the Full support of SkyLifeGrid. P.s we provide exceptional hosting at a fraction of the completions prices. We have a powerful administration / user interface for total grid control. That along with top notch service I hope you or others will give us a shot. Visit skylifegrids website and see the grid hosting page. Keep up the good work Sorin.

  • Magnuz Binder

    I’ll try to keep this somewhat short, even if I with no major problems could make a brick novel out of it.

    1. Thank you for your support and warm words, Han Held and Lena Vanilli.

    2. Han Held is absolutely right that it’s what you actually experience that matters. Stats might give you a hint of what to expect, but they can also be very misleading, gamed or not. That’s one reason why I keep my own stats compilation pretty low profile. I don’t agree that concurrency numbers are worthless, if vetted properly, but that’s another religious war.

    3. Normally I wouldn’t bother to point out a single grid having “problems” with their statistics, but when it affects the entire compilation and write-up, or is the sign of a systematic error, it’s hard for me to sit on my hands. I chose to notify Hypergrid Business in a private mail, rather than stirring another drama in the comments, and would probably just have dropped the questionable data with a short note about the change, if it had been my publication, but then again, I stopped playing journalist some 20 years ago.

    4. The main reason I reacted to Alife Virtual’s dubious stats is that they are a grid actively trying to lure in paying customers, and according to the owner including some from Second Life. If these people come with the expectation of a vibrant grid full of people and activity, from the stats, and end up finding out they have been tricked to invest money, time and effort in a deserted ghost house, there is a pretty big risk they will leave with the impression that OpenSimulator is just a big bluff, and spread that word. And seriously, we don’t need any more badwill ambassadors like that, just because some unscrupulous grid owners want to make an extra buck.

    5. It is easy to game not just concurrency, like Han Held said, but also number of actives. When I make my hypergrid tours, for the photographic travelogue I try to publish somewhat recurrently, I visit some 240 OpenSimulator worlds in a month, of which some 160 worlds report hypergrid visitors as actives. That means, I alone make up 0.5% of the 32215 total actives reported by Hypergrid Business, and another mere 200 nutjobs like me could then easily double that figure.

  • SkyLifeGrid

    Shame to see that people must go through such leingths to achieve status. We at SkyLifeGrid just added over 1000 regions in the past few days. Creating our mainland and ocean islands. I wish I had as many users playing :). Come join us everyone :). We use ubode physics and are secondlife drag and drop. We just got virtech and a few clothing designers. Who will be the next top merchant?

    • mainland with working choo choo trains 😀
      but you Mr. Boam can build the airport and marina xD

    • Da Hayward

      geez josh stop advertising

      • we dont have a PR or marketing person yet so he is doing both plus tech, cfo and ceo stuff 🙁

        • Da Hayward

          So true and by all accounts he seems do be doing very well. But don’t you think it would be better say for example getting advertising off Maria to promote the hosting and Grid. To me continually promoting the services in forums is almost a plead. An ad space would carry a lot more weight with me than this.

          • SkyLifeGrid

            I agree only whispers get heard too looking for about 20 merchants to get free shops for life in our shopping malls we require at least 2 years of in business prior to getting the shop each shop comes with 750 prims and can be decorated inside and out how you like. The stores are first come first serve so get the, before they are gone!!! The first half of the shppong mall 1 is already taken do not wait !,,

          • Da Hayward

            rofl

          • /facepalm. now im going to say it for you Da Hayward.
            JOSH stop advertising our grid like this, it really does make you look desperate for business. There is a old saying “if you build it they will come”, it says nothing about then spamming online comments with ads. Let’s just focus on building the grid first while we looking for someone for marketing.

  • Douglas Maxwell

    I have questions about the analysis. Can you discuss your Ho and what incoming assumptions you were making about the nature of the data to arrive at the conclusion that KW was the right method to use? Also what alternate method are you using to verify the conclusions? Lastly, can you defend the use of non-parametrics? A stronger argument for your conclusion can be made if you can argue normalized data and it looks like you have enough to easily do that.

  • Douglas Maxwell

    I’d like to first thank Mr. Binder for providing me his raw data and I’ve had a chance to take a look. There are a number of explanations for what we are seeing here. I agree that the number of grid accounts should look like a steady curve, not a stepped function, for an entertainment grid. However, we have seen situations in the MOSES project where a professor will ask an entire university class of people to register at once. We will see a dozen or more people request accounts per day over a short period of time. We also template accounts, and for a military course, we will create up to 80 soldier accounts in a single day in preparation for an upcoming training exercise.

    If Alife Grid is supporting limited engagements and events, then sudden jumps in accounts would be logically explanable. I am curious to know why there are jumps of hundreds of accounts in a single day. One thing about this data I really liked was that it sampled in 30 minute intervals. With this, you can detect natural account behaviors. There are certain cyclical patterns we see based on the average location of the majority of the users. In our case, most of the MOSES users fall into the four US timezones. In our grids, we see almost no activity outside normal business hours, but spikes of activity in our mid-mornings and mid-afternoons. None of these patterns are present in Mr. Binder’s data. In other words, people should be coming and going. This could be something Mr. Todis could speak to.

    Let’s talk about the data for a moment. At any given time, we have a few orphaned accounts of people who didn’t exit cleanly. They may have powered down their computers without exiting the client properly. They get reported as online incorrectly. Also, bots are reported incorrectly as online users, even though a poll of the user database will show a different number.

    There are two types of statistics at play here. The descriptive statistics plotted in the article do show steps (sudden jumps) in the amount of registered users. The analytical statistics will tell us if those jumps are significant or not. ANOVA says yes in a few of the cases. I’ve explained how that can happen above and Mr. Todis could elaborate if there was an event or mass migration of some kind.

    A word of caution with respect to data analysis. I can see in the data where the most pronounced jumps in user accounts happen after outages. The open simulator is wickedly complicated and disaster recovery is a dark art. It could be that Mr. Todis’ recovery plan has a flaw in it and duplicate accounts are accidentally created. This could be an innocent mistake.

    The point I’d like to make is that pointing fingers and making accusations of wrongdoing is not appropriate. Be a community and not crabs in a barrel.

  • It’s not incredible at all. Just say nothing for a week or two and another totally different grid or person will be the topic of the day. Don’t worry, be happy (I know there is a song about that someplace)

  • SkyLifeGrid

    @sorintodis:disqus You have a friend in me.. If you ever need help Please contact me