An interview by Alyne Dagger (with some final remarks)
At the end of June 2009 I was interviewed by Alyne Dagger for the online magazine Bad Girls Magazine (BG Magazine). The interview was planned around may, and I received a draft questionnaire by email at the end of June. I wrote a first working draft with my replies, and we interchanged some emails until we both were satisfied with the results. Working with Alyne was fantastically easy, and the interview, first appeared on the portuguese edition of BG Magazine, no. 19, and later in the english edition, no. 19, was very nicely presented; big thanks to Alyne for her wonderful, careful work :-) I reproduce the interview here in its entirety, with permission. Text in italics is from BG Magazine, while my replies use a normal font; image subtitles, when present, are also from BG magazine. The images are all mine; some of them where proposed by me, and some of them were chosen by the interviewer.
Most of the material covered in the interview can also be found here and here, but the presentation is different — being in an interview format, the reading is probably more agile. You’ll also find two arguments about why Second Life cannot scale; these were previously published, in a similar form, as comments on other people’s blogs.
When speaking about virtual worlds, two months are like two years in RL. That’s why I include, at the end of the post, a small section with some corrective remarks; these were not part of the original interview.
HERALD OF DIGITAL FREEDOM
Intense and passionate in every project she’s got herself involved, ZONJA CAPALINI was a mix between muse and investor of the Metaverse when the Openspaces crisis blew up in 2008.
Revolted, she’s began to try to revert the price policy through mobilization and protest, but seeing doesn’t worry with the investors and residents like her, she went to the fight and had searched for solutions for her business in other metaverses, before to begin her own grid, using the Opensim as a tool.
She tells us with exclusivity how was this painful process which can have opened horizons and frontiers for the age of the free metaverses.
BG Magazine: How did you come to SL and what you did in your first SL year?
Zonja Capalini: I was captured, as many other people were, by the hype about Second Life at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007. I first created an avatar in december of 2006, but I had some difficulties with it and did never log in. Zonja first rezzed on february the first, 2007. It was a pure adventure. Complete immersion from the first second.
At the time the process was more complicated than it is today, and it was almost not localized. I spent several days at Orientation Island, then Help Island, until I found a way to get to the mainland. I first teleported into a german-speaking infohub (all europeans seemed to be routed to that hub at the moment), and started to socialize.
I was feeling awkward, was very shy, and besides I didn’t control my avie properly, I was crashing against all the walls I found, flying unexpectedly, etc. — as everybody else. I had the impression to have landed in the recovery area of a hospital specialized in brain injuries :-)
One of my main customers is a company dedicated, amongst other things, to education.
I saw that LL was announcing voice in SL, and I thought that creating a campus for that company in SL could be a great way to allow them to have students from all over the world. I talked to the executives of the company and showed them SL, and they agreed that it looked as an interesting platform to evaluate. So that from the beginning my SL experience was dual: on the one hand I was living my own second life, experiencing the universe as a “resident”; on the other hand, I was learning to master SL as a technological platform.
From the experiential side my life was as everybody else’s. I slowly learned how to customize my avatar (I remember believing that my avie was very pretty when I was a noob, to buy skins, hair, prim skirts, prim shoes… I met people, made several friends, was invited to dance and to explore, and in general socialized a lot. It was extremely fun!
From the business side I learnt how to build, where to buy textures, how to script, etc.
I bought my first parcel at Aglaia (a sim that does no longer exist), and my RL friend Ludmilla Writer soon bought a parcel there too. I was using my immersive life as a way to learn about the platform too.
BG Magazine: Why did it became so important to have a state for you? And how did the Condensation archipelago grow up?
Zonja Capalini: One day the owner of Aglaia, the sim I was living in, suddenly decided that he’d be leaving SL, and sold all his sims to a new owner. All the tenants were given a deadline to leave; we lost the setup fee, and we became homeless. I realized I could not have a stable place for my experiments and my creations unless I was the owner of my own sim. The same was true of the company I was working for, of course. So my company bought a sim, and I bought another one, Condensation Land. In SL, if you want to be able to control your experience, you have to own a full sim (which is far too expensive by the way): if you’re in the mainland, you’re subject to griefing, and you can’t be sure that your neighbours won’t create a really ugly building, or open a freebie shop, etc., so that your experience will degrade horribly. And if you rent space in a private estate, you are subjected to the arbitrariness of the sim owner, without an effective way to complain if you are mistreated or plainly scammed.
