Billing System Finally In Place

After several postponements, and getting many suggestions from the community, we’ve finally rolled out our billing system today. This is a major milestone for Kitely because it puts us on the path to financial sustainability. To our users, this provides the assurance that you will be able to have all the resources you need to create and build your virtual worlds, without having to contact us every time you run out of KC.

Over the many months we’ve been in beta, people have frequently inquired regarding monthly subscriptions, free options and unlimited plans. We’ve worked hard to accommodate all of your wishes in a way that works with our business model. We hope you will be pleased with our solution.

Minutes and Kitely Credits

There are now two forms of currency: Minutes and Kitely Credits.

Minutes are used to pay for the time you spend inside virtual worlds. For each minute you spend in a world we subtract one Minute from your account. Your Minutes are non-transferable and can’t be shared with other users.

If you run out of Minutes then you can continue visiting virtual worlds if you have KC in your account: when that happens, for each minute you spend in a world we subtract one KC from your account. If you run out of both Minutes and KC then you can no longer visit virtual worlds (except for worlds made available for free access by other Kitely users, see details below).

Kitely Credits (KC) are used to pay for various services, such as copying and exporting worlds. In the future, we will enable you to use KC for virtual commerce as well.

You get Minutes and KC by subscribing to a monthly plan, or by buying KC separately. These methods are explained below. In addition, you can earn free Minutes by bringing in new users to Kitely (see details in our FAQ).

Monthly Plans

Each user has a monthly Plan. The plan determines how many Minutes and KC you get each month. KC accumulate from one month to the next. Minutes do not accumulate between months: they are reset at the beginning of each month.

Each plan also includes a certain number of free worlds that you can create. Each additional world you create beyond your plan’s quota costs 1 KC per day.

New users are automatically placed on the Free Plan. This plan includes 120 Minutes per month and 1 free world. This means that anyone can start creating their own virtual world on Kitely without having to take out their wallet and, if they are casual users, they can continue to have their own virtual world on Kitely for free. In addition, it means world creators can advertise their world widely and be assured that new users will always be able to visit the world, at least at first.

For those people who spend hours on end inside virtual worlds we now offer our Platinum Plan. This plan includes an unlimited number of Minutes per month, 5000 KC per month (an amount which would cost you $20/month to buy separately), and 100 free worlds. If you’re an avid virtual world user, or would like to provide free access to many other users, this plan provides the best value for your money.

Here are all of our available plans:

To change plans, go to the My Worlds tab, click on Get Credits and then click on the plan you want to use.

Buying Kitely Credits

You can also buy KC separately, regardless of which plan you are using. This is useful if you need more KC in the middle of the month, or if you want to try Kitely before signing up for a premium plan.

You can buy KC for the following prices:

1,000 KC – $5
5,000 KC – $20
15,000 KC – $50

To change plans, go to the My Worlds tab, click on Get Credits and then click Buy Credits.

Enabling Other Users to Access Your Worlds for Free

Normally, visitors to your worlds are charged Minutes out of their personal accounts, and you pay nothing. However, if you wish, you can enable other users to visit your worlds for free by covering this charge yourself. To do so, Edit the world, switch to the Access tab and set the price for the group of people you would like to subsidize to Free. When you do so, the selected group of visitors will pay nothing to visit that virtual world: instead, 1 KC per visitor will be deducted from your balance each minute that they remain in that world.

History Table

The history table has been enhanced to show how many Minutes and/or KC each event had cost you so you’ll be able to track how things were paid for.

Effect on Existing Users

Now that the billing system is in place we will no longer top-off people to 1,000 KC each week, as we had done previously. All the previous KC we had given out since March 2011 have been expired, and all user accounts have been automatically placed on the Free Plan.

In addition, we gave a one-time bonus of 50 KC to each of our existing beta users. These KC aren’t part of the Free Plan; new users will not get them.

Future Plans

We intend to allow using KC for virtual commerce in the future.

We are also considering allowing the conversion of KC to real-world money. However, this is difficult for both legal and regulatory reasons, so we’re not yet certain that we will do so. Please let us know what you think about this in the comment section below.

Final Words

Our billing system is sophisticated and supports many features: real-time billing (to support visiting worlds); subscriptions; two currencies; and more. Please let us know if you encounter any problems and we’ll fix them promptly.

