Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Case for Hypergrids vs. Large Grids

[ Before I begin, I would like to make clear that this is a neutral blog. Despite the grid drama that pops up now and then, I am not for or against any given grid, party, social circle, etc. This is NOT a mudsling.]

Where Grids do well:
They provide valuable environments for newcomers to the OpenSim world. In a way, they are the gateway by which new users are inducted. A user may gain social status, and contribute content back to the grid, thus you have this nice conveyor belt of outsider-to-insider.

Grids also provide an asset server, and a collection of sims you can easily teleport to. When large enough, you can generally find enough content to make your virtual life nice and cozy. Problems do occur, maintenance is sometimes needed, sometimes the proverbial crap hits the fan- but as a user, its not your problem, you don't have to fix it, its the admin's job.

Grids also provide an invaluable service to OpenSim, as many grids gain larger and larger userbases, hammering the server with heavier and heavier loads- the bugs they report to OpenSim developers can patch up the bugs that crop up as demand increases on opensim. This in itself, to me, is the most valuable function of a grid as long as its helping the OpenSim developers achieve this. When a grid diverges away from OpenSim trunk, and starts keeping core fixes to itself, its not helping the rest of the metaverse which depends on OpenSim. Private code is useless to the open metaverse. This doesn't mean I'm against it, it's just a fact that not contributing core fixes or improvements back to main trunk doesn't help anyone who is using OpenSim.

Where (some) Grids don't do so well (but they could):
Governance. When you finish rolling your eyes keep reading.

This isn't an OpenSim only issue. It was the very start of OpenSim itself. A good amount of OpenSim users continue to come from a migration of Second Life residents. Obviously these people didn't absolutely love every single detail in how Second Life ran things, and decided to branch out.

The problem doesn't come from grids themselves, it comes from the nature of what happens when you pile cultures on top of each other. Without some way to govern it, things start to go nuts.

Some psychology:

Let's step back a moment, as human beings, we are very much tribal. We have boundary issues, disagreements, hostilities, friends, enemies, frienemies, we are such extremely moody creatures that we as a civilization still have a hard time cooperating with each other beyond ourselves, and certainly (at least empirically) beyond the predicted 150 person dunbar number, which says, and I quote:
Dunbar's number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships.
Does this mean that grids can't succeed beyond 150(ish) people? Of course not! It just means that over the course of a year, you're going to associate competently with about 150 people, maybe a bit more, maybe a bit less. Although, you may very well recognize many more than that number.

Now why is the number so important? Because of group think:
Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome.
Ok..? How does that even relate?

Dominant culture:

Think about it, in any given grid scenario, the dunbar number means there will nearly always be a segmentation of cultures within any sufficiently large grid- and this is fine, but guess what, there will most likely be a top dog, or a dominant culture- what does that mean in metaverse terms? The culture that has the closest ties to the control of resources is going to be the dominant culture- meaning if there is a group think situation, other cultures are going to have to allow the dominant culture to step over their own boundaries to maintain sane relationships.

Take a look at a few group think symptoms. I won't list them here because cherry picking them may delude some into thinking I really am pointing a finger, I assure you I'm not.

Now take a look at a few group think causes. Academically, wikipedia is generally frowned upon as a source, but there's direct references next to each heading.

Really, it pains me not to make it easier to read just by inserting a few examples here, but then I would be cherry picking, which would make my argument seem directed, so bear with me, the lists are short.

Finally, I can at least include this cherry pick on prevention, devised by Irving Janis:
  1. Leaders should assign each member the role of "critical evaluator". This allows each member to freely air objections and doubts.
  2. Leaders should not express an opinion when assigning a task to a group.
  3. Leaders should absent themselves from many of the group meetings to avoid excessively influencing the outcome.
  4. The organization should set up several independent groups, working on the same problem.
  5. All effective alternatives should be examined.
  6. Each member should discuss the group's ideas with trusted people outside of the group.
  7. The group should invite outside experts into meetings. Group members should be allowed to discuss with and question the outside experts.
  8. At least one group member should be assigned the role of Devil's advocate. This should be a different person for each meeting.

