Each time I go out traveling the hypergrid, I meet someone who tells me that this is the new frontier — that this is what Second Life used to be, back at the beginning. The wide open spaces. The sense of boundless posibility.
The feeling that simply by being there, you’re stepping into the future — no, you’re forging the future. The design and building decisions you make today will help mold the 3D aesthetic, and ripple out through the metaverse.
But this new frontier isn’t as barren as desolate as it used to be.
Thanks to easy-to-set-up versions of OpenSim like the Diva Distro, Sim-on-a-Stick and — my new favorite — New World Studio, anyone can become a grid owner. All you need is a spare computer, a decent broadband connection, and a few minutes to install the software. And, if you’re using New World Studio and you’re lucky to have a supported router — or your computer is simply connected directly to your broadband modem — then you can have your grid be on the hypergrid right from the start. (Otherwise, expect to spend some time manually configuring your ports.)
A couple of years ago, just getting a grid up and running was a major accomplishment. There was no content yet, so everyone was building everything from scratch — or laboriously importing individual items that they had made in Second Life.
There were few public grids available to visit, and those that were up had many empty regions, unfinished builds, plywood boxes scattered everywhere.
That’s no longer the case. In fact, it’s easier to get a mini-grid going in OpenSim than to fill the same amount of land in Second Life. There are dozens of pre-made OAR files available for free download (see: Where to get content for OpenSim) with particularly amazing work being done by Linda Kellie, a former Second Life professional designer.
You can’t upload these OAR files to Second Life. But it only takes a few minutes to upload them to your startup OpenSim grid — or a region on an existing grid, of course — and you instantly have a perfectly landscaped region, with buildings, activities, and freebie stores stuffed with the main things you need to get started. Everything is original creations, Creative Commons-licensed, free for you to modify and use in any way you want.
Traveling the hypergrid, I’ve found Linda Kellie’s builds everywhere — or pieces of them, at least. It raises the minimum — instead of redoing all the basics from scratch, builders can now focus on customizing, improving, and making things that are unique and creative.
The biggest growth has been in personal grids. Small, four-region to 16-region setups which their owners use as a home base from which to explore the hypergrid.
There are several advantage to having a personal grid — as opposed to sims on an existing grid. The first, and most obvious, is the price. Your personal grid is there whenever you need it, you can have as many regions as your computer can support, all for zero dollars a month.
Second is privacy. Your grid runs on your home computer. The only people who can visit are those for whom you set up user accounts — or to whom you give your hypergrid address. If you like, you can list your grid on public directories, put up a website promoting it. Or you can keep it totally quiet. You can sit and think by yourself, or you can invite a small group of friends to join you. You can engage in any kind of hanky-panky you like, without fear of strangers looking over your shoulder. Or you could just build in peace.
Next, is control over your own content. Everything on your grid is yours. You can make backups of your builds, and of your inventory. If your hard drive crashes and the grid goes down with it — you have nobody but yourself to blame, and nobody to complain to. So make plenty of backups!
You can even sit there, enjoying stolen intellectual property, like some art thief in a secret den looking by himself at his stolen masterpieces. After all, even friends and loved ones can turn on you and rat you out — better be safe than sorry. And, no, I’m not endorsing this hiding-like-a-rat-in-a-hole-with-its-stolen-piece-of-cheese lifestyle! In addition to the social condemnation, soul-racking guilt, the infringement fines and penalties, the infringers are also forced into secretive, reclusive lifestyles — and where’s the joy in having great stuff if you can’t show it off to people?
But moving on….
You also have control over your technology. You upgrade the grid when you want to, on your own schedule. You can run the latest experimental release of OpenSim and upgrade every week, or you can wait until everything is tested and secured, and all the other grids have upgraded, before you do the same. You can also run the grid on a super-fast computer for great performance, or make the grid small and light, and run it on the oldest computer in the house — like I do. The OpenSim server itself doesn’t even need a graphics card — only the computer running the viewer does! Hell, it doesn’t even need a monitor. Just set it up and let it run. If you don’t crash your grid with crazy scripting, it will run forever, or until you trip over the power cord.
Artists have been known to starve in pursuit of their calling. Well, if they work in 3D and run their own OpenSim grids, they’re not starving because they’re spending their food money on land tier.
With a private grid, artists can have as much land as they want for their creations — no need to pack every square meter full of stuff. They can save previous versions of their work and go back to them at any time. And they can work while off-line or where Internet connections are slow, simply by running their mini-grid on their laptop.
They can keep their grid private while they work, then turn on hypergrid connectivity when they’re ready for visitors. And they can put up a PayPal tip jar to help pay for food, without having to spend any of it on land rental.
Not that there aren’t any artists on the public grids. Kitely is home to a few — check out the art gallery on Serenity Island or Heresy of The Intimate and Water and Glass by Karima Hoisan. Not to mention Ruben Haan’s Kliederaar on OSGrid. Or the Museo del Metaverso on Craft.
There was a rush to OpenSim when Second Life doubled prices for educators. Now, with Vivox voice widely — and freely — available, OpenSim is ready for prime time when it comes to education.
