5 ways to fund a WebGL viewer

I love Cloud Party. I love the responsive, 3D graphics. The cute tutorial. The in-world building tools. The free house.  I even love the Facebook integration.

Most of all, though, I love the fact that it’s WebGL. It runs natively in modern browsers like Chrome and Firefox and Safari — no plugin or viewer download required.

What I would like to see is a Cloud Party-style WebGL viewer, but using OpenSim as the back end instead of Cloud Party’s platform. Their platform is nice, sure, but it’s proprietary and a walled garden.

Cloud Party runs in a viewer.

A viewer built from scratch would help get OpenSim away from Second Life-related licensing issues, solve the 4096 teleport bug once and for all, and allow OpenSim greater freedom of development. However, Ilan Tochner, CEO Of Kitely, says that there’s a way to convert existing viewer code to WebGL, though it will take a little fiddling.

Either way, how do you pay for it?

Here are some ideas.

1. Crowdfunding

A WebGL viewer is exactly the kind of focused, sexy, mass-appeal project that crowdfunding was meant for.

Kickstarter,  IndieGoGo,  CrowdFunder are three popular options for crowdfunding a development project. Donors could get the opportunity to vote on features, to be beta testers, or to get custom branded viewers for their grids. They could also get credit for helping make the software possible on an “About Us” screen or page. Or they could get virtual content, like T-shirts for their avatars.

The project shouldn’t limit itself to OpenSim users for its funding — I’m sure there are plenty of role playing groups, schools, non-profits, artists, and companies using Second Life that would like to have an easier access option for their users as well.

A key success factor for the crowdfunding will be the strength of the development team. Creating a viable software product requires programming skills, yes, and a good understanding of LibOpenMetaverse, the library of messages that go between a Second Life or OpenSim server and the viewer. But it also takes project management skills, marketing skills, interface design ability, and the interpersonal skills to keep everyone on the same page.

If I was younger — and with no kids or mortgage — this is exactly the kind of project I’d want to be part of. Who doesn’t want to help make history? Right now, however, the best I can do is sit on the sidelines and cheer. Oh, and donate money. I hereby commit to donating money to any even half-way credible team that wants to make a WebGL viewer happen. Who’s with me?

2. Create a portal

Back in the early days of the Web, everyone wanted to be a portal to the Internet. Netscape had its own website that was supposed to be everything to everybody. Microsoft had its version. AOL should have been a shoe-in but had problems with opening its garden gates and seeing the possibilities of the web fast enough. Oh, and it didn’t want to give its stuff away for free while subscribers were still paying for it. So Yahoo became the de-facto entryway to the World Wide Web.

Well, there’s no Yahoo yet on the hypergrid. Okay, our Hyperica grid wants to be Yahoo. But we’re getting less than 200 unique visitors a month right now — it’s still new — so there’s plenty of opportunity for competitors to step in. Not that I’m saying I want them to, but, well, if they can do it better…

A gateway to the metaverse would have plenty of option for monetization. For example, users can be offered free avatar accounts — but if their inventories grow past a certain size, they would need to subscribe to the premium service for extra storage. Gmail works that way now — your basic mailbox is free, but if you run out of space, you can add more for a small fee.

A portal could send land to merchants, or rent out advertising billboards — tastefully, of course — promoting hypergrid destinations.

It could also track the behavior of visitors — what ads and offers do people respond to? Where do they prefer to go first? I’m not saying that I approve of this kind of intrusive privacy-violating corporate behavior. But if it helps us get a decent viewer, I might be willing to put up with it — and I’m sure someone will invent an avatar cloaking device soon enough.

3. Create a currency

Imagine if PayPal owned Netscape. By logging into your browser, you’d automatically be logging into your payment platform, and can make purchases on any site without having to provide them with your credit card numbers or home address.

On the Second Life grid, as well as on Avination and InWorldz, this is already the case — the viewer is tightly integrated with the in-world payment system. But that doesn’t work on the hypergrid. Instead, we have the OMC payments from Virwox, which require a separate confirmation step on a Website to ensure that the transaction is legitimate.

A viewer with its own payment system built in could let users and merchants avoid the hassles of dealing with multiple virtual currencies on multiple grids, and instead take payments in actual money — and keep a portion of each transaction as its commission.

The lock-in possibilities would be huge. Users wouldn’t want to switch to other viewers, because they’re using to the payment system in the first viewer. Merchants who use that viewer for payment processing will encourage their customers to use it — a competitor will have a really hard time breaking in.

And now that I’ve written that down, I feel a little scared about the future. Do we really want one giant company knowing where we go, what we do, and how much money we spend? The only comfort is that all the big giant evil corporations are currently busy battling over the mobile space right now, and aren’t paying any attention to virtual environments.

4. Sell custom viewers

Let’s back away from that scary future for a minute and look at some nicer, gentler, monetisation options. For example, a company with its own proprietary viewer can sell private-label versions of it to grid owners, customized for their particular worlds. For example, a closed corporate grid could integrate its viewer with its corporate single sign-on system, or its employee directory, or its unified communications platform.

5. Sell custom servers

Another option is to sell custom server code designed to work specifically with the viewer. Netscape tried to do this in the early days, and Japan’s 3Di took the same approach with its Web-based OpenSim package.

With a custom back end companies could, for example, integrate their product inventories into the world or run custom content management systems. The OpenSim code base is free and open source, but it’s licensed under the BSD license, which allows vendors to modify it and keep their modifications private. Many vendors and grids take advantage of this, including IBM and ReactionGrid. By being able to match up the custom server code with custom viewer code, the integration can go even deeper and be even more powerful.


Maria Korolov