We’ve been developing Kitely using our own personal savings for more than 3 years now. We rely on your support to allow Kitely to continue to exist, and to enable us to push the envelope in terms of what can be done with virtual worlds. If you enjoyed using our service until now, would like to use us in the future, or  just wish to support our efforts then please subscribe to one of our monthly plans (or buy some KC).

Thank you! 🙂

Happy Holidays: Kitely Supports Vivox Voice!

We have an exciting announcement: Kitely now supports voice! All Kitely worlds are now voice-enabled using Vivox, which has the best virtual worlds voice implementation in the market. This means that, without installing any additional software, you can switch voice on in your viewer to enable other people to both hear you with high quality positional audio, see your avatar’s lips move when you talk and see speaker indication graphics above your avatar’s head. This new feature is absolutely FREE for all Kitely users.

Using Voice

The following screenshots are from the Second Life Viewer, but other viewers have similar dialogs.

To speak, click the “Speak” button:

Speak

If the Speak button is disabled (and you have a microphone) then the world manager might have disabled voice. Worlds where voice is disabled display the following icon at the top of the viewer:

Voice Disabled

In this case, you will not be able to speak in the world until the world manager enables voice. However, you can still use private calls (see below).

Private Calls

In addition to the public voice channel (which everyone can hear), you can also initiate a private call to another user. This creates a conversation that only the two of you can hear, and it works even if voice is disabled in the world. To initiate a private call, right-click the other person’s avatar and select “Call”.

Enabling Voice in Your World

If you are a world manager, and voice is disabled in your world but you want to enable it, then you need to make sure two checkboxes are checked:

1. Enable voice in the Estate.

From the menu, select: World > Places Profile > Region/Estate

Enable voice in the estate

2. Enable voice in the Parcel.

From the menu, select: World > Places Profile > About Land

Enable voice in the parcel

After you have enabled both of these checkboxes, the world will allow voice to be used. Now there’s something to talk about! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist…)

Happy holidays! 🙂

Improved Search, Permanent URLs and Introduction Slideshow

We’ve updated our service with many backend optimizations and several user facing improvements which you may find useful.

Improved World Ranking in Search

We improved the way we sort worlds in the Public Worlds tab: we now take into account the number of Facebook Likes the world has, and other parameters which indicate that users will find the world engaging. This change makes it easier to find high-quality worlds.

Despite this algorithm update, other factors still take precedence when sorting worlds: the text the user searched for (if any); the number of visitors in the world; and whether the world manager covers the visitors’ access costs or visitors pay for their own usage.

Sharing Search URLs

When you search for worlds in the Public Worlds tab, the URL now changes to include your search terms. This allows you to share the search with other people. For example, you can search for your own name, and then include that URL in your blog. Anyone who clicks on it will see the public worlds that you’ve created.

Permanent World URLs for Sharing

We changed the way sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn works. Sharing a world means sharing its URL. Previously, the URL that was shared was the URL that you saw in your browser, which includes your name and the world name. For example: https://www.kitely.com/virtualworld/My-Name/My-World. However, this was a problem if you renamed your world, because then the URL changed as well, so all of your Likes and Tweets were lost (the counter was reset to zero). To fix this, each world now has a permanent URL, which includes the world’s internal identifier instead of its name. The permanent URL never changes, even if you rename the world, so the number of Likes and Tweets will continue accumulating.

Unfortunately, this means that all of the Likes and Tweets that you’ve accumulated until now no longer count, because they were done on the old URL, not the new permanent URL. We apologize for this, but it seems better to make sure that Likes and Tweets will accumulate forever from now on, rather than having them reset to zero at some time in the future.

Note that the links you’ve already shared continue to work: anyone who sees one of these Likes or Tweets and clicks on them will still get to your world; it’s only the counter that doesn’t take these old Likes and Tweets into account.

Introduction Slideshow

We added an introduction slideshow that explains how Kitely works. This makes it easier for new users to quickly understand how Kitely can benefit them. If you are reading this blog then you probably already know how Kitely works, but we encourage you to view the slideshow anyway (it’s on our homepage); we spent a lot of time creating it and we think it’s pretty cool!

Thank you to everyone who agreed to have their names show up in these screenshots, and a special thanks to Karima Hoisan who agreed to pose for a couple of screenshots with her beautiful avatar.

