Thursday, 16 February 2012

Second Life shrinks as the Hidden Metaverse expands!

Since this time last year Second Life lost 1,384 regions according to Grid Survey but, more worrying for Linden Labs, is the loss of 858 sims in the past two months alone. Now consider concurrency hovering around 60k peak daily traffic which has remained static for several years leaving the grid with no growth despite Linden Lab's claims of over 10,000 new sign-up's per day.  It is clear that people are leaving as fast as they are joining and it is the  creative people, enterprise and educational institutions who are leading the exodus (for example; Rivers Run Red, a virtual design company closed 30 sims and left to join Kitely in the past month). Moreover, if the current rate of loss continues Second Life will loose over 4,000 regions by the end of 2012. In contrast the open Metaverse has seen another sharp rise in regions and traffic according to a Hypergrid Business report "OpenSim exceeds Second Life private regions"

Whatever happens it is clear that the slow decline appears to be gaining momentum and the reasons are not hard to fathom. Linden Lab seems to have been dithering with uncertain priorities since the rot set in back in 2008 during the Open spaces fiasco when the Lab's reputation took a dive they have never really recovered from. Since that time they have consistently failed the residents with exceptionally poor customer services, consistently faltering platform software and the gradual, and to my mind, deceitful undermining of the very premise on which Second Life was built - user participation.

Originally, Linden Labs sold Second Life on the slogan "Your World, Your Imagination" and they built into the system the means to create content and easily capitalize on it by distributing it to a growing population pursuing their own varied gaming and social themes. The Lab provided an economy with token currency and users found they could make money and build business' from selling content, offering services and renting out land. It proved to be a successful business model and the platform thrived.

In recent times, however, Linden Lab's managers appear to have taken a very blinkered course in the pursuit of greater profitability. They don't appear happy to rely on the high land-pricing structure they have in place for sim hosting, nor are they content to earn money off of uploads and other services. The Lab has blundered from one bad decision to another which has left the in-world markets and stores empty while they reap a profit from their web marketplace and they undermine their land market with free homes to gain more premium memberships. What the residents want is a well maintained grid to pursue their dreams and businesses. What they get is instability, uncertainty, profit grabbing and the feeling the Lab could not care less about the residents wishes and needs.

The Hidden Metaverse

The core business of all virtual world operators is the sale and renting of virtual land. Linden Labs earns the balk of it's money operating a vast server farm to run all the sims on their grid and, for the most part, this is how Opensim grid operators make their money too. The operators are all essentially server hosts regardless whether they call their setup platform a grid or admit to being nothing more than a host connecting sims to other grids.

In fact there are a lot of hosts that will set you up in a Hypergrid enabled standalone or connect you directly to some other grid like OSgrid which allows anyone to connect and take part in it's community. Hypergrid Business blog has a good list but, anyway, in the past year OSgrid has grown in leaps and bounds (currently exceeding 11,000 regions) despite periodic culling of unused or abandoned slots (grid coordinates). But, regardless of the culling, OSgrid dose appear to go through periods of growth and decline anyway as communities sprout up then branch out as the owners learn the platform technicalities. Often, after a short "learning" spell in OSgrid we see some create hypergrid enabled standalone worlds while retaining one sim in OSgrid as a gateway. Small satellite worlds have been quietly growing in number in recent years and an example of this would be United Federated Starfleet, a Trekie community.

UFS now supports a grid of 29 regions and a user base of over 700. The Trekies hail from Second Life of course where they still have a community and sell clothes and other merchandise. They branched out to OSgrid a few years back then went on to developed their own grid which appears mildly active. I regularly see traffic of 15 or more on the grid and, of course, these numbers are not recorded anywhere other than the grid itself.

