Friday, 29 April 2011

Opensim: Finding open metaverse grids...

With SecondLife in slow decline and the open metaverse growing it is hard to understand why the third party viewer developers are not working to help users find the grids that already exist. Moreover, we know new grids are in preparation and due to come online soon but unless they get the kind of advertising and exposure that Avination  recently got they will be hard pushed to get any notice at all as more and more new grids come on line. What I have argued for in the past is for the third party viewer developers to take a lead and do more with the grid list to help users to find more grids and the operators to gain extra exposure right where it would get the most notice, in the viewer itself.

Linden Lab's own viewer, the much promoted and maligned Viewer 2, has no grid list for obvious reasons. LL are not going to help their competitors but the best known third party viewers do support the grid list. The problem is that, while they do often give support to new server features, they don't actually support the open metaverse by promoting it. Most offer a hand full of pre-configured grids on their list but it is left to the user to add their own favourites and, while it's not that hard to add to the list, many potential recruits to the open metaverse would stumble at this point or just connect to those grids the viewer developers have chosen simply because they don't know of any others. This, of course, leaves out the many grids not favoured and, from what I have been reading, popular viewers like Phoenix are being particularly selective. And worse still, their are viewers being made available by the commercial grids that naturally are biased in favour of their own grid and, perhaps, SecondLife. Once again, competitive interest has lead to a raft of viewers that appear to cold shoulder the rest of the open metaverse.

Now, there can be other reasons to release a viewer like the need to support home grown features on the grid server. However, all viewers are essentially based on Linden Lab's viewer code and will be using the grid list feature first released in the Hippo viewer to support Opensim so it's hard to fathom why viewers like Imprudence, which is targeted at a wider audience, has been so slow to upgrade in the very area that would be most supportive. In fact we now see commercial interests like Kitely bypassing the login process altogether by inviting their customers to download a small application that takes control of their viewer regardless of the make. Kitely  makes it easy just to click a button to activate the user's viewer and log them in to their grid as if it were the only one that existed, SecondLife excluded too.

The old MeerKat grid manager

As far back as January 2010 I asked on the Imprudence forum if they might improve the gird list manager and make it possible for owners to add their grid to a database via a web page so that the viewer automatically populates the grid list. I thought that when users open their viewer they could use a search option either on the login screen or in the grid manager to scan the database in various categories. This, I argued, would keep the grid list up to date and save users having to find grid addresses to add themselves and, at the same time, allow owners to get exposure for their grids by adding them to the listing page on the web possibly with a description and even a logo. How great would that be to open your viewer and search for places to visit?

At the time I posted about this to the Imprudence forum I was told by one of the developers they would look into it later when other, more pressing, work had been done. One year on it hasn't happened but I did see a new post on the forum recently which indicated they were working on it. In response to a request to be added to their grid list a new grid operator, AvWorlds, was told their grid details had been added to a Kokua issue tracker list so they will be included on a new web site that was planned. From what I gathered the viewer will call on the database to keep the viewer list up to date just as I had originally suggested  but this is still in the works and probably will have to wait until the Kokua (SL viewer 2 compatible) viewer is finally released. Even then, the grid list improvements probably will be way down the list of priorities and the list may still not actually be searchable.

From my point of view, and no doubt that of grid operators, a searchable grid list would be the single most helpful advance in third party viewers when it comes to supporting the open metaverse and yet catering to SecondLife users or individual commercial interests still seems to get priority treatment. Imprudence, and MeerKat from the Metaverse Foundation before it, did give support but in recent times Imprudence devs seem to be struggling with uncertain priorities and a degree of burnout. MeerKat, which discontinued, had unique features some of which found their way into the Imprudence viewer but some features got quietly ignored such as the method of teleporting from SecondLife to Opensim grids and back. Even now people will argue that the inter-grid teleport feature is superceded by hypergrid and so it probably is but hypergrid doesn't actually permit teleports to SecondLife. However, with the advancement of Aurora sim and the release of Astra viewer from the team who originally developed MeerKat we are seeing both teams giving some support to Aurora Sim features such as variable sized regions so perhaps Astra devs will look at the grid list again. A really useful feature of it was the ability to store different names and password to associate with different grids.

This is what I mean by mixed priorities though. All third party developers must follow Linden Labs policy on TPVs and, enevitably, they will give priority to new secondLife features in viewer 2 which, unfortunately, was developed by a team of egocentric clowns known as 80/20 whose idea of what a viewer should be was something akin to a web browser and a cluttered mess of popup menus with thumbnails, icons and all manner of pointless gibberish that would appeal to Facebook users - so they hoped. But read how 80/20 saved SecondLife for yourself. Fortunately, the third party viewer developers seem to have heard the universal disaproval for the UI display, even if Linden Labs ignores it,  and are putting in great effort to disentangle the clutter from it. It seems to be getting priority treatment though while features needed by Opensim users are being pushed on the back burner.

I just hope Imprudence and Astra devs will look away from SecondLife for a moment and ask themselves what they can do for Opensim and the free metaverse that would be really helpful. A searchable grid list and stored identities would be something a lot of us would thank them for but I wouldn't hold my breath to see it any time soon.

For a current grid list check this out