I hear 3RG does a pretty nice approximation to this, but I haven't been there personally so I can't comment too much on it.

"Refugee Society":

On more than several occasions, however, it seems that this is creating a sort of "refugee society", where people are greeted, welcomed with open arms, and then they settle in, let it all hang out, and uh oh, time to move on.

That doesn't mean anything was wrong with the grid, or the people who left it.

It just may be that these migratory users may be the most individual or independent of the crowd because of their keen awareness of their own boundaries and the freedoms they chose to enjoy in the open metaverse.

From a personal perspective, the reasons to move on can come from anywhere. Perhaps you disagree with the dominant culture at a particular grid- maybe you just don't like a few people there. What if you said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and suddenly poof, you're banned. Maybe someone just doesn't like you because you have a funny avatar? What if simply being friends with someone that was unliked made you guilty by association? Its nothing new, it was common IRC practice for people to get buddy-buddy with the admin, and have indirect control of the ban list.

A good grid, in my opinion, should safeguard against this groupthink and favoritist style behavior, and protect individual rights whether you like someone or not.

(That isn't to say that you have individual rights on any given grid, you don't- not beyond what your actual meatspace government grants you. At the end of the day- he who has the gold makes the rules. The dominant culture is completely within every right to do as it sees fit with its grid, and its a hard pill to swallow when you're suddenly faced with "Uh no, we won't let you do that.")

Finally, the Hypergrid:

While a grid scenario may be ok for some, for others (myself included), I like to have full control over my environment, and I want my friends to be around for it too- but as the saying goes, good fences make good neighbors, and if someone has a problem with me, I don't have to worry about losing access to my sim, inventory, or social circle (as long as they're hypergridded too).

Hypergrid solves the problem of a dominant culture within a grid. There's no single resource point, meaning one group can't impose on another, assets are spread around, and duplicated as permitted.

A smaller grid is also easier to maintain socially and technically. The dunbar number won't be surpassed as often, and the asset server will be much easier to manage- while the freedom of exploration is still available to anyone in a hypergrid enabled server.

Why do I want to see the hypergrid succeed? It represents equality, more than anything else.

When the internet became a big thing- it suddenly meant one or two guys could have a website with the same accessibility that IBM, Microsoft, or Yahoo had. That was BIG.

If I want to visit someone's sim on a closed grid, I have to access them on a basis of registering to that grid, putting together an avatar if I planned to stay more than a few minutes at a time, and then repeat the process for every other closed grid I want to visit. That's insane- there's become so much segmentation in the metaverse that it really has become grid against grid, because ts a big investment to form your identity (a topic in itself)- and the looming prospect of doing it over again several times will inevitably make you try to choose "the best grid for you". Wide accessibility changes that. Suddenly you're no longer tied to any one grid, and you can maintain your identity across all of them.


While the hypergrid may not currently be the golden nirvana of freedom and equality that I hope it becomes, its still making pretty darn good strides, and I hope that Hypergrid 2.0 will take us into the realm of serious usability. Its already fairly usable now, but the odd discomfort of animations or attachments not coming through here and there can be a bit of a showstopper, so here's to hoping 2.0 brings us that much closer.

Regardless- I have seen some beautiful things on the hypergrid. Entire towns, quirky little artful prim assemblages- its no wonder that people who try the hypergrid and give it a chance are suddenly enamoured by it.

Fleep's grid is just gorgeous.
There is just something so different about builds I've seen on hypergrid, maybe the distinction and cohesion for groups is easier to enhance and amplify on a small grid scenario- or perhaps the freedom of owning its own resources allows a group to flourish and sprawl out as it would naturally since its the only user of the resource.

To put it succinctly, I think hypergrid is the true future of the metaverse. Its the most original concept in virtual worlds since the idea of a grid to begin with, and I think, if properly and widely adopted, will allow everyone to celebrate their differences in a much more distinctive, maintaintable, elaborate manner.

(P.s. - If I've shown a picture from your grid that you wish for me to take down, please let me know in comments- or more importantly, if you wish for me to post up your hypergrid link, I'd love to do that, just let me know in comments!)

Apples, please!
WoooOOooo optical illusion!

I'm so meta, even my hypergates!