Friday 26 October 2018

Opensim G+ Refugees Seek Social Media that Respects its Users!

Just when the Opensim Hypergrid community were busy welcoming an influx of refugees from InWorldz we then got hit with another bombshell when Google Plus announced they would close their social platform by next summer. The greater part of the Opensim community had come to rely on G+ for keeping in touch with the  many grid servers that make up the Hypergrid across the world, and it worked very well serving our needs for the past six years. There was no problem using avatar names, something that got you banned from the data abusing tech giant Facebook, which most of us avoided anyway. Of course Google was data mining too but they were the best of a bad bunch for our particular needs. However, with the news G+ is to shut down we who have been actively running groups in support of the Opensim Metaverse are being forced to look elsewhere.
So this is a follow-up to my last article to explain how we have got on in our search for an alternative social media site that is similar to Google plus and might offer a new home or Hub for our community where people can easily find other Opensim users across the Hypergrid. This has become so important to us and the perfect way to feed news, help people and promote entertainment and products. Finding something that closely matched G+ is what we were looking for and the list of possibilities is actually quite large according to Wikipedia. However, some stood out and a strong contender was the Diaspora network but  there were others that looked more like Google plus including MeWe and Minds.

Opensim Virtual in MeWe
MeWe has so far proved quite popular with the Opensim community but not everyone. Some take the view that MeWe is just another corporate-run social media and would rather develop a community on the Diaspora network which is open source and decentralized. Diaspora consists of a group of independently owned nodes (called pods) which interoperate to form a network served via a number of clients including  Mastodon, Friendica and others. The Federation protocol is how Diaspora servers (and other servers supporting this protocol) talk to each other. The important thing to understand is that no one server in the network controls all the data so only a local owner or manager can block content. This is very appealing to those that value freedom of speech but has lead to problems where extremists like Islamic State and criminals have used the media to distribute propaganda, communicate with their followers and to radicalise and recruit. This is the kind of thing that the corporate media giants like Facebook and Twitter are now starting to block centrally and will do so more and more as they broaden their definition of what constitutes unacceptable content. So, while the big tech giants take it upon themselves to censor politically unacceptable views and hate speech, the smaller fringe tech companies and groups are highly exposed to extremists that exploit the decentralized networks. Well, that is what we are being told by the mainstream media which, of course, just happens to be owned by the giant tech companies and a handful of billionaires too.


Anyway, I registered on the Social iSurf server running Friendica and found other familiar names from the Opensim community were posting so there is certainly interest and one member was talking about setting up a server to run a node for the community. Personally, whereas I like the fact Diaspora is decentralized and members can be part of a federation, I didn't particularly think much of the client projects or that the servers are dependent on a network of enthusiasts which I thought rather limits them. They rely on donations to operate but none have the speed, polish or the millions of users that Google Plus has so I consider it as one to watch but not ideal presently. I also found that the iSurf community was rather geekish and the display Twitter-like so I moved on to MeWe which was recommended to me and I have to say right away I was quite impressed. I really did like the layout and the features so I registered there too and formed a group for Opensim Virtual easily and quickly at no cost. That group has taken off quickly and now has well over a 100 members after just week or so. I promoted it on G+ while I can of course but I didn't just leave it at that. I joined with Nara Malone and we now run the Adult Metaverse group too and that is actually growing even faster with over 200 members already at the time of writing.

I have since also joined the Minds social media and I will come to that shortly but I have to say MeWe is now front runner and other G+ groups have followed us there which is probably helping the growth in membership too as the whole community expands. So far the list includes the "Ruth & Roth 2.0 an OpenSim Mesh Avatar Project", Nara Malone's "Metaverse Authors", Lecktor Hannibal's "Infiniti Grid", Leighton Marjoram's "HG Traveller Opensimulator", Wayfinder Wishbringer's "Elf Clan", Fred Beckhusen's "Opensimulator DreamWorld and DreamGrid"  and the list goes on - like 23 groups I counted so far. I think MeWe is very likely now to become the preferred social media for Opensim simply because it looks good, works well and has useful features including chat. Moreover, the owners setup MeWe with the expressed promise they wont sell user data like Facebook does and they respect free speech. It is not decentralized like Diaspora but there is a degree of central control to block violent extremists and criminals, which is a good thing. Groups are easy to set up at no cost so no group server is required. The system is powerful and not limited by the computing power and connection of a home PC so the way I see it is, what's not to like? 

As I mentioned above I did notice how quickly The Adult Metaverse in MeWe was growing which is not surprising really given that MeWe's very relaxed policy on adult material is encouraging some quite explicit material which, admittedly, if you don't want to see it, can at least be blurred out. So there is that but what we found was many new recruits to the Adult Metaverse expressed an interest in learning about Opensim worlds when asked if they were 18+ and if they were familiar with Opensim. Answering these two questions was a condition of joining the Adult group and the answers we have been getting suggested there is an opportunity here to recruit new people for grids that focus on adult material and services perhaps. But I think there may well be some spillover into the other grids depending on the interests of the recruit.

I also joined some of the so-called Blochchain social media sites such as Steemit, Gab and Minds but, though Minds was easy to join and setup a group, I can't say yet I would recommend it. However, once again I created a group for Opensim Virtual and even posted a little but the way this site works, and others using cyptocurrency like it, is you pay for views and, while Minds also rewards its users with crypto-tokens for like liking, commenting, and sharing, you still need to register for a crypto wallet or you can barely get a group started without it. Setting up a wallet and registering with Coinbase is not that hard but the process overall is quite confusing and time consuming given that there are delays in servicing your transactions. But there was more. I bought $62 in Ethereum crypto on Coinbase exchange and added it to my Minds wallet to buy tokens which can then be exchanged for increased views on the network using the "Boost" feature. I wasn't quite prepared for what came next though.