There are many small grids or standalone sims like this - probably in the hundreds if not a thousand or more given the number of downloads of Diva Distro, Sim on a Stick and the core platform code itself. The platform code has been downloaded thousands of times so it is reasonable to suggest that there are thousands of small virtual worlds that quietly make up the hidden Metaverse. Certainly, when you go looking you find them if you search hard enough. The best way to find the hidden Metaverse is to teleport to them via Hypergates and many regions in OSgrid offer stargates (teleporters) that help you on your way but you can type in a grid address anyway and do some traveling. Even better are the type of gate you just walk through and it teleports you to a pre-selected grid. Linda Kellie, the well known content creator who gives her stuff away free has a building on her Airy Bay region which is kinda of like Alice in Wonderland where there are many doors round the room leading to the worlds she has selected for you. All you do is walk right through.

Gaga tries another door at Airy Bay wondering what world she will be teleported to if she dare enter.

In my own travels I came upon Lani Global's world of Dune on OSgrid where those amazing giant sand worms slither across the surface then burst up from the sands with gapping jaws. Lani runs a Sci-Fi role play based on Dune and supporters have built up their own sims in the same cluster. In deed, being something of a Sci-Fi fan myself, I recently added a sim which represents an asteroid on which my spaceship crash landed. Lani's graphic designs are something of a Must-see marvel and there is a freebie store in the Pyramid offering lots of Sci-Fi related content including the LGS combat meter.

Gaga braves the Dune world created by Lani Global

The hosted estates in OSgrid are generally the best resourced and least laggy. Often too, this is where you will find stores selling content for real money using something like Paypal or OMC. OSgrid is serving a growing Adult community too and the managers seem to have become more tolerant to it. In the early days of the grid the managers where more cautious but times have change. I don't know of any gambling sims on the grid although I have seen a few Zyngo type slot machines but the BDSM and Gor communities do seem well
Shock horror as giant spice worm bursts from the sand
 catered for and attracting residents. It's hard to say exactly how OSgrid is going to develop but my guess is that it has a bright future continuing on it's present course. It certainly works as a HUB for the hidden Metaverse and as a learning platform for all those budding builders that come after. I regularly see OSgrid traffic peeking around 200 plus these days and though the community is somewhat floating unlike InWorldz, which has a more stayed community, there is enough support, mentors and help at the Plaza sims to assist noobs settle in. There may even be two factions in OSgrid such as those who encourage the freebie culture and the professional hosting estates, often built on ethic, cultural and language lines. They tend to build their own communities similar to mainland in Second Life then rent out land plots and sims around their islands which often look like their real homeland. The Dutch and Germans seem well represented both on OSgrid and amongst the satellite hypergrid sims.

W.A Fashions at Littlefield.  Gaga shops here for her boots!

The Open Metaverse in general is maturing and Opensim in particular is becoming more stable and feature-rich. There is great opportunity for budding entrepreneurs to build mods or applications for gaming similar to puzzle games and quests as Lani Global has done. Some functions in the German-language Metropolis Grid have been optimized for use on mobile devices like iPhones and SmartPhones. Currently the following functions for smart phones are supported: Grid Status displays online users, News is covered in Metro News and the Metropolis Forum is accessible on the phones too. In the future there are plans to run Metropolis itself on a phone too.

M.A Rentals. One of the vast hosting estates on OSgrid

In the rest of the Metaverse, the walled garden grids which don't allow hypergrid teleports or content to leave their grids continue to gain residents but fortunes are shifting like the sands of time. Avination has seen a decline in the last half of 2011 after it's meteoric rise to leading grid at the start of the year when it had over 1,000 sims and daily peaks in traffic of 300 plus. Since then it has lost over 500 sims and traffic has dropped to peaks around 100. It has been said Avination had more casinos at one time than users to fill them but clearly there were some successful clubs. Many have since closed. InWorldz on the other hand has worked it's way back into the lead gaining sims and user traffic peaking in excess of 200 a day. Both grids are closed worlds for content security reasons so play no part in hypergrid travel and don't enjoy visitors via HG teleports which is unfortunate for their vendors but it is perfectly understandable since they want to attract top class content sellers who don't want their virtual goods copied and resold in Second Life.
Gaga visits the beautiful 1001 Arabian Nights