To be able to finance Condensation Land I started by sharing it with my Friend Ludmilla and some refugees from Aglaia, then rented some land to several people I had come to know in SL. At the time I was a Second Life evangelist, so that I brought several friends from RL too and convinced them to rent a plot of land in Condensation.
When Condensation Land was almost self-sustaining, I bought Condensation Beach, another full sim, and started to rent some plots there too.
Then the Lindens announced that you could get openspaces in a number lower than four, and that you could place them anywhere. And shortly they lowered the price to be prim-equivalent to a normal sim: a normal sim allowed up to 15,000 prims and costed US$ 295, and an Openspace allowed 15,000/4 = 3750 prims and costed US$ 300/4 = US$ 75. That seemed very fair, and allowed you to terraform more beautifully, avoiding the crowded landscapes you found in most of Second Life. So that I decided to keep Condensation Land as a full sim and move the rest of the archipielago to openspaces.
I first ordered the Condensation South openspace, and moved some of my tenants there. Then we had a long talk with Ludmilla and we agreed that she’d be getting her own Openspace too. The problem was that her parcel was in Condensation Beach, which was a full sim, and at the time converting a full sim to four openspaces was taking a lot of time, because the new Openspace product was extremely successful and the ticket queues were collapsed; Ludmilla was a very active resident at the time, and she could not stay homeless for an extended period of time, so that I bought the Condensation SouthWest openspace, cloned the terrain from Condensation Beach, and moved all of Ludmilla’s stuff to Condensation SouthWest in preparation for the conversion of Condensation Beach into four Openspaces.
This conversion took a lot of time to effect, and during this time the landscape in Condensation was awful, to the point that some of my tenants left, but finally we got four new sims: one was Condensation Beach itself (zilched in the conversion process, which is ridiculous btw), another was Condensation North, and the other two I sold in the open market.
Then I re-cloned back the terrain from Condensation SouthWest to Condensation Beach, moved all of Ludmilla’s stuff from SW to Beach, terraformed SW and N, and offered to my remaining tenants to migrate to ampler, more beautifully terraformed parcels in these openspaces.
BG Magazine: How was your reaction when the Openspaces crisis came? Did you believe you could make change or start a movement to change the Linden Lab price policies?
Zonja Capalini: Well I joined the protests actively. The outrage was immense. It had taken us months of time, a lot of money, and a lot of hours of hard work to migrate to the openspaces. The announcements came approximately one month after we had been able to do our inauguration party. I simply could not believe what was happening. The Lindens were increasing the fees by a 66% just six months after announcing the Openspace product, and, to add insult to the injury, we were being called abusers! The notion that one can abuse a program is simply ludicrous: think about “abusing Excel”, for example — it sounds ridiculous because it is ridiculous. The Lindens were treating us as retarded children. They were calling us “abusers”, when clearly they were the ones abusing us, making use of the fact that at the moment there seemed to be no clear alternative to Second Life. If there had been a clear competitor they would have never dared to take such a step.
BG Magazine: When you understood they would not come back, you started a migration. How was the process?
Zonja Capalini: It was a very, very bitter experience. Till the openspace fiasco I was a strong believer in Second Life, and a big evangelist, I had brought several companies into SL and a lot of RL friends too. Now the Lindens had made me look as a stupid fool by convincing enterprises and friends to make business with a company, Linden Lab, which proved to be unreliable, to have a maddening and erratic price policy, and to be completely out of contact with their user base.
My first reaction was to open an account in Open Life. At the moment many people were doing the same, going to Open Life was an illuminating experience because you’d find huge crowds of frightened Second Life emigrees. I prefer not to reproduce here literally was being said about the Lindens in Open Life at the time. Everybody was explaining their personal drama, telling how much money they had lost due to the price raise, and swearing they’d not trust Linden Lab anymore, never.
I bought a private cluster of four sims in Open Life to get some experience in the new world, I cloned the terrain from SL, and I started to migrate stuff using Second Inventory.
I learned a lot in the process, but at the same time I realized that Open Life was not the place to be: there was no serious company behind (indeed most of the time it looked like a one-person project), scripts behaved erratically when they worked at all, and, above all, you were substituting the Lindens by the Openlifes, which was no improvement at all (indeed it was worse because of the above: there was no real company behind, etc).