The Adult Metaverse in Minds
Opensim Virtual in Minds got hardly any views in its first few days - about  14 - so I hit the Boost button now I had some credit in my wallet and it took one token for 1000 views which I then realised was half my credit! That one token cost me about $30 which seemed a lot but atleast I had some idea what a token is worth, not that I could cash them out because it would appear you can only use tokens to boost views. I had one token left so I decided to spend it on my second post in Opensim Virtual rather than The Adult Metaverse which I had also set up. This allowed me to compare the views that each of the two groups were getting and, sure enough, it was disappointing. Remember, views don't translate into anything but extra exposure to the Minds community because Minds is not visible to the public like G+ is without registering. The views jumped to the hundreds very quickly but didn't gain a single Like, comment or a new member. Well, I did get some subscribers and, apparantly, I have to send invites to subscribers to join my group - bit of a bother really. Meanwhile, The Adult Metaverse group was crawling along with views in the low 20's.

I did some monitoring of the public wire and I found that quite often the same topics appeared twice, one above the other and some blank even, quite often including my boosted posts so it seemed to me the system is either having teething troubles or it is quite intentional to get the 1000 views used up quickly. Anyway, according to Znet, Minds has amassed one million users since it launched and is growing quickly since it introduced the reward tokens. Bill Ottman, CEO of Minds, told Znet, "We have successfully proven the demand for an open-ad network that allows our users to gain exposure for their content and grow their followings in a better, more rewarding way."  According to Znet, Minds Boost has already rewarded users with over 500 million free ad impressions during 2017.

In fairness to Minds, I did gain some small reward in the form of a percentage of one token for opening the groups, posting a blog article and a few topics. The reward was 0.157 so I did gain something and it looks like I attracted 11 subscribers too which I now have to invite to the group if I want them as members. Unfortunately, the notices about new subscribers doesn't mention which group I gained them from but since I spent my tokens on boosting Opensim Virtual I have to assume they came from people reading that. I'm not sure I like the way this works but from a commerical view point I can see how it might appeal to advertisers.

In conclusion I think it fair to say MeWe is the best option for the Opensim community at this time. It is free, clean and fast, and very similar to G+ in some ways with extra features too. It has become a popular choice very quickly as word has gone round so it is growing fast and any grid or group that uses Opensim would surely loose out if they went elsewhere. The Opensim community is already actually quite big but there is a need to help the grids recruit and it appears MeWe dose see a lot of traffic. For us we want to develop the same kind of community we had in G+ without the costs to get exposure that Crypto social media require or the cost of running servers to open channels in the Diaspora network. Our community is spread over the Metaverse on many servers around the world but we come together in social media to help each other, recruit and promote all we enjoy doing in our virtual worlds. I think MeWe does offer the best service for now and is probably the best way to go.

MeWe: Opensim Virtual

MeWe:The Adult Metavers
Minds, Opensim Virtual
Minds,The Adult Metaverse
Friendica, iSurf


Monday 8 October 2018

Google Plus to Close! Where to now for Opensim Virtual?

It is a sad day to learn that Google plus social media platform will be shutting over the next ten months. This really is a bitter disappointment and a blow to the Opensim community that has come to rely on it to reach a wider public than just the Second Life community. I saw the potential to reach existing and new Opensim users as soon as they launched it back in December 2012. It wasn't perfect but it had an easy names policy and I just went for it and created the Opensim Virtual community which everyone knows has been a great success. I think it was the first and grew quickly to lead the field with over 2000 members while others opened their own communities for services and in support of grids. Opensim Virtual turned into a popular community for news and promotions as well as help and friendly advice and social exchange.

I personally feel the loss considering how much time and effort I have put in to developing the community over the years. In the early days I pretty much worked alone in posting topics of interest to give the community life and material of interest. But others saw how useful it was to communicate and promote so it didn't take long before others started posting too. It just kept growing because Opensim was getting better anyway and more grids were opening so that today there are many G+ communities on all kinds of subjects from Hypergrid travelling to support groups for the hundreds of grids that make up the Opensim Metaverse.

Opensim Virtual As it was on day 1, December 2012
Opensim Virtual has always been at the heart of the Hypergrid community along with many other groups so it would be a shame to loose such a powerful platform that brings community together. I don't know yet what I personally will do but there are options and I still have my web site and grid at Farworldz. Perhaps there is a case for using Discord and connect it here on Metaverse Traveller. Each article, rather than having a comments section would display a full Chat window and Opensim Virtual forum to support the community and invite promotions as part of it. There may be other ways that are better. I am going to have to do the research and work on it double quick because time is short.

Opensim Virtual as it is today

All I can say right now is Opensim Virtual is still open and doing well so I have time to promote again once a new plan is set. Just watch this web site and Opensim Virtual for the latest news.

Time to sit down, have a virtual drink ( a real one too!) and think.


Tuesday 25 September 2018

The Metaverse Coming to a Web Page Near you!

Just recently there was mention of a browser based virtual space on the Google plus Opensim Virtual community which piqued my interest because such things have been promised again and again over the past ten years but nothing ever really came of it. However, a topic was posted by Nara Malone of the Opensim Greyville Writer's Colony at Nara's Nook grid where she said a member of her community, Neo Cortex has been developing a Unity based client with the goal of merging Opensim and Unity to make a hybrid system designed with a focus on storytelling. I found it really interesting but there was a comment by Magnuz Binder who let us know he too was working on a virtual web world using ThreeJS and NodeJS as his preferred coding languages. This prompted me to take a closer look and, believe it or not, from what I learnt I had my own web based world online and working in just three days from scratch. I was pretty excited!

Talla's Virtual Space on a Web Page named after her grid, Farworldz
Use mouse to pan the screen and arrow keys to move avatar

Admittedly it is a very simple portal world but my final version had basic movement, a blobby avatar that responded to keyboard controls and a simple text window for chatting. Naturally, I wanted to find out if others could access it so I gave the address to friends and to my delight some of them found it and left messages on the chat window and said it loaded quickly and was easy to use. It is still online (see above) so feel free to check it out and leave a short message. I might do more with it as I learn but in its present form it still serves as good example of what can be done using open source code snippets and learning the basics of Node and Three javascript.

