The Communications Gap in Virtual Worlds

No, this article is not about how Linden Lab ignores its customers…though it couldda been. 🙂

My friend, Han Held is partially to blame for the following outpouring of thoughts that are connected even if I don’t connect them very smoothly.

This article could probably benefit from sub-headers but since I’m not used to using sub-headers…blah, blah, whatever. (Illustration of how much thought I gave to whether or not to use sub-headers.)

Yes, friends, I’m ramblin’. The topic is in the area of Second Life vs OpenSim and every conversation I’ve ever seen about that includes a whole bunch of ramblin’. There’s good reason for it. It’s a complicated subject that can easily send one off into tangents and sub-tangents about particular cases. Here goes…!

Han posed a question on Google+ in the OpenSim Virtual community about how to effectively explain OpenSim to a Second Life resident who seems interested.

I’ve been there many times.

It’s very complicated. The more you try to explain it, the more complicated it becomes. Hence, I don’t think there is one simple way to explain the attraction of OpenSim to someone in SL who doesn’t know much about it.

There’s lots of reasons for that but the biggest one is – people in Second Life and people in OpenSim don’t speak the same language. And part of the reason for that, is that most OpenSimers have knowledge of SL while most SLers have no knowledge of OpenSim. And among those who do, they don’t know much.

There are two things your average SL user brings up when asking about OpenSim. They think there is nobody there and there is no quality content.

What do I know about your average SLer?

I started in SL in 2007. From ’09 through ’12, I tried a few other grids out of curiosity because I knew SL people who were also in these worlds and because although I liked SL very much, I figured there was more than one way to do a virtual world. A couple weren’t worth going back to for various reasons. A couple others – InWorldz and OSgrid – were worth it but I never ran into anyone in I’z and I only visited a friend’s project in OSgrid. So I only went to these grids a couple times a year. These were more exceptions than any move to OpenSim on my part.

I was really an SL-only person. I didn’t dislike OpenSim in general but I just didn’t have a reason or the time to look into it any further.

Then RL changed and I did have the time. Once I had the time, that curiosity became the reason. A year later, I have accounts in more than two dozen grids and I hyperjump like there‘s no tomorrow and I’ve established a personal mini-grid.

But I’m still in SL too, with no thought of leaving. Nor any thought of returning fulltime.

There are things I can’t do in OpenSim, so I still like SL and want to be there. There are things I can do in OpenSim that I can’t do in SL, so I’m never going back to SL fulltime.

In fact, if I absolutely had no choice but to pick one over the other, I’d pick OpenSim. I would hate to have to make that choice but I would pick OpenSim because there are more possibilities there. But I don’t have to pick one, so why would I?

I used to be your average SL user in the sense that I was not trying to make any money there, I was just there to play. Now that I have one foot firmly planted in OpenSim, I’m not your average SL user but when I’m in SL, I still use it like your average user does.

So I know a lot of other average SL users too.

For your average SL user, the difference between SL and OpenSim is the size of the population and the amount of content.


Hmmm, a sub-header snuck in there anyway. And yes, I know that snuck is not a word. Unless people keep using it, then it is.

For most people in SL, size matters. Bigger and more are better.

No matter how you measure it, everybody knows there are more people in Second Life than there are in OpenSim. For those who are in virtual worlds to socialize, most will choose Second Life.

Of course, there are multiple ways to socialize online these days.

I have many friends in Second Life. Almost all of my contact with them takes place inworld.

Conversely, I have many friends in OpenSim. Almost none of my contact with them takes place inworld.

Which group am I closer to? The OpenSim people. I am in contact with them daily or close to it because our contact comes on Google+ and Facebook or Twitter. Those places are where the “OpenSim Community” lives while the Second Life community lives inworld.

I put “OpenSim Community” in quotes because it’s different from the InWorldz Community or the Avination Community or the Kitely Community, etc.

And that, by the way, is the reason that any SL vs. OpenSim comparison is ill-conceived from the start. Right away you are talking about apples and oranges.

“OpenSim” is not “one thing,”

You can talk about Second Life vs InWorldz or SL vs Avination or SL vs OSgrid or SL vs Kitely or SL vs Metropolis or SL vs Francogrid or SL vs Tundra or SL vs TanGLe grid or SL vs Neuland or SL vs a whole lotta other commercial and non-commercial grids that are open to anyone to sign up or hyperjump to or…

SL vs a grid run by a school or SL vs a grid run by the government or SL vs a grid run by a non-profit or SL vs a grid run by a business or…

SL vs your one-region standalone or SL vs Dankoville, my 17-region-maybe-soon-to-be-34-region-personal-mini-grid…

Or SL vs a whole lotta other ways to do OpenSim…

…but you can’t really talk about Second Life vs OpenSim.

