Thursday, 23 September 2010

Another nail in the SL Education Coffin

Serious Games learning group; Most likely abandoning SL; Looking at options Open Sim, Unity 3D, Open Cobal

I'm not sure who the Seriuos Games Learning Group are, but really I'm still shocked by the number of people still promoting Second Life as an Education Platform.

I had a client on the phone today (in fact had 2 for 2 different reasons).

He was being sold Second Life for their Academy, I had met him a few months back but we were too expensive (this was before our wonderful discounted TCG for Schools). He was being told that Second Life was the best place for kids to learn and travel around. There was no mention of the Teen Grid closing, no mention of "funny name" brigade. All he was being told was Second Life is BACK and its better than ever!

Then the next call was from Corporate IT for a local autority, who has been asked by a school to allow them access to Second Life. They also have TCG and was asking for that access too. So this IT bloke was going on about openning 20000+ ports so people could use Second Life and Second Places.

I had to correct him that to use the TCG its 1 static IP address and open 10 ports, all of which can be configured to open on after an internal request to a Cisco router. Within 5 minutes this nice IT person had opened the ports to TCG and tested, all connecting instantly.

He started asking me questions about Second Life and I just stopped him. We are Second Places, we don't do much in Second Life and we would never encourage a corporation or education establishment to use Second Life any more. I explained that this conversation was one we had many many times with corporate IT and one we gave up arguing against over 3 years ago.

As Second Places moves forward with Unity 3D as well as OpenSim for Education. We want everyone to be successful, but please.. Stop promoting Second Life as a platform for business/education. Linden have made it clear in the past couple of months, Second Life is a SOCIAL NETWORK site. That is why I started in Second Life over 6 years ago. I even still have my beta first land on the mainland grid. I still like to hang out with old friends there. But its not for business!


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Unity verses OpenSim

Over the past couple of months Second Places has been looking at using Unity rather than OpenSim for a few of our clients.

We've always favored OpenSim, lets be honest, its free and wonderful tool.

However it has many "problems" and I do mean problems with quotation marks around it. These problems are not really problems per say but barriers.

Never once have I met a IT Manager after the boss has said "OpenSim" who has just gone, "I'll away and open the firewall ports just now!". As an X IT Manager I know the crap that gets put on their plate. I remember the power being cut and the CEO coming into my office demanding to get his emails (these were the days before remote working and iphones) he was serious.

So its in-bred that when ever a job lands on the IT Managers desk s/he will go out of their way to point out the security issues, the possible loss of data, and so on. Even though any one with half a decent firewall (really any Cisco) knows that you can only the ports if communication has been started from inside.

So if I were a hacker, I would need to break in to the network, log in to one of their machines, run the software, that would open the port to that computer, leave the computer running, leave the building and then I could hack the system!

But wait! I'm already in the system why in gods name would I then leave?

But as soon as the boss hears "Security" and the famous "I can't be held responsible" the boss falls in line with the IT Manger and its game over for OpenSim.

I can list nearly 30 companies that have been so keen to use it, but alas their IT says no and they lose their virtual world.

So Unity comes along. Well not just Unity, there has been other game engines out there we have looked at, but we have finally cracked Unity.

The graphics are much much better than OpenSim, it uses port 80 (apart from voice which is what we are working on now, /me waves at Olli). And it installs just a plug in for the browser.

So Mr IT Manager has no need to worry, you still get a virtual world (in fact an even better one) the only thing lacking is the ability for people to build easily.

I'm going to do a table to compare what we can do (for sure and we think we can) with OpenSim and Unity and hopefully those 30 or so companies who were put off by their IT Manager can come back to the Virtual World table.

I know were not the first OpenSim developer to look at using Unity, and I don't think we'll be the last. And I'm very impressed with what Reaction Grid are offering. And I think we're looking at two different markets now, which is also a relief.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Confused with all the "Groups!"