Caltech has a grid up — vCaltech. So does the University of Cincinnati.
For every public grid, however, there are an unknowable number of private grids, running behind campus firewalls.
Being on the hypergrid allows a school to hold open meetings for the public, or joint events with educators and students from other grids. A private grid, however, ensures maximum security, keeps strangers away from students — and keeps students away from some of the more risque destinations in the metaverse.
Eventually, schools will all have some regions open to the public, for events and marketing purposes, and the rest closed, for the campus community only — similar to the way they now have public Websites and private intranets for teachers, students, and parents. For their first steps into OpenSim, however, educators tend to pick one or the other, and, I suspect, most are opting for privacy and security.
Niche social grids
Niche social community are a good fit for private grids. On the one hand, these groups have their own content — and want to control it. With their own grid, they can make backups when they want, and move from one hosting provider to another if they need to. Plus, they get their own domain name. And if they’re on the hypergrid, the public can stop by and visit.
Take, for example, Littlefield Grid, an adults-only, BDSM-themed community. (Yes, you don’t want your elementary school students teleporting in here!)
By allowing hypergrid access, interested members of the public can teleport in and wander around without making a commitment. Maybe attend some events. Pick up a couple of outfits. Stop by the land rental office and check out land prices.
And it’s not just for the BDSM crowd alone. Grids like Littlefield also have a lot to contribute to the OpenSim community as a whole. Maybe you won’t be using the freebie cages for their intended purpose (which, I swear, I don’t know what it is!), but I can easily see them holding pet dragons on a fantasy-themed sim, as jail cells in a simulated police station used for training exercises, to hold tigers in a virtual circus (much more humane than a real tiger in a real circus), or as a funky elevator car. Really, the possibilities are endless. And don’t get me started on the whips and chains!
Or take AndroWorld — on S-Grid.
Let’s say you’re a man and you’re … curious .. about alternate lifestyles. You can teleport over and — like with Littlefield — check out the grid without making a commitment to creating a new avatar and figuring out how to log into a new grid and then buying all new clothes. You can do some dancing, upgrade your wardrobe, meet some people, rent a free apartment…
In fact, the hypergrid is a lot like a dispersed version of Second Life. With one avatar, you can hop around from community to community, visiting different friends, different shops, attending different events all while being able to tell yourself, “I’m just here for the music,” or, “I’m here to develop my 3D skills to make me more marketable in tomorrow’s economy.” Feel free to use that last one, by the way, to explain to your friends and family why you spend your time in-world in a furry costume.
Another trend I’m seeing more of is the use of grids to show off professional skills.
The best known of these is Jon Brouchoud’s Architecture Islands, which Brouchoud, a real architect with Crescendo Design, an architecture firm based in Madison, Wisconsin, uses to demonstrate both his virtual and his physical projects. (He also uses Kitely to sell entire pre-fab sims, which I wrote about last week.)
Now consulting firms and virtual event planning firms are also setting up grids where they can show their work, or meet with potential customers.
I was just at the Virtual-EPI grid, for example, run by Virtual Event Planners International. They help companies use immersive work environments to solve real world problems. And they also do some free classes. Which is a great way for designers, builders and consultants to promote themselves: potential customers teleport in to pick up some skills, decide that doing it yourself is possible and easily something they can handle, of course — but their time is valuable and maybe they’ll just hire a professional to do it for them.
Or take 3dCoLab, a virtual world development company. Its company grid is home to a new user training center, meeting facilties, conference halls, a virtual Detroit, a virtual fire-fighting simulation, and other builds. Very much worth visiting, if you’re not a potential customer for their services. And if you are, then it’s definitely worth visiting.
So many grids, so little time
Today, the Hyperica directory indexes 71 different grids, all of which are on the hypergrid. And here at Hypergrid Business, we track a total of 143 active social grids, of which only 26 are definitely not on the hypergrid.
But in mid-February, we were tracking 118 active grids — and in January, we were tracking just 91. (All our monthly historical statistics are here.)
Maybe we’re getting better at finding them. Or — and this is my theory — more folks are putting up grids, and making them public.
Meanwhile, the time to get recognized as one of the first 100 grids on the hypergrid is running out!
Locations mentioned in this article
Canaria grid, middle coordinates, hypergrid address: 126.96.36.199:9000 (Up part-time.)
Worlds End grid, Aloha region, upper coordinates, hypergrid address: wegrid.net:8002:Aloha
University of Cincinnati grid, upper coordinates, hypergrid address: ucsim.uc.edu:8002
vCaltech grid, lower coordinates, hypergrid address: virtual.caltech.edu:9000
Littlefield grid, upper coordinates, hypergrid address: grid.lfgrid.com:8002
AndroWorld on S-Grid, upper coordinates, hypergrid address: s-grid.net:8020:AndroWorld
Virtual-EPI grid, upper coordinates, hypergrid address: 188.8.131.52:9024:virtual event planners int
3dCoLab grid, upper coordinates, hypergrid address: 3dcolab.com:9015