Optimizations

The largest change in this release is actually not user-visible: we’ve made important changes internally to make the service faster, and in preparation for adding billing.

Public Worlds, Maturity Ratings and Making Public Worlds Affordable

We’ve updated our service with several highly-requested features which should help create a more unified Kitely community. These new features will enable you to easily find other Kitely users who are currently online and explore the worlds that they’ve built.

Public Worlds

We added a directory of all the public worlds that you can visit. The Public Worlds tab now lists all the worlds whose access permissions allow everyone to visit them.

This has been a frequently requested feature for a very long time, and we’re very excited to have finally implemented it. The Public Worlds tab will enable you to easily discover new worlds to visit, and find where other Kitely users are currently hanging out.

Within the list of public worlds, worlds are sorted as follows:

  • Worlds that are currently being visited by many users are listed before worlds that have fewer users visiting them.
  • When several worlds have the same number of visitors, worlds where the world manager covers the visitors’ fees are listed before worlds where visitors cover their own fees (we explain more about this later).

It is possible to search for worlds using keywords. In addition, we provide a few quick-search links for common categories of virtual worlds: shopping, education, etc. In order to get your world to appear in these quick searches, include in the world name or description keywords related to those terms. For example, worlds that include the words “buy” or “shopping” will appear when the “Shopping” link is clicked.

Maturity Ratings

Our terms of service permit users of all ages. However, as not all content is appropriate for children, we’ve added maturity ratings to Kitely in order to prevent users from viewing worlds that are inappropriate for their age. Each world and each user have a maturity rating; users are prevented from viewing worlds whose maturity rating is higher than their own.

Our system uses the following maturity ratings:

  • General: worlds which are family safe. Age limit: none.
  • Moderate: worlds which contain non-adult content and activities. Age limit: 13 and up.
  • Adult: worlds with nudity, violence, or other adult activities. Age limit: 18 and up.

World managers are responsible for setting the appropriate maturity rating for their worlds. If they mislabel their world you can report it by pressing the “Report” link that is now included in all World Pages.

The default maturity rating for users is Moderate. Users who want to raise their maturity rating to Adult need to enable us to access their birthday on Facebook, so that we can verify that they are over 18.

Maturity ratings have the following effects:

  • A user can’t visit worlds whose maturity rating is higher than his or her own maturity rating. They can’t even see the world’s World Page, because the World Page might contain text or pictures that are inappropriate for their age.
  • In the Public Worlds tab, a user won’t see worlds with a higher maturity rating than his or her own maturity rating.
  • In the Public Worlds tab, if a user’s maturity rating is set to Adult then he or she will see one more quick-search link: “Adult”.
  • A user can’t create, edit, copy or export worlds with a higher maturity rating than his or her own maturity rating.

Report a World for Violating Kitely’s Terms of Service

Each world’s World Page now displays the maturity rating of that world, and a link to report the world if it contains unlicensed or age-inappropriate content. If we receive reports about mislabeled worlds, and we find that they are justified, then we will first contact the world manager and ask him or her to fix the problem (e.g., by raising the world’s maturity rating). If our request does not lead to the desired results then we may disable the world, or even the world manager’s entire account.

Making Public Worlds Affordable

Until now world managers always paid the world visit fees for all the visitors to their worlds. This caused some people to fear that if they made their worlds public it may end up costing them a lot of Kitely Credits. We’ve therefore made it possible for world managers to choose who will pay the world visit fees: the world manager or the visitor.

In order to support this feature, each world now has a list of access permissions. The world manager adds to this list all the types of users that are allowed to visit that world. For each group of users, the world manager chooses whether the users will pay the fee for their visit, or the world manager will pay the fee for them. This is done by setting Visitor Cost / Minute:

  • Free – 1 KC will be deducted from the world manager’s balance each minute.
  • 1 KC – 1 KC will be deducted from the visitor’s balance each minute. The world manager will pay nothing.

For example:

In this example:

  • You pay 1 KC for your visits. This is a standard fee and can’t be changed.
  • Your Facebook friends can visit the world at your expense.
  • People who belong to the Facebook group “Immersive Education” can visit the world at their own expense.
  • Anyone who doesn’t belong to either of these categories can’t visit this world.

The Public Worlds tab shows only worlds where the visitor category “Everyone Else” is set to allow such users to visit the world. Within the list of public worlds, when several worlds have the same number of visitors, worlds where the world manager pays for everyone’s visits appear before worlds where the visitors pay for themselves.