Its not hard to confuse me

It really isn't. I'm married, with an 8 year old, I am Managing Director for what I think is the largest OpenSim/Virtual World supplier in the UK, I look after 4 full time "employed" staff and report to a board. Two offices in Aberdeen, Scotland and Manchester, England. We do nothing but Virtual Worlds.

We have over 20 active "business" clients (clients that have paid more than 10k) we have 100's of smaller "personnel" clients and developers. Our clients range from BP to Learning and Teaching Scotland (Scottish Government's Education) from Domino's Pizza UK to EMAP.

But we suck at publicity. I see smaller companies doing things that we wouldn't dream of doing, we see Marketing companies call themselves virtual world companies, and I see people stand up and say "listen to me, I am a virtual world evangelist".

And I see all these "groups" being formed, groups about File Formats, Social Interaction, Education, groups looking at things way beyond my head.

And I see other companies engaging and getting publicity. And I need to know how they can do it?

The only time I've been famous is (about 2 months ago) one of our clients was tracked along coals for spending tax payers money on something that would have saved them money, but wasn't allowed to finish. But thats the media for you. And of course the Jimmy Carr gig 3 years ago.

We give the client all the IP on all our builds so its them that get the publicity, as it should be (imho). You don't design a web site and then you hark on about it, its the client who should get the publicity, you just have it in your portfolio to show off to new clients.

I just don't have the time to pursue all these groups, go to all these meetings. My priority is to my clients and new business. They have my mobile number and they know how to use it.

Yet I feel bad, I'm using Open Source technology. I'm the first to bitch about things going wrong or something dropping in the list to be developed. My CTO does his best but hes also busy.

So this blog is to everyone out there making virtual worlds better

"THANKS! Keep up the good work" with one question... Anyone want to help with our publicity?


Tuesday, 7 September 2010

You are going to have to change!

The world is about to turn nasty

Thankfully I don't mean the world is about to turn nasty on you, but its going to be a much harder world to do business in. As you are no doubt aware the world faced the worst "depression"/"recession" since the great crash of the 30's. So as a solution the Governments of the world met in London and agreed to spend their way out. And it WORKED!

I'm not here to say if they were right or wrong, but they saved us ALL from a full blown deeper than deep depression AKA 1930's.

But then the bill arrived at everyone's table, "Emmm excuse me Mr General Public, sir, your bill is slightly larger than we expected!". And when I say everyone, I mean everyone apart from the US which is still spending (again if that's correct or not, I don't know, all I know is the US public will have to pay for it sometime).

So Governments have a choice.
1) Increase Taxes
2) Cut spending
3) A bit of both.

Again I don't want to comment on which is right but these things have to happen.

And everyone know this... And yet its the hope "it won't be me!", but I think I'm safe in saying, "It likely will!".

So what will you do about it?

Again I don't want to say what you WILL do to "persuade" your Government it should not be you but we can already see what is the likely outcome...


Greece already is as close to a shutdown country as is possible, France is just about to undertake a 24 hours NATIONAL strike, Scotland's public sector staff have been "FORCED" to agree to a 0% increase this year, next year and 0.5% the year after, so they are going to strike, the list is endless.

"But wait!" I hear you cry, "your not a political blogger, you talk about Virtual Worlds!"

You are, as always, so right. And here is where Virtual Worlds could save you millions!

Travel across Europe is going to be near impossible during this strike in France. All Aircraft will have to detour round France to fly, they don't fly over France to get to Rome from London by choice, its kind of the cheapest way there. So prices will go up and travel will become even more restrictive!

I think its fair to say these strikes will not get better soon. Governments really have no money and I'm not spending just now as I think they could raise taxes (UK 20% VAT already agreed).

So I'm overjoyed to see a global conference held on a virtual world.

Slightly less overjoyed to see it on Second Life (with Lindens documented problems, the last experience of an event that went horribly wrong, see my earlier blog, and the problem of not knowing who I am talking to, I will be Texas Arizona, and trust me its not just a clever name ).

But I am going to subscribe and looking forward to it, I pray with my whole heart that the SGI boys and girls have spoken to Linden Labs, have said, "oi, don't let us down here boys! this could be the way conferences are held in the future".