You can – to some extent – do it on specific questions but you can’t do it in a general way. It’s apples and oranges.

Yet people do it all the time. That is the reality of it. SLers do it, OpenSimers do it.

(I want to put two m’s in OpenSimmers but as right as it seems it also seems wrong. I believe my editor would allow it as I think you can make the case for either version but I’m not going to do it. Just wanted other writers out there to know that I want to do it. /me smiles)

Unfortunately, this communications gap gets in the way of Second Lifers understanding OpenSim at all and this confusion causes them to stay in SL.

I offer as evidence of this last point, the number one question I am asked in SL somewhere early on or, at the very latest, in the middle of every convo about OpenSim…

“What’s a grid?”

That is how far away we are from your average SLer ever seeing OpenSim in any of its forms as an alternative to SL or as a part of their virtual life along with SL.

Now that I have finished my tangent about how you can’t compare SL to OpenSim, let me return to comparing SL to OpenSim… 🙂

Back to the socializing thing. For a lot of SL people, the whole conversation about the difference in size of the population is about going to clubs or dances. When SL people say of OpenSim – “There’s nobody there!” They really mean it. They think there are no dances or clubs because they literally think there is no one there to show up at events.

So they need to be clued in that there’s plenty of dancing and partying going on in OpenSim. As much as in SL? Of course, not…but enough to keep you busy for the rest of your virtual life. Why do you care about the total number of events that you’re never going to go to anyway? You don’t even have time to read all the listings for events…so what difference does it make how many there are? You only need worry that there are enough for you. There are.


Look, there’s another sub-header.

Is there good content in OpenSim? Yes. Is there a lot of it? No. Is there more good content in SL? Yes.

Second Life wins. For many people, that is the end of the discussion right there. Good content is what it’s all about for them in virtual worlds.


Is there bad content in OpenSim? Yes. Is there a lot of it? No. Is there more bad content in SL? Yes.

Second Life ‘wins’ again. But for some reason, nobody thinks about this. Don’t argue with me here either, do the math.

Earlier, I said, “For most people in SL, size matters. Bigger and more are better.” Am I wrong or are bigger and more only better when SLers say it is?

Here’s a measurement I often see in regards to the differences or success of Second Life and OpenSim. It also happens to serve as a measurement of the communications gap…

Which has more regions, SL or OpenSim? Most SLers have no idea that the answer is OpenSim while most OpenSimers think this is a big deal.

I don’t know if it’s a big deal or not but I have noticed during the past few months while Hypergrid Business has been reporting that the total number of regions in OpenSim – and they’re only counting the 40 largest grids – is bigger than the number of regions in Second Life, that this fact – and having a link to back it up with – really makes an impression on SLers in these SL vs OpenSim discussions. They don’t know what to make of it but they are shocked by it. Maybe the bigger/more aspect of it forces them to finally consider the possibility that there is a “there” there in OpenSim. (And no, I don’t mean the world called There.)

My experience is that that one fact about the region numbers gets them asking more questions about OpenSim than they ever have before…so, from that standpoint, maybe it is a big deal…maybe the bigger and more are better thing is working to OpenSim’s advantage after all.

My focus on the lack of knowledge and understanding that SLers have regarding OpenSim is not the only side of the communications gap.

Recently on this blog, I posted a meme with questions for OpenSimers to answer about their use of Second Life. (I may do a follow-up with a sampling of answers from the various places they appeared around the web.)

One question asked: Do you hope Second Life goes out of business?

One responder commented that it was an odd question. I think it hits one as very odd because it seems to come from out of nowhere. So far, I have not seen anyone answer in the affirmative.

Why did I ask that question? Because, on a regular basis, I see OpenSimers rooting on Second Life’s decreases in region numbers and concurrency….cheering SL controversies and openly stating that they hope a given controversy will cause everyone to leave SL and head to OpenSim….stating that SL is dead or predicting that SL will die sooner rather than later. “Last one in SL, turn out the full glow lights” is a commonly-heard sentiment…which, of course, is different from a common sentiment…but still, as I see this kind of comment regularly, I thought it would be interesting and informative to ask the question directly. It was. (More on that if I do the follow-up.)

