Renting or owning your OpenSim land?

Hosting providers with previous experience in Second Life are bringing some Second Life terminology with them into OpenSim.

For example, Coral Estates draws a distinction between “owning” a region and paying “tier” — and “renting” land.

“All of the land in this section of the web site is non rental and is for purchase/ownership only,” says the Coral Estates land purchase page.

There is a monthly fee for the Coral Estates regions — but that fee is called “tier,” not rent.

So what exactly do you “own” when you “buy” a region from one of these hosting companies — or, for that matter, from Second Life itself?

Do you own your region’s or grid’s domain name? You might, if you registered the URL and set it to point to the server hosting the region — but that has usually nothing to do with your OpenSim hosting provider.

Do you own the server the region runs on? Not if you’re hosting your region with a hosting company.

Do you own the content on the region? Well, in OpenSim, you own the rights to the content that you create whether you “own” or “rent” your plot of land. In Second Life, your rights to your inventory and builds is based on the Terms of Service, not on whether you “buy” or “rent” land.

Do you “own” the region’s position on the map? In OpenSim, hosting providers typically let you move the region at will, to any available spot.

In fact, OSGrid operates completely on a first-come, first-serve basis for region allotments, and whenever a region goes down for more than 48 hours, anyone can step in and take the spot. There’s been talk of setting up a reservation system for region coordinates, but no system is yet in place. A prime location on OSGrid isn’t like a domain name — you can’t pay to register it, and you can’t transfer it to someone else, except by moving your region away at exactly the right time for your buddy to move their region in.

In fact, the phrase “land owner” is very misleading in OpenSim, an artifact of the byzantine Second Life land rental system.

Coral Estates' Coral region on OSGrid.

For companies used to buying hosting for Websites, this may seem a little odd. When you put a website up on the Web, you buy a domain name — and pay an annual fee to keep it — and you rent the server space you need to host the site. You own a website by the virtue of the fact that you own the domain name and the content.

Where you host the site is irrelevant.

With OpenSim, you can own a grid. You do this by registering the domain name of the grid, buying — or renting — servers, and assembling the content for the grid. You can then rent out space on grids that you own, just as you can rent space to advertisers on websites that you own.

And just as some positions on your website — the banner on your front page, for example — are more valuable than others, so some locations on a grid are move valuable than other locations.

But few web sites permanently sell space on their sites — things change too much. The website could go out of business, or become wildly popular. Instead, web sites sell space by the click, by the month, or, sometimes, by the year.

So in this respect OpenSim hosting and website hosting are very much similar.

But in other respects, having a region in OpenSim is more akin to renting property in real life.

Moving a region — specifically, a mainland region close to key traffic routes and landmarks — isn’t as simple as moving an ad on a website, or even moving from one OpenSim hosting provider to another. Regions often develop relationships with their neighbors, in terms of roads, waterways and other landscape features. In addition, grid residents navigate a grid not only by teleporting around, but also by walking, flying, or riding vehicles between regions. As grids develop their public infrastructure further, the location of the regions will become steadily more important.

I wouldn’t be surprised if grids started selling prime slots the same way, that, say, countries auction off their radio spectrum to mobile phone companies, or ICANN registers domain names on the World Wide Web.

OSGrid and other non-profit grids could auction off prime land close to plazas, with the money raised helping to offset server costs and other operating expenses, or go to fund servers for OpenSim developers.

Commercial grids could sell prime land next to central landing areas, hyperports, meeting and event venues or near major transport routes.

Prime locations should go to the entities that value them the most, and can take the fullest advantage of them — though, of course, grid managers should seek a balance, subsidizing or supporting other uses of their land as well, such as cultural installations, parks, and other activities that improve the experience of residents and visitors. Parks and cultural facilities can also help raise the value of adjacent commercial land — just as they do in real life.

Reserving a spot on a grid map makes sense — some locations are simply more valuable than others.

But this isn’t what the “tier” concept in Second Life is about.

In Second Life, residents pay for land three times. First, they pay for a premium membership that gives them the right to get land on Second Life’s mainland. Second, they pay for “tier” — the right to get a certain amount of land each month. Finally, they pay for the land itself. (This is actually a gross oversimplification — the actual land rental system is much more complicated. And I don’t think I come close to understanding its intricacies.)

Individual grids in OpenSim may decide to duplicate these structures in order to maximize their revenues from each resident. I hope they don’t — the Second Life tier system is confusing enough without seeing individual grids each do their own take on it.

But that isn’t what Coral Estates is doing. And they couldn’t — they don’t run their own grid, they (for now, at least), host regions on OSGrid.

They rent out full regions, and they rent out parcels on full regions. They call renting a full region “ownership” since they give their renters full “owner” land permissions.

This is an artifact of the Second Life viewer interface, where land owners have certain rights to, say, edit the terrains of their land.

Bringing Second Life terminology to OpenSim can help emigrants feel more at home, but the downside is that renters who are new to virtual worlds would simply get confused.

In particular, when it comes to enterprise users more familiar with web hosting providers than the Second Life land business, vendors may want to a consider a simpler terminology, and leave the memberships and tiers on Second Life.

Maria Korolov