When is a Grid, not a Grid?

No this isn’t the start of a bad joke, although as you read on, you may find that it could be, only the joke is on you…or in this case, it was on me.

Like many grid owners, and even just regular OpenSim users, I was excited when I first discovered the OpenSim project and software. “At last”, I thought “here is an opportunity to be free of the oppressive Linden Lab regime in SecondLife, including its vendor lock-in and expense.”

I began my virtual life in the free metaverse in OSgrid, and rented a region there for about a year. At this point I decided to try my hand at actually hosting my own region, so I rented a small server, which would be adequate for my own personal usage, and began hosting my own region. The sweet smell of freedom was in the air.

As time passed virtual life was just going swimmingly, until there was a change of leadership at OSgrid in early 2013. At the time this was a bit of a controversy. Whatever the merits, the pros or the cons, this change caused quite a stir in the community, and indeed many long time users of OSgrid left to find homes on other grids.

This uncertainty made me realise that my virtual life was entirely dependant upon OSgrid servers continuing to run. If they decided to cease offering free connections to the central servers, or funding dried up, they could effectively disappear over night. I am pleased to see that it didn’t, and it is still running to this day and is still the largest non-commercial OpenSim grid, and along with the likes of Metropolis, is most people’s first point of contact with OpenSim grids.

It was at this time that I decided I wanted independence. I wanted to know that my inventory and assets were safely under my control, no longer reliant upon the whims of other grid owners and their personal circumstances, so I evolved from running my own regions on OSgrid, to actually running my own grid infrastructure.

I achieved my goal, which was independence and to have my own infrastructure. Now there may be different ideas of what a “grid” is, I have heard that a grid is a community, that it is a commercial operation, you may have your own ideas also – but to me, a grid is simply the infrastructure, and one or more regions connected to a separate robust back end, and that is all.

Once my grid was running, I had intended it only for private use for my friends and family, and nothing more. For the first six months, I had achieved my goal and was successful. It was then that like most grid owners, I thought “I have a grid, now may be I can make something of this and make some money.” Getting back to the title of this article, this is where things started to go wrong.

I and a few of my friends enjoy the Femdom lifestyle, some as a bit of light play, and for some it was more serious, and so I decided that I was going to set up a dedicated Femdom grid. Now, in real life I run and own my own business. I am not going to tell you about that as it is important that my real life identity is kept separate from my virtual one. Not because I am ashamed or embarrassed about my virtual interests of adult related activities, but simply because there are some people both in the virtual worlds and in real life who are all too ready to judge and cast aspersions, so as a matter of privacy and to avoid any aggravation, I keep the two separate.

However, my real life business is based in the service and education sector. Because of government legislation in the UK, my clients come to me as they require a permit, or licence to be able to go on and do what it is they want. This means my clients already know that they need me and my services, and so come looking for me. My clients already know they NEED my services. It is also important to point out that in my line of work, there is a zero-sum system, meaning any client that goes to my competitors is one less client for me. We do not have an endless supply of clients, and so it is important for those in my business field not to help, or collaborate with the competition. Don’t share your secrets of success with the next guy. Let them find it for themselves, or let them struggle.

If the rope is the customer, there's only one winner. (Image courtesy StayInSussex via Flickr.)
If the rope is the customer, there’s only one winner. (Image courtesy StayInSussex via Flickr.)

Unfortunately for me, I tried to apply this same strategy to the virtual world, and of course, it failed miserably, as virtual worlds are an entirely different business model. (Thank you to Maria for throwing a metaphorical bucket of cold water over me to help me see the error of my ways)

Then there was the next issue that caused me problems. For some successful grids, the virtual world is a business and a full time endeavour and some grids already have a purpose and a goal, and have the community to go with it – such as Littlefield Grid run by Walter Balazic.

But I attempted to operate a grid without the community to go with it, which is needed to succeed.

Again, relying upon my real life business model, I attempted to employ the “if you build it, they will come” strategy. This works very well for my daytime business, as my customers ALREADY need me, and so they come looking for me, and others in my industry. But it rarely works well in social virtual worlds. You need the community FIRST and then expansion to the grid as a business model.

Again relying upon my successful marketing methods of my real life business, I failed to follow the social media methods required for social virtual worlds. In other words, my project started out without a clear vision as to where it was going, I employed methods that were not suited to this sector, and quickly grew disappointed when the growth I was hoping for failed to materialise.

So what is the point of this article? After a frank email exchange with Maria Korolov — who should be a consultant by the way — I have come to the conclusion that I was going around this all the wrong way.

I have decided that for now, Avalonia Estate will continue as a dedicated Femdom grid but I am now going to focus on building a community, via events and networking with other adult-related grids. This is why I began the recently formed The Adult Metaverse Google+ community. For now, Avalonia Estate is not about making money, and running as a business, and so I wont be running any more knee-jerk plans to turn a quick buck. Hopefully in the future if things go well and I can build a community around the grid, then the money will come, but up until now, I was putting the cart before the horse.

I offer this article to other would-be grid owners, who have created a grid infrastructure and believe that they now wish to become a business and try to become the next big grid in OpenSim. Learn from my mistakes, and decide what it is you really want.

  1. What is your purpose? Just to have a private personal grid for your own amusement, or to run an organisation or run a business?
  2. Who is your target audience?
  3. Know how to reach that audience, don’t necessarily rely on current business models or experience, virtual worlds are something quite different.
  4. Ensure you have counted the cost – do you have the resources, time and energy to achieve your goal? Are you prepared to carry the costs of your grid including the necessary marketing budget to ensure your target audience is aware of your grid and why they need it?

If you know all the answers to these questions and have a plan, there is no reason you cannot succeed, but remember, almost anyone can run an OpenSim grid now, and setting up a grid infrastructure really is the easy part. It’s the marketing and business strategy that causes most to fail. Fortunately for Avalonia Estate, I believe that we are now turning around, and heading in the right direction. And it just goes to prove that my belief in the Femdom philosophy of “women really do know best,” has proved to be right again – Thank you Maria 🙂 lol.

Best of luck everyone.

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