This kind of thinking shows that there are OpenSimers who have no understanding of why people find Second Life attractive. Sometimes these great minds state that they don’t want SLers coming to OpenSim. But it only proves that there are non-thinkers everywhere.

Back to the central question…to bring this ramblin’ to a close…

How do you get an SLer closer to trying OpenSim? The correct answer is: it depends. It truly depends on the individual’s interests and the things they need to enjoy virtual life.

The thing is that most of what people want from virtual life can be found both in Second Life and in OpenSim. In practice, some will prefer one to the other, some will want both.

But most SLers don’t know there is a choice. Many of them won’t like OpenSim anyway, so no loss for them. The problem is some would like it but they will never have the chance or might not take the chance to try it. That’s a shame. Their loss and OpenSim’s loss.

I suppose another answer to Han’s question about “how to explain OpenSim to an SLer” would be: Very carefully.

We don’t want to waste those opportunities. But then, how much impact will it have on OpenSim if we each persuade a few people to drop their SL-only thinking and cross the great divide?

Probably not much. We might luck out. We might say just the right thing that gets just the right person to cross over and have a big impact on OpenSim. But probably not.

But how much impact will OpenSim have on the lives of the people we help across? Ahhhh, there’s the reason to do it and do it very carefully.

We don’t want to waste THOSE opportunities.

About Danko Whitfield

writer, explorer of virtual worlds. semi-retired time traveler.
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6 Responses to The Communications Gap in Virtual Worlds

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  3. Talla Adam says:

    I think it was interesting to read your view, Danko, when you wrote “Which group am I closer to? The OpenSim people. I am in contact with them daily or close to it because our contact comes on Google+ and Facebook or Twitter. Those places are where the “OpenSim Community” lives while the Second Life community lives inworld.” Then you went on to divide the Opensim community into a Hypergrid grouping and the “others” or the closed grid commercial communities and yet, by your own words, we all meet up on social media which rather blurs that separation. It really is an interesting point and I think it supports the view that Google Plus in general and Opensim Virtual in particular really has become a focus for a sizable part of the Opensim community and, moreover, it may even be helping our communities to grow. Indeed, we are seeing more and more smaller G+ community portals open in support of individual grids and it is all serving to help the greater community to get to know each other like never before.


  4. Mera Kranfel says:

    Danko, you may have missed 1 important point here tho you mentioned it in the beginning of your posting. I quote: “I was really an SL-only person. I didn’t dislike OpenSim in general but I just didn’t have a reason or the time to look into it any further.

    Then RL changed and I did have the time.”

    Exactly, TIME. I can call myself a fairly experienced user of open sim as I have had my own servers and I have had a presence in Open sim since fall 2008. But I still spend most of my time in Second Life. Why is that? TIME D: I have tried to find people in Kitely for example (I love that grid and the people behind it). I also tried Metropolis and failed. They have events tho and they are busy but in the case of Metropolis i have left early because of the language (german) as i felt disconnected.

    So I have failed because as you said and another friend of mine told me, they are not online mostly. If you want to make friends in Kitely or other small grids you have to join and spend time in their forums. Problem is I dont have time for more forums…I work full time nowadays and have kids and dogs to care for and they come first. So when I have some “me time” to spend I often spend it in Second Life or inWorldz as Im always guaranteed to meet people/friends (its easy to find them for ex inWorldz start island) or find some other casual occupation in those grids. Maybee just for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Call it superficial, but that is how a lot of os use Virtual worlds…

    Open Sim takes a lot more time and effort than Second Life. It takes time to start from scratch. A lot of SL people dont have that time. They want it easy and they dont mind to spend some money either.Like it or not but that is a fact. So if you want to persuade people to join Open Sim, choose wisely. Dont aim for busy people like me. We work and we have money to spend and we dont care if Second Life or inWorldz cost money because its easy and time efficient for us. Your target is people who have a lot of time on their hands and maybee not that much money to spend. Or people who of some reason has begun to hate sl because of drama or something like that. They are the main target where u have the biggest chance to succeed 🙂

    Though i will always see myself as a resident in Open Sim and I love Tallas community in Google+ and have a lot of friends thanks to that. Some day I might have more time and i wont give up meeting you all in worlds….Maybee around christmas even 🙂

    Huggs from an open sim lover who doesnt have enough time


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