I tried Legend City Online too, but it was performing so poorly that after some few attempts I stoped caring. And finally I also tried OSGrid, but OSGrid is not intended to be a stable grid, but as an experimental grid for technical pioneers.
Since both Open Life, LCO and OSGrid were based on Opensim, I decided to give it a try myself. I downloaded Opensim and MySQL and installed my first Opensim. Here‘s a blog article I wrote about it.
I discovered that Opensim is a charm to work with! You can make a backup of your database and some few control files, and clone your micro-world anywhere else, avatars, inventory, terrain, scripts, objects, everything! After having lost inventory in Second Life (not to speak of Open Life too), feeling that you can always go back and recover inventory or assets if you need it is really invaluable. Besides, Justin Clark-Casey, a core Opensim developer, was developing a very nice tool to zip a whole region to what’s called an “Opensim Archive” — you can pack a region, terrain and all objects, into a relatively small .oar file, and unpack it in the same or in another world! Once you get used to regularly backing up your stuff, you realize that your property in Second Life is sequestered! You paid for it, but you can’t take it with you elsewhere, so you are in fact bound to continue using Second Life if you want to make use of it.
After quite a lot of work, I completed the migration of the Condensation Land archipielago to Opensim, and abandoned all the sims in Second Life except the Condensation Land sim itself. The process is described in detail here.
BG Magazine: What’s the main differences between SL Grid and Opensim grid? What’s the cool things and the ones to be improved?
Zonja Capalini: Well indeed there’s no such thing as an Opensim grid. Opensim is a program, a 3D application server, in the same way that Apache is a 2D application server; you get your web pages from Apache (or some other server brand), and you get your 3D spaces from Opensim.
Then using Opensim you can build grids, or host your own sim and join it to a preexisting grid, like OSGrid, for example.
I opted by creating my own grid — I thought I would learn more this way, and, above all, I wanted to have full control over my inventory, my objects, etc.
To me the coolest thing about Opensim is that you’re the grid owner. This means that you decide who’s to have an avatar there, you can use arbitrary names for the avatars, and, above all, you are in full control of your grid. You can backup the database where mostly everything is stored and recreate your grid somewhere else: no more inventory loss. You can create a full backup of a region and clone it in some other grid or give it to somebody else. You can make a full backup of your inventory and clone it in somebody else’s grid (that’s experimental at this time). And you can decide whether you run your grid as an isolated walled garden or whether you want to open it to the hypergrid, so that effectively you’re participating in a worldwide federation of grids, the Opensim metaverse.
Another cool thing about Opensim is that you have easy access to the developers and to a lot of very helpful people. You can post your questions to opensim-users or opensim-dev, and there’s a big possibility that somebody will quickly answer your question. I’d call that a really excellent support. And in case you need a particular feature, you can offer to pay for it and find somebody who’ll implement it for you. Compare that to Second Life, which is extremely stagnant as a software platform: since the latest big changes (i.e, voice, Windlight, Havok 4 and Mono) they have added absolutely nothing to Second Life.
The not so cool thing about Opensim is that it’s an alpha product, and therefore you can’t expect it to be as stable as Second Life is. And at the moment it’s a product for people with a somewhat strong technical background, if you want to do serious things with it. But anyway some of the latest releases are quite stable; indeed, if you take care to build things carefully, being in Opensim feels no different from being in Second Life.
But the real challenge for the Opensim grids is how to get access to quality content. At the moment you can find tons of freebies in many places, including Second Life, and some of these freebies (i.e., the ones that are full perms) you can move to Opensim. Most freebies are garbage, but some are not, so that if you’re careful you can get a pretty decent collection of stuff into Opensim. The problem with this approach is that it is extremely time-consuming, you have to be very careful and systematic if you want to avoid ending with an inventory which is a completely unusable mess, and not everybody has the time, the patience and the meticulousity to spend a lot of hours making this migration.
My guess is that the first quality merchants that find a way to sell their stuff in Opensim will make a lot of money. I wouldn’t have cared to pay again for my favourite stuff if I had known that this time it would be really mine.
BG Magazine: You still have a full sim in world. Why didn’t you leave completely Second Life after disappointment with Linden Lab policies?