Infinity Lights Art Gallery

Content security remains an important issue in the development of the open Metaverse and the developers continue to work on solutions. However, It may still be a long time before we see the walls come down and the barriers lifted on the free flow of traffic and content across the whole Metaverse but I believe, ultimately, it must happen and a greater market will open up. Second Life is in slow decline anyway because it's a closed grid and the alternative technology is improving to the point of opening up the Metaverse just as the world wide web was opened up 20 years ago. OSgrid is in a unique position as the test bed for the developers who generously allowed anyone and everyone to connect their sims to it. In my view it has come to represent more than just another grid. I would describe OSgrid as a microcosm of both the visible and the hidden Metaverse in fact since so much of it originates there before branching out. And, mores the point, most of the branching simulators link back just as if all roads lead to Rome.


  1. Great article. Thanks for writing about my place. It is still a work in progress. I never ever go to SL anymore. And, as you know, I am a major fan of OSGrid and InWorldz. OSGrid being my favorite OpenSim grid and Inworldz being my favorite closed grid. I'm glad to see that both are doing so well with all the hard work the admin. and founders put into those places.
    Great communities as well.

    1. Hi Linda. Your more than welcome and Airy Bay deserves a big mention. I love what you have done there and while I'm replying a big thank you for your generosity to the community. Now, if you are making Arabian style clothes *laughs* I will the first customer!

      Keep up the good work sister *hugs*

  2. I agree, great article.

    "Content security remains an important issue in the development of the open Metaverse and the developers continue to work on solutions.". I agree that content security is a must have to open up the closed worlds and to develop a true MetaVerse economy. I like the idea of a 4th permission, Grid Import/Export. But it would also take an agreed upon acceptance by all for it to work.

    1. Hi Sarge. Yes, I have had some long chats to Whitestar Magic about the 4th (import/export) perm but I know there are arguments that Opensim can never be fully secure given the fact anyone could set up a sim and change the code to get over the perms then go shopping on the hypergrid. However, I am sure the developers are working in mysterious ways and solutions may one day be forthcoming. Personally, I think, in the end, some kind of association of trusted grids might work. Who knows?


    2. This was discussed loosely in November 2010 but no feature suggestion was posted to OpenSim Mantis (did however get one in Simian).

      Idea Origination:
      In November of 2010 when Aurora-Sim was going public open-source, there was some discussions about adding an additional asset flag within the simulator software itself. These discussions included folks @ SimianGrid developers, Aurora-Sim dev's, a couple of OpenSim Dev's and some viewer developers from Imprudence. It was felt at that time, that from a viewer stand point this could be accomplished without a major effort. The required changes were identified by Armin Weatherhax within the viewer source for object_flags & llpanelpermissions as reference for these changes, in addition to the obvious UI panels that would have to be adjusted...

      The Problem:
      At present, neither the viewers available nor OpenSim have a method that can be used to restrict assets for Exportation. The standard Copy, Modify, Transfer restrictions are the only ones available to users & content creators. As everyone is aware, OpenSim has the ability to create backups of personal inventory by using IAR or backing up an entire region to OAR will properly backup all material / content as is. Additionally, with the growing use of Hypergrid, many content creators are hesitant with putting new products into OpenSim as there is a potential for this content to be pulled out and reused in other venues like SecondLife(tm) or other grids. This lack of capability/functionality has also kept many excellent content creator's from venturing out into the Greater Metaverse as their concerns for the security of their created content is quite reasonable & valid. The end result has been a dampening of the desire to create extensive content, including scripted systems, device and builds, effectively hampering growth & adoption of OpenSim across a broader audience. There are several closed grids in operation with currencies / economies and they remain closed to Hypergrid partly over the content security issue which is ever prevalent.

