Fast Company: OpenSim as a Model for a Truly Decentralized Metaverse

The article was published on the Fast Company website on Jan. 5th, 2022 (image source)

Steven Melendez has written an interesting article for the business website Fast Company, about how OpenSimulator (OpenSim for short) could be viewed as a model as to how a truly distributed metaverse, not owned by a single company, would look.

Among the people Steven interviewed for this article are:

I would strongly urge you to click over and read the article in full, but here’s a quote:

One open question, assuming the metaverse proves popular, is whether the technology will be tightly controlled by a handful of companies operating their own incompatible systems—as social media apps and video games basically work today—or whether it will be possible to jump from one metaverse world to another, the way it’s possible to send email from one site to another or follow links across the Web today.

These questions aren’t new, and, to some extent, a vision of a decentralized metaverse already exists today through an open-source project called OpenSimulator, which has been around since 2007 and is still in active use. OpenSim, as fans call it, allows anyone with some technical knowledge to set up a server to host their own virtual world that they and others can connect to (or to pay one of multiple hosting companies to do it for them). The project was designed from the beginning to be compatible with the technologies behind Second Life, the virtual world created by Linden Lab that became an object of media fascination in the 2000s but never quite hit mainstream status…

“I did something that is unique to OpenSim that doesn’t exist in Second Life, which is sort of a federation architecture so you can teleport between virtual worlds,” says Cristina Lopes, who developed the technology —dubbed the hypergrid— and is a professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, where she has taught some virtual classes using OpenSim. “You can hop around between worlds that are in different places and operated by different people.”

All of which goes to prove my point that companies building the newer metaverse platforms would be well advised to learn about both the successes and failures of Second Life, and its spin-off, OpenSim! A study of both will no doubt inform, illuminate and elucidate you, and you will find learn valuable lessons and perhaps even gain some inspiration for your own projects and products!

As well, I decided that I should finally create a new category on the blog, called OpenSim and Hypergrid, and go back and add it to the many blogposts I have written in the past 4-1/2 years about OpenSim and Hypergrid, to make them easier to find. Again, this will take me a bit of time, so please be patient… 😉

Thank you to Sitearm for the heads up!

Ask Ryan: We Want to Leave Second Life—But Where Do We Go?

Do you have a question about the ever-evolving metaverse of social VR platforms and virtual worlds? Ask Ryan!

Maribeth asks:

Hi Ryan! My name is Maribeth. I am trying to use virtual worlds to help diabetes patients and others with chronic disease/chronic stress. My colleague and I are thinking about jumping ship from Second Life and it’s really confusing to know which way to turn. Your blog is so amazing! I’d love to pick your brain. I really respect your deep and vast knowledge on the topic. If you’re at all open to chatting, please let me know. Thanks!


Ooh boy, did you ever come to the right place to ask this great question! 😉

I’d love to schedule a time to chat, Maribeth. In fact, I even offer social VR/virtual world consulting services via my Patreon (at the Platinum patron level at US$25 per month, a price which I recently lowered).

My Patreon page

But, instead of charging you $25.00, Maribeth, I’ll let you pick my brains for free this time, provided we do it publicly on the blog…after all, I am the Freebie Queen of Second Life, plus quite a few other platforms, to boot! 😉

And, in this case, I have an easy answer for you. If you are getting tired of Second Life and are looking for something similar to replace it with, but with all the latest bells and whistles (like a webcam-based avatar facial animator), may I recommend Sinespace?

The Sinespace homepage

Like Second Life, setting up an account on Sinespace is free. (Of course, also like Second Life, to get the richest experience, you will need to buy some Gold, the in-world currency, via your credit card, although Sinespace does have a second, promotional currency called Silver, of which you get a generous 30,000 to start yourself off on the right foot!)

Sinespace is based on Unity, which is a cross-platform game engine used to develop both three-dimensional and two-dimensional video games and simulations. This is a different approach from Linden Lab’s Second Life, which built and maintains its own engine from scratch (which means, at the ripe old age of 17, it is getting a bit long in the teeth). This also allows Sinespace to take advantage of the work that is done by countless other Unity developers on other Unity-based apps and games, such as the extremely cool Archimatix tool, which allows you to automagically resize highly complex mesh items in-world (which puts the rather simple move, rotate and stretch in-world building tools in Second Life to shame!).