Not just satisfied with my own effort I wanted to know more about other recent developments and from Selby Evans I learned that a new platform based on that same code has been developed by Evie Marie (SingingGirl) who works with Bill Bright out of the Opensim Life grid. The platform is WebWorlds3D and Selby has his own web world based on this code called CyberLounge.
Opensim Life is dedicated to education and art. Bill Blight said he was not interested in selling content or offering freebies. He is content to handle the Opensim server and support Evie in her work. He said, "She is the brains behind the webworld part, it is her baby from the ground up , I just beat up the servers once in a while."

I pressed Bill a little more and he replied, "Well again, the Art and Education aspect is all SG, she is the one with the Masters. I'm a code monkey  who swings a big hammer. My grid is focused on people, not commerce, it is a passion project, something to keep me busy. So Art, Education , Entertainment, all things that bring people together is what I/we focus on here."

I liked what they have done but they still have a way to go. I visited the web world as a guest and looked around. I had no problems, the page loaded quickly and I could touch things and interact in a limited way but a whole lot more than I had managed with my version. The avatars are not that great though - a bit stiff and woody but easy enough to control and walk about. I understand there is a company behind all this which is the A2Z Smart Group LLC who are  offering to set up a platform for people with embedded code to place it on a web page. 

National Geographic offers an example of NodeJS for Mars, The Red Planet
Anyway, I also learned that Misterblue (Robert Adams), who is a core developer of Opensim focused on BulletSim which is a port of the Bullet physics engine, has also worked extensively on an infrastructure for a virtual world on the web. His projects include Convoar, an Opensim OAR file converter, Basil for displaying web worlds and Herbal3D, in which the various web world projects he is working on are pulled together.

I was interested to note from Robert Adams research that one of his aims was to build an architecture around creating a web viewer where a High Fidelity avatar can stand next to an Opensim avatar in the same space. And, from recent comments by Philip Rosedale he too spoke of the same design goals.
SpotOn3D steaming to a web page
Looking back though, there has been a number of notable attempts at building a web viewer and one of the first caused some controversy when SpotOn3D applied for a patent on the open source code that streamed an Open Simulator world to a web page. That, however, was never a true web viewer like Cloud Party which came later. Cloud Party was developed by some ex-Second Life developers and though it was relatively successful it was taken down when Yahoo bought it out and the developers went to work for them.

Cloud Party on the web
There were others too. Chris Collins, CEO of Tipodean Technologies developed a Canvas web-based viewer and, around the same time, others including Rezzable produced a Unity-based web viewer for Opensim and Katalabs demonstrated an HTML-5/webGL web viewer. Much later there was high expectation from German-based PixiTec who demonstrated the Pixie Viewer which functioned very well and even featured building, mesh with mirrors and 3D printing as an option. Even Kitely, at one time, said they were interested in working with other developers to build a web-based viewer but nothing ever came of any of it.

I recall also that the US Army under the MOSES group were working on a web viewer for Halcyon (the InWorldz fork of Opensim) so I asked Balpian Hammerer, a developer at Discovery Grid that had worked on Halcyon while at InWorldz and he gave a less than enthusiastic reply "They were in the design phase, and the idea was the leveraging of WEB objects to render a scene instead of using a viewer app. I am not enthusiastic that this approach will lead to anything better let alone more efficient. There is much to be said to writing performance critical code as close to the OS native graphics layers especially in limited performance devices like tablets and phones. Too many layers burn cycles which drives up the system requirements. Generic code tends to run much worse when in resource constrained environments like, for example, the 5+ year old computers typical of OpenSim users."

That said recent work by Robert Adams, Evie Marie and others like Neo Cortex and Magnuz Binder and Dahlia Trimble raise the prospect once again that a useful web viewer might be on the way where the Opensim user community can benefit and see their cherished platform's life improved and extended well into the future.

Imaging it, teleporting from an Opensim world to High Fidelity or SineSpace and all done on a web page. Now that would be my idea of what defines a true Metaverse and I think it would do justice to Neal Stephenson's definition in his 1992 Sci-fi novel "Snow Crash" where, to quote Wikipedia, humans, as avatars, interact with other avatars and software agents in a three-dimentional space that uses the metaphor of the real world to describe a virtual-reality successor to the Internet. 

Web Game: HERACLOS and the quest he never asked for

Play Fillory, a fully interactive fantasy game on a web page
FOOTNOTE: I have to confess I knew Dahlia Trimble had been working on a web viewer too and I should have asked for an update. My mistake because, while I was unaware Dahlia's work in this area was was continuing I never the less should have checked. Fact is Dahlia has a very advanced demo and posted it to Youtube very recently and, to quote, "Stress testing a WebGL/emscripten build of one of my viewers with lots and lots of prims. This is a live OpenSimulator 512x512 megaregion on my test..."

Watch the video on YouTube


Saturday 8 September 2018

Crossing Virtual Worlds: The Elf Clan from InWorldz to OSgrid

When InWorldz grid collapsed it left a lot of residents homeless. In fact, they had just four days notice the grid would close so very little time to pack up and take what they could. Fortunately, they found plenty of welcoming Opensim grids only too pleased to take them in. Few returned to Second Life so it was of great interest to me to find out how some of them were settling in.

I had heard of the Elf Clan fantasy group before and I was aware they had been a strong supporter of InWorldz almost from its very early days. I contacted Wayfinder, an Eldar of the clan, and he told me the founders of Inworldz were friends of his and he could have joined them as a founder himself originally but he chose not to. However, Second Life was proving just too expensive for them and Inworldz would turn out to cost a lot less. He told me "While it was virtually unknown at the time, we saw potential in the grid and decided to move there."