      The Solution:
      The addition of an extra asset flag Server & Viewer side so that creators would have the option to allow “export” a piece of content or not. Effectively, this could provide an in-viewer permissions option as Copy, Mod, Transfer, Export. The use of the export permission flag would, if checked (allowed) allow an individual to export content via XML, IAR or OAR as is the case today. If the export permission flag is set to disallow, then the material could be prevented from XML, IAR, OAR and HG (Hypergrid), effectively keeping that content within the “origin grid” that it is located in. Hypergrid content transfer is addressed here because by virtue of using HG, the content is effectively being moved from one physical data server to another and therefore is considered as “exported from origin”.

      I personally feel that such a measure would not only enhance OpenSim & the Metaverse at large, it's an appropriate response to the concerns of creators and the security of the content they are making. I also realize, that in "some camps of thought" this idea would be rejected out of hand as this is divergent from the LL/SL compatibility mantra but I reitterate that SecondLife(tm) is a "baseline" from which to look at, buiild upon and extend beyond (as is the case with osFunctions, NPC, LightShare/WindLight ad infinitum).

      In Fact, I opened a Mantis today on OpenSim for this feature/function:

    3. Hey WS *hugs*

      I like what Breen said in a comment further down.

    4. My proposal for this was to use full perms as an indication that content could be exported. Commercial grids that want to be open to hypergrid travelers would check the perms before letting an object off its grid. This is already possible for OAR exports -- Kitely and a couple of other grids are filtering OARs so that you only get stuff you have the right to copy and transfer out.

      If you have your own minigrid, yes, you can change the perms on your items -- but you won't be able to get those items to your mini-grid in the first place. You'll only be able to bring over items whose creators allow them to travel.

      Over time, though, the issue of content DRM will probably go away -- after all, text, photos, music, videos, and 3d content are all sold over the Internet with no DRM. You can't stop the hackers -- they'll get this stuff anyway. But they're not your target market, since they wouldn't be spending money. Sic the DMCA on them, instead.

      Meanwhile, make life easier for your actual customers -- make it easy for them to find your content, to pay for it, to take it home, and to use it.

      One problem the music industry has (which iTunes seems to have fixed) was that stolen MP3s were actually more usable than paid-for music -- you could save backups, for example, and play them on multiple devices. Why penalize your actual customers by giving them an inferior product in return for their money?

      But commercial grids can implement this strategy right now, thorugh vendor scripting -- just check if the buyer is local, or a hypergrid visitor. If a hypergrid visitor, only allow them to buy full-perm items -- and apologize and tell them to become a local resident if they want anything else.

      And you can ask your local residents to only take full-perm items off world, and ask them to sign a TOS to that effect.

      This won't stop the hackers -- but then, as I mentioned before, nothing can stop the hackers.

      For truly high-end content, with complex scripting, I'm really surprised that more grids aren't taking advantage of OpenSim's ability to run server-side modules.

      In effect, you can create your own script commands -- commands that only work on your grid. If content is taken off-grid, it becomes unusable.

      After all, all of Google's content is right there on the Web, ready to be copied. Search for whatever you wand, and cut-and-paste the results. It's the behind-the-scenes technology that make Google so valuable -- and unique.

    5. Hi Maria,

      Currently, OpenSim has for OAR's a --perm= switch which allows C (copy), T(transfer), CT (both) or null which is allow 'all' content to be saved out.

      The Export Flag would not only affect OAR's but IAR's and Viewer Exports as well. No Export means simply no export. Of course someone could maliciously hack OpenSim code to override such but that is not within the purview of an open-source application like OpenSim. Just like Apache Server can be hacked to be malicious, it's not Apache's fault nor responsibility that someone abused the code.

