Photo: New Genres Grid (2011)
We are familiar with the difference between the internet and intranets, the latter being the domains of companies or colleges where for reasons of privacy or confidentiality the uninvited can not gain access. A similar distinction exists with virtual worlds where some regions can be visited by anyone, while other regions are off limits. In virtual worlds there is also a second separation between 'open' and 'closed' grids which can be compared to the border controls between real world countries.
Open and Closed Grids
A grid location describes the position of every individual virtual environment or region in terms of it's x and y coordinates on a larger map - called the grid. Each region can therefore be given it's own address, known as a hypergid address which looks similar to a web address EG. Samsara on the OSgrid has the address hg.osgrid.org:80:Samsara. Using these addresses in a virtual world viewer (browser) avatars can move (teleport) from one region landmark to another.
The OSGrid is described as an open grid because any regions whether rented from a hosting providers or any individual, college or business running their own virtual world can link their virtual world to this network. The comparison here is that open grids are like the www where anybody can link their web site to any other. Within these open grids some of the regions are private but most can be visited by anyone with an avatar account atOSgrid.
The Open Simulator organisation maintains a voluntary list of public grids which use OpenSimulator software. Some grids operate thousands of regions, as of August 2011 OSGrid had 7,178 regions, most grids operate hundreds while some operate only a handful.
In contrast to the open grids Second Life is described as a closed grid because an avatar registered on the Second Life grid can not visit any other grid, and similarly an avatar registered on any other grid can not visit Second Life; the www comparison here is that Second Life is an intranet. In consequence users registering on closed grids need to register a new avatar with each different closed grid which they wish to visit.
Historically Linden Lab's Second Life was the source code which is now used by the Open Simulator community to run virtual worlds. In 2007 Linden Lab agreed to open-source licence their proprietary server code (GPL 2.0 license) which effectively allowed anyone to run their own clone of Second Life.
Releasing their source code was an important transition for Linden Lab because releasing the code as open-source allowed free distribution of their software with the intention of encouraging outside involvement and hence more rapid uptake and innovation. The opposite of open-source licences are the proprietary software companies such as Microsoft and Apple who maintain strict control over their software and sell their products.
Subsequently Linden Lab and the Open Simulator community have cooperatively developed and refined the source code for running virtual worlds to the extent that there are now areas of incompatibility. Apart from differences in the code there are other reasons why a particular grid may be closed rather than open to visiting avatars from other grids.
For example, Second Life has it's own the currency called the Linden dollar which Linden Lab controls and underwrites and which can not be used in other virtual worlds, secondly Second Life has a sophisticated copyright system designed to protect creators of in-world goods, consequently goods purchased in Second Life by third parties can not be moved and more importantly sold in other virtual worlds.
Since 2007 many other closed grids have now developed including Avination Grid, InWorldz Grid, Reaction Grid, 3rd Rock Grid and SpotOn3D each of which use a modified version of the Linden Lab source code but offer region hosting fees which are cheaper than Second Life.
In contrast the open grids of OSGrid (non-profit) and MyOpenGrid (commercial) have fewer controls but are considerably cheaper than their closed grid counterparts. For example regions can be rented for less than �10 per month on the OSGrid, even better is that individuals with technical skills can host an Open Simulator installation on their own computer (free) and connect it to the OSGrid.
In overview therefore we have a metaverse which is a mixture of private and public virtual regions , hosted on either open or closed grids and while the private and public regions will continue to coexist we can expect future developments which will allow avatars to freely move from region to region across grid borders while keeping their personal possessions with them. The future of resolving issues pertaining to virtual currencies is likely to have a higher profile, particularly as this crosses real life international borders and exchange controls and in the future will undoubtedly have tax implications.