I asked if they had considered returning to Second Life after Inworldz closed and the response was an emphatic no and he continued, "We never really considered returning to Second Life. Well, we did:  the answer was a unanimous, resounding no.  The prohibitive costs and one-sided TOS makes that platform what we consider to be a 'bad investment' for non-profit, themed groups.  Understandably Elf Clan has had enough of bad investments."

I wanted to know why they decided to move to an Opensim grid but I though it would be better to find out more of the history of the clan first and Wayfinder enlightened me, "We started out on Second Life in November 2004. At that time SL was still relatively small.  I originally intended Elf Clan to be a friendly 'small family' of Elves.  We started out with 12 people in the group.  Within a couple of weeks we hit 50.  Within a couple months we reached 500 (this was at a time when the largest fantasy group had 100 members).  We were the first fantasy group to reach 1,000 members. Elf Clan's unexpected growth was unprecedented (it surely surprised me).  It was pretty much a snowball that just kept rolling.  Before long I was the unintentional founder of the largest themed group on the grid, and I was still pretty much a newb."

When Elf Clan joined Inworldz it consisted of 14 regions, 13 of which were company-owned. Special arrangements were made with the founders to obtain "early-adopter" region discounts, for which they would help promote the grid (a common practice in the computer field). "Elf Clan came to Inworldz in May 2010 and brought their friends and those friends brought their friends.  Within 30 days Inworldz grew to 200 regions. Within 60 days 500 regions. They hit 1,000 regions by the end of the year. The snowball effect all over again." Wayfinder said.

"We hadn't really considered leaving Inworldz prior to its collapse." he went on, "While there were some significant problems, all grids have problems.  Inworldz itself was visibly declining, but Elf Clan was in the process of a membership / land push and had grown 33% in just 90 days.   We were thriving as  group when the sudden news came that Inworldz was going offline-- somewhat crushing news to all of its members (to put it mildly)."

Elven Forest
Returning to the matter of why the Clan decided to move to Opensim I asked if they knew much about it and if they were familiar with Hypergrid and he answered, "I thought we did... but we really didn't.  In a way the closing of Inworldz has been a blessing for our group in that area.  While we were doing reasonably well on Inworldz, things felt somewhat "stagnant" due to the declining population, exiting merchants and lessening active participation.   We were not well-acquainted with Hypergrid and considered it a huge security risk.   That is what I now consider 'closed wall mentality'".

"Once people open themselves up to the concept of creating and giving things to others for the joy of it (or selling, whatever one wishes)... the Hypergrid opens up a vast world of adventure." he told me, "There are still a lot of things that need to be ironed out (I am personally not a big fan of the "suitcase" concept). Both OpenSim and the Hypergrid are growing.  It is far from perfect... but then after all these years group chat on Second Life still doesn't work properly.  So in all things, one accepts the negatives along with the perks.  I am absolutely thrilled with the idea of VARs, OARs and IARs.  Moving beyond that limiting 256m postage-stamp land limit is wonderful.  (256m is fine for a personal home land, but one does like to stretch out a bit.)"

I understood Elf Clan is a group of associates rather than a particular RPG in itself so I asked about the set up and the various associated groups that do organize role play and he explained, "Elf Clan started from the beginning as a themed group rather than role-playing.   That was out of desire to provide people a more relaxed environment in which they could "dress up" but not necessarily portray a part.  We eliminated the requirement to be "in or out of character"... and just let people be who or what they chose.   This created an atmosphere where people felt more like a friendly community and have lots of fun "shape shifting"-- being whatever character they feel like at the moment.  Myself for example:  I play the part both of High Elven and a tiny dragon... depending on my mood that day.  Both parts are very different in personality and I am told I significantly "role play" both parts... but to me it's more like pretend and just having fun.  I naturally  tend to take on the personality of the avatar I am wearing, so enjoy the concept of "theme" rather than specific role play.  Many of our members feel the same-- which is part of what attracted them to Elf Clan."


...Elf Clan decided on a G-rated, family-friendly mode from the start... which surprisingly attracted a lot of people.  To this day people comment on that being one of the reasons they stay with our group:  they like that kind of environment.  We started out as a Tolkien-style fantasy theme (with a bit thrown in) but over time have expanded that theme to include other areas of fantasy, science fiction and Steampunk.   Considering the nature of those genres, that gives people a lot to choose from in setting up their lands and avatars.

...We have had affiliate groups join us in the past.  Most notably is the WAAUGH!... a group of Orks (note: Orks not Orcs!!!) lead by Big Boss Schlitzie Martini.   They latched on to Elf Clan almost the moment we set up our first sim, were (by their own claim) the first inhabitant of Elf Clan lands-- made it their home land and over the years proved to be our greatest allies (Elves and Orks, who would have imagined?).   We have to date enjoyed three great wars with the Orks, during which great fun was had by all.  Of course the Orks won all three wars.  Just ask them.

...Other role playing groups have been Chanwood (medieval fantasy based to my understanding), and while not currently part of Elf Clan itself: Star Trek Experience... who have been good friends for quite some time now.   Now that Elf Clan is expanding to the Hypergrid there is the possibility of more individual groups becoming official affiliates of Elf Clan.  All that is required is to abide by the Elf Clan Charter (present on our website), and hang a banner at the landing point.  Beyond that, each land owner is sovereign over their land, as has been the way since the beginning of these virtual worlds.  They are free to choose whatever theme, role play or genre they prefer within the published family-friendly guidelines.  We even encourage special requests if a new theme is desired.

Have you started to establish a network across Hypergrid with other Elf Clan role players, I asked and he replied, "Inworldz has been offline for a bit over five weeks... so we're still just trying to set up the foundation of things.  It took us some time to research other grids and learn about OpenSim, the Hypergrid, VARs, OARs, IARs etc... which was fairly new to us in detailed concept.  Bit of a learning curve, but not bad.   However we have set up an affiliate program presented on our website ( and people are starting to join that program."