When you view a World Page you will now be able to see the price of visiting that world below the “Enter World” button. Worlds which you can enter at the world manager’s expense will display this:

Worlds which you can enter at your own expense will display this:

Kick Users from a World

If the world manager changes the access controls for a world then users that are no longer included in the new permissions are removed from that world immediately. You can use this feature to kick everyone out of one of your worlds by deleting all of the visitors from that world’s access permissions.

Note: if you change the price of visiting a world then this change only affects visitors that enter the world after the price has changed. This doesn’t affect visitors already in the world. However, as mentioned above, you can have those users removed from your world. If you then edit the world’s access permissions to allow them to re-enter the world then they will be able to do so using the new price that you’ve set.

Shopping Scripts Support for Freebies

We’ve enabled limited economy support in Kitely so that shopping scripts will work for freebies (items that have a cost of 0 L$). This means that you can start building your in-world vendor reputation even before we add commerce support to our service.

To see an example of how this works, visit the Linda Kellie Designs world which is already using such scripts. While you’re there you’ll be able to pick up hundreds of free skins, clothing, buildings, and other items that are perfect for giving your avatar and worlds a more professional look.

See Which Worlds You Visited in the History Panel

We’ve updated our service with several bug fixes and enhancements.

One notable enhancement is that the History panel now shows both visits that other people made to your worlds, and visits that you made to other peoples’ worlds. Previously, only visits to your own worlds were displayed. This feature lets you keep track of where you’ve been. One benefit that this gives you is that you can now use the History panel as an automatic “bookmarks” list of your favorite worlds.

Faster World Startups, Less Server Lag and Faster Rez Times

It’s been a while since we last updated our site. We spent a lot of time developing our backend and today we finally rolled out the following major upgrades to our service.

Opensim 0.7.2 Final

We were one of the first commercial grids to run OpenSim 0.7.2 RC1 and now we’re one of the first to run the release version of OpenSim 0.7.2.

New Assets System

Assets are pieces of content such as textures, sounds, animations, etc. Assets are by far the largest part of the data used in OpenSim, and therefore handling assets efficiently is important for making worlds run smoothly. We’ve created a new cloud-based assets system, which is faster and more scalable than the asset server that is part of OpenSim. We call it Cassy: the Comprehensive Assets System. Cassy enables Kitely to have faster world startup times, less server lag and provide faster viewer rezz times than grids based on standard OpenSim. Here are a few of the improvements in Cassy (there are many more).

OpenSim normally stores assets in a database. This database is managed by a single Assets Server, which needs to provide its service to all the active worlds. The database and the assets server are bottlenecks, slowing down all the worlds. To remove this bottleneck, we no longer store assets in the database: we store them in Amazon’s cloud storage system, S3. Unlike the database, which can only be accessed by the Assets Server, any instance of OpenSim can access S3. This allows us to distribute the work of the assets server among all of the sims: whenever any instance of OpenSim encounters a new asset, it uploads it directly to S3. This is faster and more scalable than sending the asset to the Assets Server, where it would have stored it in the database. Similarly, when OpenSim needs to load an asset, it downloads it directly from S3 instead of requesting the asset from the assets server.

Another improvement is how we handle duplicate assets. It’s quite common for several users to upload the same asset in a grid such as ours where many users get their content from third-party OpenSim sites. Normally this would cause two copies (or more) of the asset to be stored in the assets server. But Cassy detects such duplicates and stores only a single copy of the asset, improving storage and cache efficiency.

We also improved how viewers download textures. Textures are the largest and most common type of asset, and viewers spend a lot of time downloading them from OpenSim. Modern viewers, such as the Second Life Viewer versions 2 and 3, load textures using HTTP (older viewers used a different protocol, called UDP). OpenSim spends a lot of time sending the textures to the viewers. To lighten the load, we now serve textures from web servers running Apache. When a viewer requests a texture OpenSim redirects it to Apache, where it can download the texture. Apache is much more efficient than OpenSim at serving files so this makes the server run more smoothly, and viewers can display worlds faster.

Unfortunately not all viewers support HTTP redirection, so we only enable this feature for viewers that we’ve tested and we know can do it. This currently includes the Second Life Viewer 2.x and 3.x, and Firestorm 2.x. (Firestorm 3.x doesn’t work with Kitely at present, but they will fix this).

