Second Life, Facebook, and OpenSim

When asked about the difference between Second Life and OpenSim I frequently explain that, for enterprise users, having a region in Second Life is a lot like having a page on Facebook — and using OpenSim is like having your own website.

This was recently underscored for me by my experience with the Hypergrid Entrepreneurs Facebook group. (Go ahead, join up.)

I founded this group a couple of years ago, back when OpenSim was still new and shiny for me and we held a number of meetings, first on OSGrid, then on my company grid. By the time other concerns got in the way and the meetings trailed off, about a year ago, it was a pretty sizeable group.

We would get together to discuss the kinds of things that OpenSim could be used for … eventually … and try to figure out ways around its short comings. Also, we wondered why we couldn’t get a decent viewer, decent voice, or get anyone interested in it.

How times have changed! Sure, we still don’t have a decent viewer, but Vivox voice is excellent — and free for small grids and non profits — and interest in OpenSim is exploding.

Instead of vendors bemoaning the fact that they can’t get customers interested in OpenSim, customers are emailing me complaining that they can’t get their vendors’ attention.

So it was time to get the Hypergrid Entrepreneurs Group reactivated.

Facebook saved our old snapshots -- but not our old members.

Imagine my surprise to discover that Facebook, as part of its upgrade, had “improved” our group by deleting all its members.

See, that’s the price you pay when you let an outside company own your member lists.

But Facebook and Second Life are alike in more than just the fact that they own the user accounts. They have many more similarities, as well.

  • Both Facebook and Second Life own the users’ social graph — who’s friends with who. If you’re a large company or other organization, you probably don’t want a third party owning this information. Instead, you probably want to set up an enterprise-grade, behind-the-firewall social network for your employees to exchange information.
  • If you do business on Facebook or Second Life, they own your customers’ contact information. If you sell directly from your website, you own it.
  • If you have a region on Second Life, or a page on Facebook, you have some control over the content that’s up there. But Second Life and Facebook also have a great deal of control. Second Life can tell you what you can and cannot put on your region, how many prims you can have, how many scripts you can run, how big individual prims are, and much more. They can remove content at will. Facebook goes even further, changing the look and feel of pages on a whim. And even if you don’t mind the way they do things today, there’s no guarantee that they won’t change everything around tomorrow.
  • You can easily move out. If you have a region on Second Life, you can’t just pack up your region and take it to another grid. And you certainly won’t be able to take your social graph with you, your followers, your group members or your customers. Similarly, if you want to move from Facebook to another social network, you’ll have to start over again mostly from scratch.
  • Both platforms are great for social outreach and marketing. Both Second Life and Facebook have the biggest user bases in their respective industry segments. No other grid compares to Second Life or comes close. No other social network compares to Facebook.

And having your own OpenSim grid is a lot like having your own website:

  • You get to decide all the details of what goes on your website — and on your grid. You decide the maximum prims per region. You decide how big the regions themselves are. You decide how many scripts you want to have running simultaneously — if you’re willing to pay for the required server capacity. You get to decide whether you’re going to have X-rated content, or only G-rated content, or only rabbit-related content. It’s your grid, it’s your decision.
  • If your Web hosting company is unresponsive, or charging too much, you can download your entire website and move it somewhere else. If your OpenSim hosting company isn’t doing it for you, you can move your OpenSim grid to another host.
  • If you’re technically inclined, you can run ¬†your website from your home computer, for free. Ditto for OpenSim.
  • You own your users. When people sign up for membership on your Website, and fill out a membership form, you own all the data on the form. If they’re your employees or students, you can assign them user accounts on your Website — or, more likely, your intranet site. Similarly, when people register for accounts on your grid, you own all that registration information. Or you can create accounts for your employees, students, or customers.
  • And, just as people set up Websites that try to mimic Facebook, you can set up a grid to try to mimic Second Life, if you want.

So am I going to set up a separate Website and social network for the Hypergrid Entrepreneurs Group? Nope. Despite their problems, Facebook still does a much better job at this than I could do, and it’s a great way to reach a lot of people I wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. Plus, they’ve got a great group calendar system.

Similarly, I don’t recommend that people abandon Second Life or other closed commercial grids. They’re great for networking, great for socializing, great for outreach.

But, at the same time, I’m not going to be moving the Hypergrid Business website itself over to Facebook — my content matters too much to me. I want the Website to look the way it does, I want to be able to add new functionality when I want, and I want to be able to get it hosted anywhere I want. Plus, I want to be the one who makes money from the ads, not someone else.

Fortunately, it’s not an either-or situation. Facebook isn’t going to kick me out for having my own Website. In fact, Facebook encourages me to share Hypergrid Business links.

And my hosting provider didn’t demand that I give up my user accounts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn before renting me server space.

You can have a private grid for your customers, students, or employees, and still use commercial grids like Second Life for networking and outreach, and even sales and marketing, if you’re in the virtual goods industry.

Maria Korolov