I understand you had help from Digiworldz and Kitely but what made you decide to set up in OSgrid, I asked and again I got a detailed reply, "The folks at Kitely, DigiWorldz and 3rd Rock all three have been very friendly and welcoming.  We could not have asked for warmer welcome, better assistance, or people who answered our questions with spot-on tech... not to mention just basic friendship.   We hope to have our members set up affiliate regions on all of these grids."

...Regarding OSgrid... the most unexpected thing can press the right button at the right time.   Long-time Elf Clan member Koni Lanzius had been only partially-active on Inworldz Elf Clan for quite some time.  I knew she had set up home lands on OSgrid and was spending most of her time on that project.  I had visited them from time to time, but it was in earlier days, the lands were laggy, very buggy, and I was still Inworldz-closed-grid mentality.  I honestly never paid it much attention-- although in reality she was accomplishing some amazing things there.

...After Inworldz self-destructed Koni mentioned, "You know, you could set up your own region server on OSgrid and have total control over your lands... and own a VAR as well."   That's all it took. The light went on, the bell rang, and for the first time (now that we were looking for an alternative to Inworldz)  I decided to check in to it.   I asked her to give me a tour of her lands once again (ElvenWorld).  When I saw what she had accomplished there I knew that OSgrid would work for our needs:  that of setting up Elf Clan's home lands with total control over our historic group assets.  We had a meeting of the Eldar and it was unanimously agreed.   In addition the Eldar then discussed the needs of the rest of our group.  We realized our members all had different requirements, different desires, and that we were no longer locked into one grid.  That is when we realized we could set up the Elf Clan group on multiple grids and expand everywhere.  For the first time in our history, Elf Clan is no longer "land-locked".   Our group is a concept that can exist on any grid and our members travel by means of the Hypergrid.   That has been a most liberating experience.

I was pleased to learn the Clan had settled in OSgrid which I think suits them given it is a community share and share-alike grid with plenty of Hypergrid traffic. I set out from my own personal mini grid at Farworldz to visit the new Elf Clan regions and took some great pictures as you see. Some are of Elven Forest were particularly good and I learned from Wayfinder that Elven Forest is a part of the ElvenWorld VAR owned by Koni Lanzius. "I am pleased to announce she has registered those lands as the first of our affiliates-- with the Elf Clan Welcome Banner at her landing point." he said.

I am personally thrilled that Wayfinder and the Elf Clan have settled in an Opensim grid that is open to Hypergrid and I have to pay tribute to them for their ability to keep going despite the let down's and huge expense they have had to suffered. Perhaps now they are free to control their own destiny in the open Metaverse they will flourish and go on to greater things. I'm sure they will and they certainly deserve it.

Tuesday 28 August 2018

The Changing Face of the Opensim Metaverse After InWorldz Closed

What I like about the Opensim Metaverse is that it's constantly changing while Second Life, being a walled garden with an increasingly  restrictive and self-serving TOS, has begun to stagnate as it slowly declines. I would liken Second Life to a declining protectionist superstate while Opensim has become a growing collection of medium and smaller worlds with upwardly mobile populations that travel the Metaverse via Hypergrid, thus forming a greater market for virtual goods, services and entertainment. 

This has been made more evident with the sudden collapse of the walled garden InWorldz grid just recently and the displacement of a it's rather large population. What we are seeing from this exodus is that very few people are returning to Second Life or seeking out other walled garden grids like InWorldz. The vast majority are voting with their virtual feet and most are settling in the larger Opensim grids that are open to full Commerce and Hypergrid travel.

In my article at the turn of the month "Ex-InWorldz Staff to Launch New Grid" I broke the news that a new grid, Infiniti was being set up that will be run the way many of those now on the move wanted the old InWorldz to be run. Infiniti is not InWorldz II but I did report that when InWorldz closed due to financial problems, Beth Rieschel and those close to her did say they aim to set up a new world just like the old one, same management, same user data and as much inventory as they could save.

Well, the new InWorldz grid is now under construction and has the domain name, I was told it is registered in Panama but whois states it's a private registration. Beth Rieschel moved to Panama recently but anyway, the new grid will be funded by those who pledged money for the original Go Fund Me appeal that was meant to save InWorldz. The decision to use those funds to start a new grid was taken after it was clear InWorldz could not be saved and, while many withdrew their pledge complaining the money was not meant for a new grid, those close to Rieschel agreed they would support the new venture. Currently, the new grid management headed by Rieschel is beset by IP rights issues as they try to grapple with the filtering process to insure no content legally not entitled to be on the new grid is there.

Meanwhile, Infiniti is offering a limited 'alpha/beta associates' program for content creators. I've kept in touch with the planning team headed by Lecktor Hannibal and he tells me "Our technical members have been hard at work setting up the grid and making sure coding is on level for accepting new guests."  Well, it is open and will be accepting new registrations soon. The grid address is and I visited via Hypergrid and met with Lecktor who is hard at work on the project. There was not much to see yet but a basic arrival platform and some free avatar vendors. I shall keep in touch of course.

Going back to the exodus from InWorldz, the grid that has taken the most settlers to date is DigiWorldz and, once again, I am grateful to Terry Ford (Butch Arnald)  for the information he was willing to share with me. By the August 8th 108 regions and almost 400 new users had been added to the grid since InWorldz  posted they were closing. Terry said, "Most users from InWorldz seem pleased with our grid's performance with many saying we have far less lag than InWorldz had. They are also 'Amazed' at our support with many saying they have never been helped so fast. Many are very happy with our pricing and the time it takes to have their region ready once they place their order, in most cases we have the region online in under an hour, sometimes as fast as 5-10 minutes. They are also very happy with our community and how friendly and helpful everyone is."

