What is a grid?

A couple of people have asked me by email what what my definition of a grid is, and there was also some discussion of this in the comments of previous posts, and on other blogs, such as the Elf Clan Social Network.

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term grid, which is used differently in different contexts.

The technical definition

For example, if you’re running OpenSim on a server, you can run it in “standalone mode” or “grid mode.” To some people, this indicates that an OpenSim installation is only a grid if it is running in “grid mode.”

This is technically true, and when OpenSim administrators talk to each other, they refer to their grids or their standalones.

If Hypergrid Business was a technical blog, we would observe this distinction. Just as if we were a botanical publication, we would refer to tomatoes as fruits.

We really do need a technical blog about OpenSim, oriented at gridmasters. I would love to see one, and encourage the technically-minded folks to start one. I’ll read it, and re-tweet the posts.

But we’re focused more on end users, and from the end user perspective, it’s all squares on a map. It looks like a grid, it acts like a grid, it is a grid. The same way that, to cooks and supermarket shoppers, a tomato is a vegetable and so are cucumbers.

When I need to make a distinction in an article, I refer to full grids, mini-grids, and standalone regions, and use the generic term “grid” to apply to all of them.

The virtual world definition

To many people, especially users of social virtual worlds, a grid is only useful if it has many places to go, people to meet, and activities to participate in.

By this measure, a two-region personal mini-grid or a 16-region Diva Distro used by a school for some classes, don’t qualify.

I definitely sympathize with this perspective. But I personally am not a user of social grids, and Hypergrid Business isn’t really focused on this readership segment. My personal interest is in writing for enterprise users — people who work for companies, educational institutions, government agencies, and non-profits.

There are several blogs out there that do focus on social uses of virtual worlds, the Elf Clan community just one of them.

I do understand that a lot of social users read Hypergrid Business anyway. This is why I started tracking the top-ten most trafficked grids.

Someone who wants to track social virtual worlds can set a certain cut-off point of active users and track grids that way, but I’d hate to be in a position of having to decide which was a “real” virtual world and which wasn’t.

Is a virtual world still a virtual world if it just launched, and doesn’t have any users yet? Is a virtual world a virtual world if it’s not profitable? Of it it’s run a single proprietorship — as most companies in the U.S. are — and isn’t formally incorporated? If it accepts members only by invitation?

I’m leaving it to someone else to make those kinds of judgments.

Who cares about tiny grids?

Let’s say you have a grid that’s only a few regions big — or even just one region. Is that a grid worth tracking?

Let me offer some examples.

An artist sets up a small grid to show off her work. You can’t get an account on her grid, but can teleport in via hypergrid. She holds regular events on her grid for the public, and her grid becomes a must-visit for hypergrid travelers. Is this a worthwhile grid?

A company sets up a small grid for its annual conference. The grid is mostly empty most of the year, except for occasional builders and designers stopping by, or maybe the occasional meeting. Is this a worthwhile grid?

A school sets up a small grid for its classes. It’s only used when classes are in session, and when the class is covering the particular topic that requires a virtual environment. Is this a worthwhile grid?

For me, I believe all these are great uses for OpenSim, and worthwhile. And as these successful implementations get publicized, it encourages other organizations to try out the platform as well.

That’s what I’m trying to do here at Hypergrid Business. Promote all the different uses of OpenSim so as to encourage more enterprises to try it out. This will help grow the community, inspire more people to generate content for OpenSim, and inspire others to donate code.

Eventually, I believe that grids will be as ubiquitous as websites. Every company or organization will have its own grid.

And even a one-region grid could still be worth listing — just as there are one-page websites that can be worth visiting.

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