So lets hope in 6 months from now I can attend BETT or the Museums Association Conference without worrying about BA strikes, French Truck Drivers or anything else. Where I can log in 2 minutes before the talk I want to attend, ask questions, give feedback and be in the office as soon as its finished - WOULD BE BLISS!

Although really, it would have been EASIER and slightly more safer to use OpenSim, but I pray for a good day! And look forward to using my "elevator pitch" I have just learned at the MIT Business School training in a virtual world (/me gets my handshake gesture ready).


Thursday, 2 September 2010

The Loss of the Teen Grid to Education

So now its official and time is moving by quickly. Second Life's Teen Grid will be shutting down at the end of this year, so if you have an island there then you will be moved to the main grid and your kids will most likely be thrown out.

Not shedding a tear
Alas I am not. The UK was always stuck with the problem that our kids mostly stay in at School until they are 18 then go straight to university. Many of the Schools we look after are 6th Form Colleges and virtual worlds gave them the possibilities to have fashion shows, art shows, all showing off their students skills. But most 6th formers are 16-19 and as such couldn't use the teen grid (well some could, some couldn't).

So we would always encourage our schools to use OpenSim. Lets be honest they things we can configure for OpenSim (Swear word filter, Timed uptime, logs of every conversation) are all now a basic minimum for kids using the internet.

Also thanks to the wonderful people at OpenSim Development Team and our own In House team I would like to announce the launch of two new packages, much reduced in price and for Education Establishments ONLY!

The Content Grid - Village/Town/City (foreign and home)
The Content Grid is a web front end that plugs into your OpenSim Virtual World. It will allow you to not only host your own world but it allows you to dynamically add islands (via the web page marketplace) when you require. And not just islands you have created yourself, you can create islands and upload them for other schools to use (either for free or charge them through our web market place).

So you could have a class studying GCSE English Literature so you enable the World War 1 English Lit. Island and allow your kids to instantly walk around the trenches of the Western Front, or you could create your own island and pack it away when your finished.

So imagine 6 classes each with their own island and you just open and close them when required, so you don't have to worry about hosting 6 islands all at once.

The Content Grid can also be configured to work within your already present VLE (we have integrated it with GLOW and Moodle) so the kids and teachers have 1 login for all systems.

Our 3 Servers are detailed below:-


25Gb HD
1024RAM (burstable to 2048)
unmetered Traffic
100Mb Bandwidth

50Gb HD
2048 RAM (burstable to 4096)
unmetered Traffic
100Mb Bandwidth

50Gb HD
3072 RAM (burstable to 6144)
unmetered Traffic
100Mb Bandwidth

All come with OpenSim version 0.7.x
OpenSimManager (so you log in via a web page)
ContentGrid Manager (so you can dynamiclly add and remove islands)
Branded Client Software (based upon Second Life Version 2 viewer)
Your own Domain either transferred or a Brand New Domain created for you.

Foreign and Home relates to the servers hosting location. Some schools require to host the server themselves due to security concerns with firewalls etc. Our system will still allow you to upload and download islands as per normal but everything hosted behind your own firewall (HOME). Normally we host the servers ourselves for our clients at a state of the art data centre in London, UK (Foreign).

Until the end of 2010 the prices for these packages are:-

Village £2,292.87
Town £2,402.87
City £2,512.87
Per annum.
(for a calendar monthly cost divide the above by 11). All Servers hosted by Second Places (if you wish to host the servers localily please contact us directly).

OpenSim in a BOX
This is a simple installation of OpenSim version 0.7.x with a non branded Second Life Version 2 software client and web interface for adding user, removing users, forum and log in.

Like The Content Grid it comes in the 3 flavours depending on the same specification as per the content grid hardware.
Village £600
Town £900
City £1300
Per annum.
(for a calendar monthly cost divide the above by 11).

If any of these prices are of interest, or if you need to configure your server slightly different then drop me a mail @

Please note these prices are for EDUCATION establishments only. All prices exclude UK VAT (which goes up at the end of the year as well).