I wanted to know about grid performance but before moving on to that it's worth mentioning that DigiWorldz were the first to offer a money back guarantee and they still do. Also, they use both PODEX and Gloebit currency but leave it up to the individual region owners to decide which to use. Terry explained, "Some new users are confused when they have D$ (PODEX) and they visit a Gloebit region where their D$ goes to $0. That takes a bit of explaining, but once they know all they have to do is go back to a PODEX enabled region and their money will return, they are fine. We've had several of our new users ask for Gloebit instead of PODEX, but I would guess a percentage of less than 10% have chosen Gloebit." I also asked about Hypergrid and he told me, "None of our new users have asked to have Hypergrid turned off in their regions, but we will do so if asked."

So back to performance, Terry said, "We hit a 'High' for us last week as we had a total of 150 avatars online. Our system, thus far is handling the traffic and the loads just fine and we are not seeing any issues and are ready for more. We may, at some point need to upgrade our core storage to ensure we will have plenty of room for growth, but this was planned well before the closing of IW." He also told me they always keep extra servers available to use if they are needed and this practice proved itself very well with the sudden influx recently.

DigiWorldz Metrics: Standard Regions: 6395, Avatar Accounts: 7204, Traffic: 2390* 

Ilan Tochner, Co-Founder and CEO of Kitely grid, reported a 300% spike in recorded Kitely Market Sales on August 8th in a blog article that showed a sales graph. He said "Users that moved to new grids began restocking their avatar inventories. InWorldz didn't allow its residents to use Kitely Market, so for many of these users this is the first time that they've been able to buy from our marketplace." and he went on in the same article, "We saw Kitely Market sales begin to rise on July 26, a day before InWorldz shut down. The graph below compares sales from the week since InWorldz shut down, to the average weekly sales in the three weeks before that. Kitely’s own grid experienced the biggest growth in absolute numbers, but DigiWorldz and Discovery Grid experienced the most growth relative to their previous sales levels." Kitely Market can deliver automatically to all Hypergrid-enabled grids just as easily as Second Life market place can deliver in-world to it's residents.

Commenting on the same Kitely blog, Snoots Dwagon of Elf Clan, which had been big in InWorldz from it's early days, said, "We lost a BUNDLE on that grid. Wanna speak out-of-pocket: my group spent some $150,000 over 8 years with Inworldz just on land. That doesn't count for inventory and avatar purchases. So yeah, we're "out of pocket" a whole lot." And he continued, "Both Kitely and DigiWorldz have proved themselves bend-over backwards friendly in helping us get back on our feet. Kitely features privacy and web-control tools, DigiWorldz features open lands and interconnectivity. Both grids went out-of-their-way to help us learn how OpenSim and Hypergrid works, how VARs are set up, and help us figure out how to understand this (for us) totally new environment. They didn't do that just because we're "Elf Clan"... they've been doing the same thing for individual members. I'm talking about personal service, standing right there and showing you around and answering questions."

Kitely Metrics, Regions 15854, Avatar Accounts: 105087   Traffic: 1267*
(not counting the higher number of people visiting the Kitely Market website).

It has been reported in a poll on Hypergrid Business that very few refugees returned to Second Life which shows the level of commitment and, in deed, confidence the people currently on the move have in the Opensim Metaverse. Even the none-commercial grids like OSgrid and Metropolis which are the biggest community "share and share-alike" grids have taken in a small number. These grids do have a high user traffic and thriving communities with a lot of private land mostly run on home PC's so not up to handling more than a few users at a time. Most function well enough though but others are hosted on external grid services that offer greater bandwidth. That said there are some very popular venues on OSgrid such as the Maritime Club in Virtual Belfast. There is always life at the Lbsa Plaza too where people arrive when visiting for the first time or, using Hypergrid teleport, this is often where the travellers land. And look out for the Summer of Arts on Metropolis grid.

Metropolis Metrics, Regions Online: 793, Avatar Accounts: 17587, Traffic: 3440*

OSgrid Metrics: Regions Total 5482, Avatar Accounts: 123774, Traffic: 4524*

It should be noted that the way Opensim takes account of metrics is a mixed bag and it has always been difficult to try and get a total count on all the hundred's of grids in the Metaverse because some refuse to show any statistics and others show them partially and in different ways. It makes it hard to scrape the numbers too and so much of the Opensim Metaverse is hidden or "Dark", as they say. That doesn't mean anything sinister, it just means some grids exist without being known about or they are school grids behind a firewall. The big grid owned by Linden Lab has no problem with it's stats because it is all under one roof, the Second Life grid and, thanks to web services like Tyche Shepherd's Grid Survey, We get a pretty good idea of the region count. But with Opensim the grids are owned and run by many different people and companies from all over the world. So it helps to understand that traffic in Opensim Metaverse is made up of both unique logins and travelling visitors where the grid is Hypergrid enabled.

Returning to the commercial grids, Discovery grid was perhaps the first to start welcoming refugees because, as one commenter on Hypergrid Business Survey said, they chose "Discovery. Balpien Hammerer is one of the admin's. That worked for me." And, in deed, Balpien had been in InWorldz for many years and did development work there particularly on physics. His interests include sailing.

They say people go where their friends are and I think that this is well demonstrated with Discovery grid because of all the comments on the HB Survey it appears to be an often given reason to go there. For example, Lamat Lisle said "Discovery, because it is the most promising one in terms of residential use, economy, stability, development and possibilities, imo. A reliable grid, ran by professional and friendly people, a lot of folks I know from old InWorldz and all regions are connected with large waters to sail or fly. Dedicated and skilful work by the developers. Great for physics. Affordable prices for land as well."

Discovery Grid Metrics: Regions Online: 244, Avatar Accounts: 1041, Traffic: 1148*

I have written to Balpien Hammerer and he agreed to answer some questions for me but, unfortunately, I didn't get the reply in time for this article so that is something for another time. Suffice to say that Balpien left InWorldz long before it's collapse. He probably left when others appeared to start leaving when the InWorldz metrics had been showing signs of decline as reported on Hypergrid Business. Looking back I recall Beth Rieschel caused something of a stir on HB at that time when she stopped publishing the active user stats on the grid's splash page. This lead to some copycat reactions especially from Great Canadian grid who's owner also pulled their active user stats and complained of HB bias. But, whatever, InWorldz decline was probably not that great anyway and, as we have seen, the user base still appears to be substantial given the numbers of people re-settling in other grids.