Even better, male and female avatar fashions are designed to fit EVERY male and female avatar body, respectively. You don’t have to check to see if apparel or footwear are designed for a specific brand of mesh body, like you have to do in Second Life (e.g. Maitreya Lara, Belleza Freya, Slink Physique, Belleza Jake, Signature GIanni, etc.). Also, you don’t have to fuss with a HUD to make parts of your avatar body invisible under apparel; the clothing fits perfectly, and it adjusts if you make any changes to the body sliders! Another advantage of basing Sinespace on Unity.

Oh, and did I mention that Sinespace has working in-world cloth physics on skirts and dresses? Check out the videos to see it in action here and here! And Sinespace supports both desktop users, and users in virtual reality headsets! There’s also a web browser-based client. You can even run Sinespace on your mobile device!

Oh, and also, while Second Life struggles with lag when over 50 avatars are in a single sim, Sinespace has already demonstrated that its worlds can handle up to ten times as many avatars (the latest record achieved in testing, Adam tells me, is 499 avatars in a single region). And those regions can be mind-bogglingly large, too, not just restricted to 512 square metres. In fact, Adam tells me that the largest Sinespace region to date is a staggering 8 km by 8 km in size, with an 8 km vertical space! Think of what you could do with all that virtual real estate!

Simply put, Sinespace is Second Life on steroids.

Here are all the blogposts I have written about Sinespace. In fact, I am such a fan of what Adam Frisby and his team at Sine Wave Entertainment have created, that I even became an embedded reporter for the platform! But even if I weren’t getting paid to blog about Sinespace, I would still recommend that you check out Sinespace if you are looking for a new home to replace the venerable (and still popular) Second Life.

And you needn’t worry that Sinespace will go poof! if the company should suddenly fold; Sine Wave Entertainment is a healthy company with a stellar, well-connected board of directors. In fact, the company has been raking in the profits during the coronavirus pandemic, serving many new corporate, conference, and educational clients with Breakroom, a version of Sinespace developed for just such a market.

Unfortunately, the pandemic has also delayed Sine Wave Entertainment’s plans for an splashy official launch of Sinespace, complete with a advertising blitz, until 2021. Trust me when I say this: Sinespace is going to attract a lot more attention from SL folks (and other quarters) next year. And if Second Life should ever stumble in future, Sinespace is perfectly positioned to welcome the refugees. In fact, many SL content creators have already set up shop in Sinespace, such as Abramelin Wolfe of Abranimations.

However, if you are loath to work your way up a new learning curve, may I suggest you investigate the incredible myriad of OpenSim-based virtual worlds? (Ironically, Adam Frisby of Sine Wave Entertainment was one of the founding developers for OpenSim, before he started his new company and focused on Sinespace and Breakroom.) Much of what you already know about Second Life can be directly transferable to OpenSim, and the prices for things such as land rentals are often significantly cheaper.

In fact, instead of renting sims from an established OpenSim grid, you might want to consider setting up and running your own grid! Everything you need to know is in the OpenSimulator wiki. And for the latest news and information about OpenSim, nobody can beat Maria Korolov’s Hypergrid Business blog, which maintains a list of active OpenSim grids.

Another advantage of Hypergrid-enabled OpenSim worlds is that you can even take your avatar from one grid to another! However, one disadvantage of OpenSim is that platforms tend to rise and fall with alarming regularity, so stability is an issue (witness the sad saga of InWorldz/Islandz for an example of what can happen). Also, the network effect means that no single OpenSim grid will ever rival Second Life for its sheer reach and (relatively) massive audience.

So, the executive summary of my answer is: if you don’t want to work your way up a new learning curve, go with OpenSim; otherwise, go with Sinespace.

Herding Cats: Taking a First Step Towards Developing a Taxonomy of Metaverse Platforms by Looking at Virtual Worlds That Do NOT Support Virtual Reality

What’s the Best Way to Organize Social VR and Virtual Worlds?
(Photo by Edgar Chaparro on Unsplash)

This evening, I thought I would start working on a task I have put off for far, far too long: organizing my comprehensive list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds (almost 150 entries) into some better semblance of order. (And, in some cases, provide an overdue status update. For example, I had forgotten to remove my note that Decentraland was not yet open to the public after their February 2020 launch.)

I hope to be able to come with a classification scheme, a taxonomy where similar platforms are grouped together. But how to do this grouping? Where to start?

Well, we could start by taking a look at the oldest, so-called “first generation” section first: the virtual worlds that can only be accessed via desktop on a flat monitor, the so-called “pancake worlds” that do not support virtual reality.

This list could further be divided by whether the virtual world was sill operating or was dead. Sometimes, you are lucky enough to get an official “Closed” sign when you visit their website, like with The Deep when you visit their website.

