Building OpenSim neighborhoods

One of the joys of social games like FarmVille is getting to visit your friends.

In a virtual world like Second Life, this is also a major attraction — your friends’ regions on the map, you can walk or teleport over.

Second Life, however, can’t scale. If millions people suddenly decide that they each want an island, Second Life’s infrastructure won’t be able to keep up. Even if they’re able to add enough servers, the overhead of tracking all those new users, their inventories, and their friends lists will grind the platform to a halt.

In OpenSim, of course, scalability is not an issue, as OpenSim core developer Justin Clark-Casey discussed in his newly-released dissertation.

An infinite number of grids can be running simultaneously, without affecting the performance of any of the other grids. It is similar to the way that anyone can put up any  number of new websites, without affecting other websites at all.

Making friends on the hypergrid

The most common way to travel from one location to another is to go to Map and type or paste the hypergrid address into the search box. This is similar to typing in a URL into the address bar at the top of your Internet browser.

Another popular way to do hypergrid travel is to user a hypergate. There are many hypergates already set up on OpenSim grids that offer a choice of destinations. In addition, anyone can set up a hypergate that only goes to one destination. This is similar to how hyperlinks are embedded on a webpage — or the way that some blogs have a “blogroll” of favorite sites in a sidebar.

But it’s a third, and little-known feature of the hypergrid, that can make the biggest impact: the hypergrid link region.

Say you have a mini-grid. A really small mini-grid — one region. When you’re on it, you’re on a tiny island surrounded by empty water. When you open your map, you’re the only one there.

Link regions allow you to point your map squares to regions on other grids. Instantly, you can fill your map up with your favorite destinations — and the regions of all of your friends.

A clever hosting provider can use this feature to set up their customers so that they seem to be located right next door to their friends.

The phrase “neighbor me” might become as ubiquitous as “friend me.”

Today, the link regions aren’t set up so that you can walk over or fly into them — otherwise, a popular region with a million virtual neighbors can be overburdened with requests from other servers trying to look in.

But a hosting provider that makes sure that all links are bi-directional — if you can see me, I can see you — can change this so that you can actually see into your neighbor’s regions, wave to them from your front porch, and walk over for a chat if you’re so inclined.