In a discussion with Mike Chase, an ex-InWorldz resident involved with the Golden Touch Dance Troupe, I mentioned that in Opensim grids land is cheap and plentiful - too plentiful perhaps, I would add, because it leaves so much empty space that may be great to explore until you get bored and then you have to find the places where most people gather, or role play or whatever and that means often one has to travel via Hypergrid to the grids with some of the busy regions. The problem for all grid owners is getting enough traffic to get people together so they discover mutual interests and form friendships. And friendships are like glue because, as I said before, people go where their friends are!

Too much empty land is not just wasteful but it is off-putting in my view. Better to have fewer well-developed themed regions that keep people coming back to than have them get lost in the vast wilderness of the good and the bad in region building and design - it wont impress anyone for long. I recall someone telling me in Second Life they liked InWorldz and it had lots of nicely built Game of Thrones regions to explore but she is a role player and never met anyone to role play with. At least, in Second Life, there is still a well established large role play community. And, like it or not, Linden lab's high land pricing actually serve to keep RP land in regular use. There is empty land in Second Life too, of course, on Mainland particularly but most islands are in use. 
Courtesy, Linden Lad Sansar

Linden Lab maintain high land prices which makes it difficult for anyone to own more than a single region. Land Barons capitalize on this and offer regions and smaller parcels. Many Europeans rent because they avoid 20% VAT they would have to pay on top of the tier if they buy land directly from Linden Lab, and that is not to mention the high setup fees they charge. A lot of people just can't afford full sims anyway so it works well for the Land Barons and Linden Lab sits back raking in the money with little effort, given the Barons are always paying whether land is rented out or not. The key here is land scarccity because it is over priced but in Opensim land is cheap and the grid owners are, in effect, the Land Barons. However, it is not hard to run your own instance so this pushes Opensim land value down further and the free Metaverse ends up with a vast number of virtually empty sims as I said above.

Courtesy, SineSpace, Earthquake
Partly for that reason Linden Lab will always be ahead of the game. They had years to build a large user base when SL was new and exciting. Content creators had years to make all manner of content to share or sell and the users had time to grow their personal inventory they are loathed to part with after so many years of collecting and spending their money. Opensim has never had that kind of advantage. Today the free Metaverse has to make the most of Hypergrid, low cost and more freedom. There is no scarcity advantage because land is so cheap.

However, Second Life is still declining slowly while Opensim goes on expanding in terms of land area, and this despite all the new next generation VR platforms like High Fidelity, SineSpace and Linden Lab's Sansar desperate to build a user base, which so far they seem to be failing to do. In deed, it appears they all share many of the same people and those same people turn up in Opensim grids and in Second Life as well. I think it is going to be a long time before a critical mass of people desert SL and Opensim to make a difference.

High Fidelity Reaches a New Record! Over 250 Avatars in One Domain
But, regardless, I still think Opensim can be improved and that will help it survive many more years yet. In my view Opensim needs innovation and, hopefully, some of the people coming from InWorldz will help breathe new life into it and get it on a new development curve that will see serious improvements in speed and features so that Opensim too can be a platform for VR as well as desktop. I asked Mike Chase are there some serious problems porting Halcyon code to Opensim and he said, "Most of the changes would come over fairly easily. In spite of some of the public comments made in the past Halcyon is still basically OpenSim. Much of the internal structure is the same.  There are a few things I’ll touch on in other questions that are more work.  But I think there are some quick wins for assets, inventory, mesh and materials. etc. that might be useful especially for grids trying to scale."

I am leaving the rest of my interview with Mike Chase for another article after I hear from Balpien Hammerer hopefully but my point about creating value added features would give some grids the edge in renting out land and justify higher prices because feature-rich land would be scare in Opensim. Value-added proprietary features will make some grids more inviting too but in-house or paid developers are needed for that and it could prove expensive. Kitely has done this already I might add in the form of its own version of improved var regions and better asset storage as well as numerous code fixes and improvements where some have been contributed back to core and others kept as value-added features unique to Kitely.

Anyone can run a standard instance of Opensim and it is fairly easy to set up but, for the most part, they lack the power and expert maintenance that the bigger grids can provide. I have a basic personal grid and I run it on a VPS with commercial grade bandwidth so it is great for personal use and as a workshop to experiment and script. But I would not expect it to handle sim rentals as well so, in my view, if you want to run a store, entertainment or role play I think it better to go with a leading grid like those mentioned above.

*(logins for last 30 days + Hypergrid visitors)
(technically private remote VarRegion estates on the Kitely grid are Worlds and the Region equivalent of 15854 in land size is 17651)


Friday 24 August 2018

VR Crypto Coin Speculation Rife as High Fidelity Starts Cash Out

The Virtual Technology landscape is evolving rapidly. Virtual reality is forecast to reach $30 Billion (US) by 2020 and major brands are lining up to do battle for dominance in the market. VR companies have raised multi-million dollar backing in venture funding but there are growing numbers of start-up's that are selling their own crypto currencies to help fund their development and this is attracting speculators hungry for profit. It is into this bubbling cryptocurrency market that High Fidelity have just announced they will cash out and exchange their crypto coins for U$ dollars.

According to the latest news from High Fidelity blog. Philip Rosedale wrote, "High Fidelity users can now convert High Fidelity Coin (HFC) into U.S. dollars. This opens the possibility for people to earn real money creating and selling virtual goods and services within High Fidelity. We see this as a vital step in the emergence of a thriving High Fidelity economy: the flywheel of innovation and creativity in any marketplace starts when creators have positive incentives to contribute to the growing body of content for sale. In time, we hope creators will be able to support themselves by selling items in the Marketplace, charging for the experiences they create, and offering useful in-world services to other creators and performers."