Some projects never are officially closed…
(Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash)

But of course, not all virtual world projects are so clear-cut as “closed” or “open”; “dead” or “alive”. Think of all those projects in between, that may be stuck in some sort of software development hell, or slowly circling the drain, or on life support at best. Let’s call those “Questionable Status / Stalled / Moribund” as a catch-all category.

In drawing up this first list, I will be removing any products which are clearly more MMO/MMORPG games instead of open-ended worlds (although the line between those is also frustratingly blurry at times). I’m also not going to bother with primarily adult/sex-oriented worlds such as Utherverse/Red Light Center, although I do know that some people do use this type of virtual world for non-sexual socializing. If it’s marketed as a word primarily for virtual sex, I’m not interested, sorry!

“Pancake Worlds” (Virtual Worlds That Do NOT Support Virtual Reality)

Still Operating

  • Second Life (now almost 17 years old, and still the most commercially successful and popular virtual world to date, with approximately 600,000 regular monthly users)
  • Active Worlds (the granddaddy of all virtual worlds, launched on June 28th, 1995, and now almost 25 years old)
  • Avakin Life (a mobile app)
  • Decentraland (blockchain-based virtual world, which launched in February 2020)
  • Dreams (a game and world-building platform for PlayStation, which currently does not support VR, although future PSVR support is planned)
  • Ever, Jane (latest update was October 2019, so it’s still operating!)
  • IMVU
  • Kitely (an OpenSim grid, which has also announced that they are working on a fork of the open-source High Fidelity software code)
  • Occupy White Walls
  • OpenSim based virtual worlds (e.g. OSGrid); here’s a list of active OpenSim grids (trying to keep track of which ones are open or closed is like herding cats)
  • (their blog was just updated today; they’re still operating!)
  • VirBELA*
  • Virtual Paradise (an older virtual world very similar to Active Worlds; the latest update was in October 2019, so it’s still operating!)

Questionable Status/Stalled/Moribund

Well and Truly Dead (Amen and Hallelujah!)

  • Aether City (a blockchain-based virtual world that never got off the ground)
  • Blue Mars
  • The Deep  (another blockchain-based virtual world that never got off the ground)
  • InWorldz (This grid, which was based on OpenSim, closed on July 27th, 2018.)
  • Islandz Virtual World (the successor to InWorldz; closed in February 2019)
  • NeoWorld (another blockchain-based virtual world…seeing a trend here?)

Looking at this list of virtual worlds that do not support users in VR headsets, several thoughts on other ways to organize it come to mind:

  • We could easily pull out the many blockchain-based virtual worlds into a separate list
  • We could pull out Second Life and all the OpenSim-based virtual worlds (e.g. Avacon, Kitely) into a separate list
  • We could put Active Worlds and Virtual Paradise in their own category, too
  • Some products, like Avakin Life and IMVU, have literally dozens of similar products, all pitched at the teen/tween market (another category I do not wish to cover on this blog)

Another interesting point is that many of these “pancake worlds” are older (and some quite old), with an exception: the brand-new, blockchain-based virtual worlds such as Decentraland and The Sandbox. I find it interesting that many of the companies building blockchain-based platforms decided to avoid virtual reality completely (although, of course, many did include VR support in their products, as we shall see in the next blogpost I make about my progress in constructing a taxonomy).

Anyway, I thought I would publish this work-in-progress to the blog, for my readers to comment on. Which of the products in the Questionable Status category should be declared well and truly dead, and given a decent burial? What products were you surprised to see here, or surprised at how I categorized them? What ideas do you have about to go about the Herculean task of organizing them into categories?

Please feel free to leave a comment, thanks!

*UPDATE May 6th, 2020: A commenter to this blogpost informs me that VirBELA now supports virtual reality. Thank you to reader Alexander Grobe for this update!

OpenSim Community Conference on December 14th-15th, 2019

The 2019 OpenSim Community Conference is happening this weekend. Hypergrid Business reports:

OSCC19 features over 60 speakers leading presentations, workshops, panel sessions, music, and social events across the diversity of the OpenSimulator user base… Attending the conference event is free, but those wishing to financially support the conference can still sponsor or participate in our Crowdfunder Campaign when registering. Participants in the Crowdfunding Campaign will receive a variety of thank you gifts depending upon their level of participation, including conference VIP seating, and the ability to have a virtual expo booth at the event. Your conference sponsorship or crowdfunder contribution is tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law for US residents.

Here’s a complete schedule of events. See you there!