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!

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!

OpenSim Virtual World Provider Kitely Plans to Run a Grid Based on High Fidelity’s Open-Source Code, Even as HiFi Pivots Away from the Consumer Market

Maria Korolov of the Hypergrid Business website reports, in an article on High Fidelity’s pivot away from consumers towards the business market, that OpenSim provider Kitely is planning to launch a new grid based on High Fidelity’s open-source software:

Those communities that have already begun planning a migration to High Fidelity may be out of luck. Kitely, for example, has long had a strategy of being a multi-platform company, with High Fidelity part of their long-term road map. How will Rosedale’s news affect their plans?

It won’t, said Ilan Tochner, Kitely’s co-founder and CEO… “Our service doesn’t use High Fidelity’s grid services, we use our own proprietary systems for that,” he told Hypergrid Business. “So, as long as High Fidelity Inc remains committed to continue open sourcing their platform codebase we see no reason to switch to using something else.”

That will change if they decide to stop open development, he added. “Then we’ll evaluate whether High Fidelity remains a viable option moving forward,” he said. “We’re building our proprietary services with that contingency in mind.”

In response to a comment questioning this strategy, Ilan replied:

The High Fidelity open-source project has a lot of potential. We don’t judge it based on the default UI High Fidelity offers or how well High Fidelity Inc. managed a VR-focused consumer service while the demand for such a service was close to non-existent. [The] UI can be improved, we’re pursuing a different target demographic, and our company manages customer relations differently than High Fidelity Inc. does.

We still believe in the High Fidelity open-source project because it handles many of the hard engineering challenges that must be overcome to provide a good distributed multi-user VR experience. OpenSim is a lot more mature and includes many crucial components that are required for providing consumer virtual worlds. Most of those components are still missing from High Fidelity, but High Fidelity already has many VR-related capabilities that OpenSim currently lacks.

That said, most of the proprietary components we’re developing for our High Fidelity-based offering aren’t High Fidelity specific and could be used with our OpenSim-based Organizations offering as well. In other words, most of our R&D is invested in developing differentiating features for our own services and not on building platform-specific functionality for any of the virtual world options we provide.

You might not be aware that Kitely has already contributed a fair bit of code to the open-source High Fidelity project, which anybody can contribute to. There is a possiblity that Kitely may choose to branch off from the existing open-source code at some point in the future, especially if HiFi decides to go in a direction that doesn’t meet their needs.

Kitely is not the only company looking at providing services based on High Fidelity’s code. In March 2019, former High Fidelity staff member Caitlyn Meeks founded Tivoli Cloud VR, a company focused on providing supplemental services for virtual worlds based on the High Fidelity software, in response to High Fidelity’s recent announcements (here and here).

Thank you to Theanine for the news tip!

What Adam Frisby Has Learned From Working on OpenSim

Adam Frisby.png
Adam Frisby

Adam Frisby, a co-founder of OpenSim and the Chief Product Officer of Sine Wave Entertainment (the creators of the virtual world Sinespace), has written a very insightful article for the Hypergrid Business website.

Titled What I learned about virtual worlds by helping found OpenSim, Adam talks at length about some of the lessons he learned from building virtual worlds over the past 12 years, particularly his experience with OpenSim:

For a while, there were some big names adopting the project in droves. Nearly every major tech company had some involvement — or at least one employee contributing — to OpenSim at some point. IBM had an entire team of OpenSim developers and was running internal conferences using the project. During my involvement, the OpenSim software was downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. In the years since, it’s found its way into many surprising places, from NASA to university courses.

It’s gratifying to see OpenSim still soldiering on 12 years later, in great part through the efforts of the educators who’ve embraced it, and through worlds like OSGrid, which maintains a small but dedicated user community, along with a host of other enterprises, projects and grids using the software.

And while OpenSim didn’t become the breakout success we hoped it would, I learned a lot from it, about building virtual world platforms — and what they need.

He stresses the importance of not reinventing the wheel:

Virtual worlds shouldn’t reinvent the wheel

This is true of Second Life and OpenSim, and numerous other virtual worlds and MMOs — attempting to build key features and functionality by creating them from scratch, when better options already exist.

At the time, the list of free or cheap 3D engines could be counted on one hand — Torque, Ogre3D, Irrlicht, etc. But today, we have dozens of fantastic high-end options, including Unity, Unreal, Lumberyard, CryEngine, and Unigine. If you were willing to shell out real cash, Unreal, CryEngine, id Tech and others have been available throughout.

Building your own graphics engine from scratch, however, is a dumb idea. It’s an insanely complex bit of software. Throw in a few thousand graphics cards and chips, various drivers, and you’ve got the recipe for a monumental headache on compatibility and support, let alone trying to stay up to date with the latest and greatest in 3D features. Trying to build your own is just going to result in you wasting a ton of talent reinventing the wheel.

Sinespace is built on top of the Unity engine, which allows it to leverage the usage of such cool, Unity-based tools such as Archimatix. Contrast this with Linden Lab’s Sansar, where Linden Lab has decided to develop their own engine. There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches (for example, Sinespace has to scramble to fix bugs introduced by regular Unity updates, something that Linden Lab doesn’t need to worry about as much, since they control everything in-house).

Adam also talks about the importance of addressing non-Windows and mobile users:

Virtual worlds must be accessible — immediately

Even among gamers, the percentage of people willing to downland and install a client, then endure a time-consuming, multi-step login process, is vanishingly small. For the same reason, web and mobile access matter too. We know from our own efforts that if you want someone to download or install something, half of the people who sign up, won’t.

Today’s consumers don’t use desktops either – the web today is mobile, and I find myself using my phone more and more, switching only to my desktop to get work done. You need to be where the users are – and that, in my opinion, means friction- free and device-agnostic experiences.

I note that Sinespace is now available not only on the desktop (with versions for Windows, MacOS, and LINUX), but also for users in VR headsets (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality). They’re also currently testing viewers for both iPhone/iPad and Android devices. Sinespace even has a viewer that runs completely within a web browser (I’ve tested it and it works fairly well). And they are working on a client for OpenVR viewers for both Windows and Mac, too! I would have to say that, at this point, Sinespace is ahead of the competition in terms of mobile device and multiple platform support. They’ve got all the bases covered!

Offering lots of options for people to access your virtual world (particularly those which don’t involve downloading a client) gives you an advantage in an increasingly crowded market of metaverse products. And if you don’t believe that mobile-accessible virtual worlds are important, you really do need to check out both IMVU and Avakin Life. Both are very popular with children and teenagers, most of whom are on smartphones—and these children and teenagers are future adult consumers! Companies need to be paying attention to this segment of the market.

This is a very good article about virtual worlds from an industry veteran who is doing some innovative things in virtual worlds. I’d encourage you to go over to Hypergrid Business and read it in full!