Zonja Capalini: Second Life is still very interesting as a place. Nowadays, the biggest problem of Second Life are the Lindens :-) You can’t set up a world, tell people to create it, and then manage it as if it was yours. I’m from the time where the slogan was “A world created and owned by its residents”. Well, I took that very seriously :-) Second Life is still the place to be if you want to shop, party and socialize. But Opensim is growing and bettering very fast, so that this might change sooner than most people expect.
BG Magazine: Do you believe that other virtual worlds can someday be bigger than Second Life? Do you believe we can someday use an avatar in more than one world?
Zonja Capalini: Second Life is based in a model which cannot scale properly — not because of technological problems, which can in principle be overcome (although I have serious doubts that Linden Lab can effectively manage it), but because in the end it’s a model which is absurd. Think about the web: you can choose to host your web anywhere, including at home if you don’t have a lot of traffic. There are huge webs which get millions of hits a day and have access to huge bandwidth, and small, home based webs used by small communities, or even families. If somebody suggested to create a single, all-encompassing web where all the pages in the world would be hosted, you’d call her a fool. The same is true of the metaverse. The idea that there should be a single provider for the metaverse is absurd.
Still another comparison: back in the 80s, there was a big network called BITNET that offered a lot of the services we’re nowadays used to: it had email, a form of IM, file transfer, and some primitive forms of file servers (the predecessors of the WWW). This network died and was substituted by the Internet not because of the technology, but because it was centrally administered.
When a new node joined the network, the network administrator had to compile huge routing tables, which were customized for each node, and each node administrator had to install the updated routing tables. Of course, most node administrators were lazy or incompetent, the tables did not get installed, traffic was lost, etc. The internet won because it does not have a central authority and because it autoconfigures. The same is true of the metaverse: people want freedom, not to have to submit a ticket and wait an undetermined number of days to have the simplest of tasks done. People want freedom, not to be told what to do at their own homes. People want freedom to choose how they will use their sims; if they want to place 30000 prims in a region and have only three concurrent visitors, that’s their choice. They don’t want to be imposed arbitrary prim limits, as they don’t want to be charged for a 100 avatar capacity sim when they will never get more than 20 persons in their island.
Regarding your question about using the same avatar in different worlds, you can already do that right now using Opensim. There exists a mechanism called “hypergrid” by which you can teleport between worlds, keeping all your inventory. This or a similar technology is clearly be the future for the metarevse. Here are some blog articles I wrote about hypergrid: , , , and here’s a video showing an hypergrid travel from OSGrid to my own grid, the Condensation Land grid.
BG Magazine: Do you still have plans and projects for Second Life or do you believe it is better migrate to other worlds forever?
Zonja Capalini: Well we have already migrated to the hypergrided Opensim metaverse :-) I have no plans for Second Life at the moment, and I doubt I’ll have them in the future. Second Life is technologically stagnant, run in a very unprofessional way, you’re subject to arbitrary price changes, and the content you buy is really not yours, because you can’t take it with you. In Opensim there’s very quick technical change and evolution, you can run it yourself, it’s much much cheaper, and you own what you create and what you acquire. Second Life is a nice place to shop and go dancing. For serious projects and for the enterprise, Opensim is the tool of choice.
[The interview ends here]
Some final remarks
Things move fast in the virtual worlds scenario. So fast indeed that in only two months, two of the statements contained in the interview would have to be revised.
On the one hand, Linden Lab has lately added HTTP-in LSL functions, taken its Avaline offer out of beta, announced the LLMedia API, and showed interesting prototypes of other technologies to come, apart from completely redesigning their web and spreading rumors about new improvements in 2010. One cannot continue to sustain today that Second Life is a technically stagnant platform — a very welcome change indeed :-) Anyway in other areas they continue to be hopelessly incorrigible: the umptenth price policy rectification for Openspace Homestead sims is a pathetic case of “too little, too late” — and they continue to treat their customer base as retarded children: putting a title that starts with “Good News” to that blog post looks like a weird mixture of sadism and blatant marketing inepcy ;-)
On the other hand, OSGrid turned two at the end of July and announced several improvements: a General Store, a completely redesigned web, including an achievements system, and a focus broadening to include new, more user-friendly continents apart from the traditional, test-oriented core. Therefore, my statement that “OSGrid is not intended to be a stable grid, but as an experimental grid for technical pioneers” should also have to be revised, at least partially — and that’s also a very welcome change.
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