The currency is called HFC and is tied to the US dollar at a fixed rate (100 HFC = 1 USD). The High Fidelity company controls the rate to prevent inflation in an attempt to avoid speculators treating it as an investment like happened to Bitcoin. Rosedale thinks there is great value in a digital currency that has low speculation value.

Other virtual worlds like Decentraland have also issued a crypto coin "Mana" and then used it in a bidding auction selling 10-metre-by-10-metre plots of virtual land. Last August the two Argentinian co-founders, Esteban Ordano and Ari Meilich raised 24 million dollars in an initial coin offering (ICO) and sold out so fast that the vast majority of users waiting for the launch never got any of their orders filled. Apparently, over 28 million dollars change hands in the bidding war, making it what Decentraland calls the largest ever virtual land sale.


Decentraland uses the Ethereum blockchain to store information about land ownership and its content so they are using similar methods to High Fidelity. They are using Ethereum smart contracts to validate that modifications were made by the owner of the land and content will be distributed using the IPFS network, while data hashes are stored in the blockchain.

They base everything on the theory of land scarcity. "Without scarcity, most LAND would be left abandoned, which would hurt content discoverability and the user experience overall." they say on their web site. Incredibly, some 10m by 10m parcels of land actually sold for over $120,000! So the hype must work.

This does seem fantastic when you consider that land is so cheap in the Opensim Metaverse, one wonders why anyone would buy land for such a high price in Decentraland - land that doesn't even exist yet I might add! That's right, they still have to finish building the virtual platform. The founders have hit on the idea they can fund development by selling crypto coins so they have to push the scarcity factor to the speculators. But there it is, this is all about speculation and the hope that the land will rise in value at some point because there is only a limited amount. They are effectively trading futures. It is not a new idea though if anyone remembers people bidding up the price of virtual land to unheard-of prices when Bay City was launched in Second Life.

Talla visits Aech's Garage from the movie, Ready Player One in Sansar
Presently, I see very little "scarcity" (to use Decentraland thinking) in High Fidelity or Sansar to speculate on but perhaps there could be in Opensim grids if it wasn't for the fact there is so much empty land spread around. However, if some of the commercial grids started building in value-added proprietary features that are not found in the standard Opensim code which is so easy to set up that could all change, especially if it coinsided with a faster frame rate for VR. Kitely did introduce value-added features and code fixes to Opensim but negated any land scarcity value by giving land away free as an inducement, much like Sansar does. High Fidelity on the other hand is open source and running on private servers so, in theory, someone could set out to add value by coding in advanced features. It could then happen that users would gravitate to those grids with the best features and start buying up land if the grid owners decided to limit the amount of land available and put up prices like Linden Lab did in Second Life and auction it off or do deals with land Barons. It is an interesting thought and I wondered if crypto currency could play a part too so I asked Christopher Colosi, the former Linden Lab employee that worked on the Linden dollar exchange and the developer that issues the Gloebit universal tokens presently, if he saw any way to offer crypto currency in Opensim? He gave me a very detailed answer on how it could be done which I will save for another article but his short answer was "I think it is possible in theory, but very challenging in practice, and it would likely make commerce much more complex for the end user."
Talla visits High Fidelity too.

Other VR platforms see the advantage in adding feature value rather than land value as an inducement. For example Virtual Universe looks impressive, they are ahead in development and they are selling their own crypto currency. Ukledo, the company behind VU, say it is part game, part social network, and part social creation platform, blending elements of Minecraft, Second Life and Simcity with innovative artificial-intelligence technologies that drive engagement. It combines AI, VR, and blockchain to produce a virtual world that looks and feels real, with non-player characters such as animals reacting and interacting with the player in ways that feel intelligent and natural.

AI driven creatures in VU not too unlike Opensim has had for years!
Well VU is not exactly a decentralized social VR in the sense Decentraland claims to be but it is feature rich. Sansar is graphically ahead of High Fidelity but land has zero value and Linden Lab is the Master Controller which is blah for anyone that knows the company's history. If any platform was truly decentralized it has to be Opensim because anyone can set up their own grid and there is no central authority they are dependant on, or answerable to, like High Fidelity. And what about those NPC creatures in VU, haven't they existed in  Opensim for years? The drawback, of course, is the viewer which depends on third party cooperation to get features added that are needed in Opensim. But when you look at the graphic rendering in Niran's Black Dragon,  formerly known as Niran's Viewer, it shows Opensim could be seen in a much better light if only Niran were to support Opensim, or another developer ported some of its code. Opensim has plenty of features that make it impressive but a faster frame rate and the kind of improvements that could come with Halcyon ported code, PhysiX and a viewer like Black Dragon could make all the difference for it's longer term survival.

This is an example of Black Dragon and in the HiFi forums Niran says "All in all Second Life could do much much more, what Second Life is really lacking is someone skilled and willing enough to add to the graphics." This can also be said of Opensim.
As far as High Fidelity is concerned, Rosedale says in his blog article, "Enabling people to convert HFC to real tender is important to us. Our vision is for people to work in virtual worlds creating content, offering novel experiences, teaching lessons, staffing events, having meetings, being greeters, or a myriad of other tip-worthy tasks. And now they can." He goes on to add, "At the same time, our 3D import tools will open the door to bringing content which already exists into High Fidelity with the protection of marketplace certification."

Rosedale is ever the forward thinker so I have faith he can make it work but it remains to be seen if crypto will give High Fidelity the edge and help to propel the platform onto the world stage as a major player, something he never managed with second Life although it is still very profitable for Linden Lab, the Land Barons and the top content brands that hang in there.

It was late when Talla arrived back at her own Opensim place, the Principality of Steam. She took a mono tram from central station to her office at the Babel Tower. She was tired but the (NPC/AI) tram driver was chatty and kept her entertained during the short journey. It was good to be back.