We also improved handling of scripts. We already save compiled scripts; this was explained in a previous blog post. Cassy now employs several additional techniques that help it load scripts significantly faster than standard OpenSim. This means that in most cases script-heavy worlds that would take minutes for all the scripts they include to start running in standard OpenSim will take seconds to start running in Kitely. Scripts still need to be compiled when a newly imported OAR file is first started, which may result in slower startup times, but after the scripts have been compiled worlds should now become fully functional much faster than they did previously.

Other Improvements

There was a problem where the terrain would appear striped. It was caused, curiously enough, by having worlds whose locations in the Kitely grid had very high coordinates. We moved all the worlds closer together and the problem disappeared.

We enabled physics for meshes so you should no longer encounter invisible boundaries around mesh objects.

People started uploading very big worlds into Kitely so we increased the upload size limit for OAR files from 250 MB to 1 GB. In addition, we made the system more robust to prevent such uploads from failing occasionally.

Copy World and Export World Respect Permissions

Backend Improvements

We rolled out a major system upgrade today, improving security and robustness amongst many other backend enhancements. We’re always making such improvements, but now they’re a particular priority as we’re getting closer to turning on billing.

Copy World and Export World now Respect Permissions

One user-visible change that we’ve made is an improvement to Copy World and Export World. To recap: Copy World lets you create multiple copies of a world in your Kitely account. Export World converts the world into an OAR file, which you can then download from Kitely and upload into other OpenSim grids.

Both of these features now respect object permissions: they will only copy or export objects (prims) that you are allowed to copy. Objects for which you have insufficient permissions will not be copied/exported. This change makes Kitely a better platform for content creators to sell their work, because it’s now much harder to create unauthorized copies of other people’s content.

These are the object permissions we check for when someone attempts to copy or export a world:

  • If they don’t own the object then the object must have the “Everyone Copy” permission in order for it to be copied into the new world.
  • If they own the object then it must have the “Owner Copy” permission in order for it to be copied. If the world is being Exported then the object must also have the “Owner Transfer” permission, because exported worlds can be given to other people.

When dealing with linked prims, we use the same logic as Second Life does: if any of the prims in the linkset have insufficient permissions then we don’t copy/export the entire linkset. We believe this behavior provides the strongest security for content creators. However, we did consider other alternatives, such as removing only the individual prims that lack permissions, and perhaps replacing them with placeholders (simple boxes). If you have thoughts about how this should work then please let us know in the comments.

This feature works on the level of objects, not individual assets. If someone is allowed to copy an object then they’re automatically allowed to copy all the assets used in that object as well. And conversely, if someone isn’t allowed to copy an object then that object’s assets will not be included in the copied/exported world.

For example, here’s a world with a few test objects. The screenshot doesn’t show the permissions of the objects, so I’ll describe them. The closer row (short cylinders) contains objects that are owned by the current user. The objects contain various combinations of Move, Copy and Transfer permissions. The farther row (tall cylinders) contains objects that aren’t owned by the current user. These objects all have the “Everyone Copy” permissions, except for the left-most cylinder.

Permissions Test - Original

Here are the results of a Copy World operation. A few of the objects have not been copied:

Permissions Test - Copy

Here are the results of an Export World operation. A few more objects have not been copied. Export World is more restrictive than Copy World, because we require objects to have the Transfer permission as well (in addition to the Copy permission).

Permissions Test - Exported

That’s it! If you have comments about how this feature works, or you find bugs, then please let us know. After we get some feedback, we will contribute this feature to OpenSim so more content creators will feel comfortable offering their wares to the OpenSim community.

Modified OpenSim to Improve World Startup Time

We made another improvement to OpenSim to make worlds start faster. When a world starts, OpenSim begins loading its assets. Some assets, e.g. textures or scripts, may be used in many prims. When that happens, OpenSim requests the asset multiple times from the assets service. In normal use this isn’t a problem because the asset is in the local cache so these requests are instantaneous. However, when the world starts the asset isn’t in the cache yet, so OpenSim downloads it multiple times. This is wasteful and slows down the world startup.

To fix this, we modified OpenSim so that additional requests for an asset are delayed until the first request has finished. This means the additional requests will be fulfilled from the local cache, which is very fast.