      While at the moment, Mesh is still being implemented and coming into it's own, the export flag could & should also apply to mesh items. As we are all aware, there are various restrictions on mesh content depending on source, but consider something sold on Turbo-squid for $200 USD hitting a grid, and then being exported ... in no time it will appears everywhere and the creator who sold that item on Turbo-Squid Gert's shafted. Or commercial Mesh Objects libraries which has varying restrictions.

      It only makes good sense for OpenSim to consider flagging exportable content and to reduce potential liabilities. By putting their best foot forward and putting the mechanisms in place to protect content, they have done their best and cannot be held liable. If someone hacks the source to defeat that, it has nothing to do with OpenSim or it having any liability as it's not their doing.

      This would not break the "compatibility" with SecondLife(tm) anymore than using osFunctions in your scripts or LightShare(tm). If a viewer does not have the export-flag patch, the OpenSim default values are used and it's transparent to the user.

  3. that 1,384 loss is a big one, but they don't care - trying to get free blog articles is their attempt at saving it and that's kind of a poor one (why is it that you and i can blog like mad, get great readership, yet a $70 million dollar a year company can't blog themselves? maybe if they let Torley be free rather than whatever crappy job duties they placed on him - i miss Torley badly =(

    i love that UFS grid, it sounds like a lot of fun! *Ener misses fun - i've been shackled to our grid by the nefarious subQuark*

    OpenSim is the destination for enlightened avatars (yes, i am a snob and if someone doesn't like that, the can go suck it) =D

    btw, Prok must go apepoop with your blog - Prok had a cow that i used "so many images" and i only use like one per post! you are a beast with your images (me likes them very much - me likes piture menus too) =)

    thanks for the awesome post!

    ps - i loooove your white boots!

    1. Hi Ener. I think with LL it's general policy that if in doubt say nothing. I just think they can't be bothered and it's a take it or leave it attitude they have. What matters to them is profit.

      I visited Deep Space 9 and it is rather good but no one there at the time of my visit. I will try again soon (btw, is your grid BDSM? haha, well, you did mention shackles!)

      Hey, join the snob sisters!

      I am partially deaf so I guess I compensate with a strong visual sense. Anyway, like they say; a picture can say a thousand words.

      Oh, I have a boot fetish BTW *laughs*

  4. The Prokodile is still swimming about? Getting dissed by Prok is a + as far as I'm concerned. Congrats to both of you, Gaga and Ener :-D

    1. I never read Prok so I wouldn't know if she dissed me. From what I gather though it's something of an honor *haha*

  5. great post! I love my regions in OsGrid and need to visit them more, but I have more friends in other grids. Still nothing comes for free and I have to be in the grid to make connections I guess... I love your Sci-Fi outfit xxx


  6. Pounces da Mera gurl!

    Nothing like flashing a little pixel botty eh? If you can do it so can I *haha*

    I made the prim belt, holseter and back pack (there is a space helmet too). The top and lace panties came from Linda's collection and the boots from W.A at Littlefield.

    hmm maybe I should take up fashion editing for the open Metaverse, heh

    Gaga *hugs*

  7. Gaga,

    Great article. I'm totally hooked on the open sim view of virtual worlds now. OSGrid is like a candy store with all it's tasty regions and fascinations. I've said it before but because of the prohibitive cost of SL I really think the open sim is where the creativity flourishes and the people are relaxed and happy.

    Linda - I adore your Airy Bay. I got to see it for all of 5 minutes one day before RL stole me to AFK but it looks great.

    Gaga and Ener - I'm also a member of UFS Grid and I love it. The detail they've put into their builds is mind blowing. My name there is Havir Aya if you want to track me down:)


    1. Hi Jamie

      I absolutely agree, I've noticed a sudden influx of people to OSgrid these past two months and a sure sign is the rapid growth of regions. OSgrid, as my article points out, is unique in that it has become a HUB for the hypergrid. We have seen growth in the community and in traffic flowing back and forth to the outer standalone's and mini grids. I've noticed too considerable increase in content available. The low cost is obviously playing a part but a lot will also mention the freedom too.

