Viewer envy is bitter, and stings

Last summer I decided to open a virtual office for my company. I don’t just write for Hypergrid Business — I run a company with staff in China and India, among other locations, providing outsourced editorial services to U.S. business magazines. Basically, we run foreign news bureaus for our clients.

Deep in thought on my private OpenSim beach.
Deep in thought on my private OpenSim beach.

Since the news industry these days is not particularly fond of spending money,we looked for the lowest-cost alternative that gave us the functionality we needed. Our employees needed to be able to use real names, and we needed to control all the content on our grid and be able to make regular backups.

We picked OpenSim, and installed a single region, connected to the OSGrid. Since then, we’ve migrated to a four-region megaregion running the Diva Distro of OpenSim, in full hypergrid mode as our own private mini-grid.

When we brought some new editorial interns on board last summer, we all met for the first time in our virtual offices — before meeting up in real life, in Shanghai.

Someday, I said, we’ll be able to have live desktops in here, so I could show you how to use company workflow software. I guessed that within five years, there would be application sharing in virtual worlds.

We all felt very pleased with ourselves. Well, except for our business manager, who thought we were wasting time playing games.

But other than that — we were on the cutting edge of technology.  This was what the workplace of the future was going to look like, and we were in it.  All very powerful stuff.

Then, today, I saw a photo of a guy with a webcam on his avatar’s head.

You see, the new Second Life Viewer 2 (Beta), just released, supports media on in-world surfaces. Web cam videos. Flash. Google Docs. Any Web page at all — with full interactivity. Not five years from now, but today.

Early next month, I’m bringing on a new hire based in Asia. (Note: I’m still working through resumes, looking for the perfect someone with decent English writing skills, and experience covering financial news — send yours in now!)

They will be working remotely, using various pieces of productivity software that we’ve cobbled together — Google Apps, the Dabble relational database (which we use for workflow and customer relationship management), Business Skype, our WordPress content management system, shared calendars, and so on, and so forth.

I can now pull many of these in directly onto surfaces in a virtual world, creating a little training facility where I can demonstrate how we use various tools. And I can look over their shoulder as they work on their first assignments.

I can — if I do it in Second Life.

OpenSim doesn’t yet support the new functionality — not very surprising, since it was only released yesterday. But OpenSim developers are currently working on a re-engineering of their server data structures, and won’t be able to start working on adding support for media until that’s done.

The pain is almost unbearable.

What do I do?

Do I rent space in Second Life for the training, and bring over my office from my OpenSim grid? Although I legally own all rights to the objects on my grid — they were created by employees working on company time — I am not the “creator” of all of the objects. And some of those employees are no longer with my company. Furthermore, if I move content over to Second Life, will I be able to move content back if employees contribute additional objects, textures, or scripts to the build? It would be nice if Second Life and OpenSim were able to acknowledge corporate ownership of content, but they currently don’t.

It takes time and effort to set up a nice training facility. I don’t want to have to redo it all again when OpenSim rolls out support for media.

I guess I’ll do this round of training the old-fashioned way — over the telephone.

Maria Korolov