      I will try get back to UFS soon. I really would like to take a better look round so I will look you up.


  8. Very good "state-of-the-play" view of where things are at Opensim wise. As an opinion, its about as on the mark as one could get.

    The word "floaty" is a good choice in the article. Indeed, things are floaty.

    The Airy Bay teleport system is very nice. What a fresh way of portraying the usual space gate presentation.

    Re the perms issue. Possibly the way(broadly) would be Opensimulator's Overte Foundation running an "anti-cheat" server similar to Steam's VAC system. A private gird would get its "I am unmodified" Key from the Overte server. This "certified" badge would mean content creators could sell with confidence(after some code is developed that WhiteStar summarizes above).

    @Ener "Prok had a cow that i used "so many images"
    I recall that. The images on FlickR serve as a solid history of time in SL and moving through Opensim. Prok is a "shock journo" using identified strategies to keep readers hooked. Inflammatory statements, "information scraps" generates a self-perpetuating engine that feeds off of human curiosity.

    1. hi Breen

      Thanks for your view on the article and yes, "floaty" is kind of how I see the traffic in OSgrid but there are patches of regular community in certain areas as I pointed out. Most especially at Lbsa Plaza you can always find a friendly and helpful bunch of peeps hanging out. I often spend time there myself if only to welcome new people.

      Linda Kellie has done a great job at Airy Bay. She has a wonderful imagination and oh so creative! She is a great asset to OSgrid.

      On the perms issue I have covered security on my blog before but mostly related to Aurora sim. I do think Whitestar makes a good case for the import/export perm and even if it doesn't offer a 100% security fix it would send a message that the Opensim developers want to do all they can to help content sellers protect their copyright.

      I also like your suggestion of an Overte key but I don't know if that presents legal problems for the open sources nature of the software.

      Finally, I think you have a good handle on dear Prok!


  9. Very interesting post & comments. I'm more on the side of listening right now. I'm concerned, but I'm also a fan of new CEO. I see positive things happening, but as you point out, we seem to be losing peeps and grids faster than we are replacing them.

    1. Hi Yordie

      I think Second Life is heading in a new direction under Rod's leadership but, as with most things in SL, there is resitence to change. And if that change looks like being quite radical then a lot of voices will protest against it.

      I have 2 sims in SL still, even though I am active in the Open Metaverse, so I have investment there and I don't want to see SL fold. Far from it but I think there is a lot of uncertainty. For a time we have been hearing of Facebook integration then Rod, with a background in video games comes on board. So what is Second Life? Is it a social network, a hobby, a role play, or is it little more than a soap opera? One hopes it wont just become a video game!

      Fact is, SL was built on user participation and the residents have their own ideas what they want from their virtual world so I think Rod needs to tread carefully or the present exodus will become a flood.

      As you see from my article, there are alternative choices now.


  10. Really great post, think that's the best overview of the current state of affairs I've read recently, and I think your analysis is spot on. Once you taste the freedom of Opensim, there's no going back, IMO.

  11. Hi Fleep

    Thank you for commenting. As it happens I hypergrided to Fleep grid from Airy Bay on OSgrid just a few days ago and I had a peek round at the Campus. It's a wonderful build you know. Believe it or not I met someone that visited from Fleep last week. We met at 1001 Nights, seen above, and got into conversation. We hit it off as friends easily and she came back to my OSgrid region at Outlandzero and chatted till late. You may even know who I mean but I wont drop any names without her knowledge. Anyway, she told me how excited she was exploring the Metaverse like this and she would return. Well, she left me an off-line IM to say hi so I look forward to meeting her again.

    This is all I hoped for in the open Metaverse, people traveling about from the grid they call home. They maybe have favorite grids to shop or meet friends. Maybe another grid they drop in for a spot of role play or some others for events and tuition courses. Meeting people makes it all so worth while!