Backend and OpenSim Improvements

We’ve updated Kitely today. Most of the updates are on the backend, e.g. to improve stability and create some of the infrastructure that we’ll need in order to implement billing. We’ve also added some user requested features and made some improvements to OpenSim:

Faster script loading

We’ve added script caching. When a region starts, OpenSim normally compiles all of the scripts used in the region. If the region has many scripts then this can take a long time. To make this process faster, we now save the compiled scripts and reuse them whenever the region is started. This can produce significant improvements! For example, one script-heavy world (containing about 900 scripts, 500 of which are unique) takes 10:42 minutes to compile the scripts initially. But from then on, each time the world starts it takes only 2:46 minutes to load the scripts. It should be noted that the world becomes usable even before the scripts are all ready. These timings only indicate when all of the scripts become ready, but people can enter and start using the world even before the first one is compiled.

Exported OAR files include creator information

When we export a world, we now include additional creator information. Previously, only the Creator UUID was saved. Now we also save the creator’s name. So if you export your world, and someone else imports it, you will still be listed as the creator of the objects in the world and the asset permissions you set will be retained.

Direct URL for downloading Kitely Plugin

We’ve added a permanent URL that can be used to download the latest version of Kitely Plugin: https://www.kitely.com/file?type=plugin. Most users don’t need to use this URL, because the World Page automatically downloads the plugin. However, in some cases it’s useful to have a direct URL, so we made it available.

Updated Signup Bonuses

During the beta period we give free Kitely Credits to new users. We used to give a different amount of KC to users depending on the number of Facebook friends they had: 50 KC if they had at least 20 Facebook friends, and just 10 KC if they didn’t. We had chosen these amounts in order to prevent people from abusing our system to get a lot of free Kitely Credits using throwaway Facebook accounts.

However, this policy prevented many honest people from trying out Kitely, and now that we’re topping off peoples’  accounts to 1000 KC each week it doesn’t even serve its intended purpose anymore.

Therefore we’ve decided to increase the number of free Kitely Credits that we give to new users to 200 KC regardless of the number of Facebook friends they have.

We’ve also updated the World Manager bonus to 400 KC, so that new users who create a world can get a total of 600 KC to play with without needing to contact us or wait for the weekly KC top-off.

Kitely Plugin 1.2.0 and Export World

We’ve made many updates and added two of the most commonly requested features: the ability to select which virtual world viewer to use, and exporting worlds to OAR files! Read on for the details.

Choose which virtual world viewer to use

We’ve updated Kitely Plugin to version 1.2.0. You can now choose which virtual world viewer will be launched when you click “Enter World” in a world page. Normally, the default viewer is launched; that is usually the last viewer that was installed. However, it is now possible to override this setting by entering the full path to the viewer in the file kitely-config.txt.

For details, see How can I choose which virtual world viewer to use? in our support site.

This feature is currently intended for advanced users, as they are the only ones likely to have more than one viewer installed. In the future we will make this feature accessible using a GUI instead of requiring you to edit a file manually.

Digitally signed plugin

The Windows version of Kitely Plugin is now digitally signed. This provides peace of mind when downloading the plugin. In addition, some anti-virus programs wouldn’t allow you to install the plugin because it didn’t have a digital signature (we’re looking at you, Norton AntiVirus). That should no longer be a problem.

Safari on Mac OS X

Kitely Plugin now supports the Safari browser on Mac OS X so you’ll be able to use your Mac’s default browser with Kitely.

Get notified when a newer version of the plugin is available

We’ve added notifications to the World Page so that you’ll know when a newer version of the plugin is available even if you missed our blog announcements and Tweets.

Export World

We’ve given you the ability to export worlds. Exporting a world creates an OAR file (OpenSim Archive) that contains the complete state of the world. You can download this file to your computer for backup.

To export a world, click on the “Export” link that appears next to its name in the My Worlds tab in your account. This can take a while (up to 15 minutes for large worlds) and you’ll be notified once the OAR file is ready.

Exporting and copying worlds can require a lot of server resources for a significant amount of time. We’ve therefore decided to set the price for both these actions to 10 KC.

Better World Descriptions

In Kitely, virtual worlds have a name and a description. The description used to be limited to simple text, but we’ve received numerous requests to allow richer descriptions. This is now possible! World descriptions can now include hyperlinks, images, separators and various text formatting options. You can easily take advantage of these options using the rich text editor in the New World and Edit World dialogs.

Today’s update also upgrades our system to the recently released OpenSim 0.7.1.1.

Even More Free Kitely Credits

In the last few weeks we’ve been topping-off every account that has less than 500 KC up to 500 KC (see More Free Kitely Credits). However, we’ve noticed that some popular worlds are still running out of KC between top-offs. We’ve therefore decided to increase the weekly top-off of all Kitely users’ balances to 1000 KC, so that the popular worlds can remain active throughout the week.

We want to make sure that your Kitely worlds are available to you when you need them. If you run out of Kitely Credits between top-offs then please let us know and we’ll give you some more.

OpenSim 0.7.1 and More

Hi everyone,

We’ve updated our servers today with various backend stability improvements and made some changes that should help improve your user experience as well. Here’s what’s new:

OpenSim 0.7.1

Kitely is now using the release version of OpenSim 0.7.1. This version includes many bug fixes and features, such as Shared Media (a.k.a. Media on a Prim). For more information, see the OpenSim release notes.

Please note that in order to take advantage of Shared Media you’ll need a V2 viewer.

Email Required

We’re now asking for peoples’ email addresses when they open a Kitely account. If you already have a Kitely account, then the next time you login you’ll be asked to allow us to access the email address that you entered in your Facebook account.

The reason for this change is that we need a reliable way to be able to contact you. For example, there might be a problem with your account; or someone might have lodged a copyright-infringement complaint about some content that is associated with your account. Previously, we had intended to rely on Facebook Messages for contacting people, but we’ve found that this solution isn’t good enough, for several reasons. First, some people have disabled the ability to contact them via Facebook Messages. Second, if we need to contact multiple people then using Facebook Messages is extremely slow; emails work much better. Third, having your email address will enable us to communicate with you even if you can’t access Facebook for some reason. And finally, we intend to support additional signup methods in the near future (besides Facebook), so some people won’t even have a Facebook account at all.

We will only use this email address in accordance with our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. We will not use it to send spam, or share your email with a third party without your consent.

World Templates

We currently offer two stock worlds that can be used as a starting point when creating a new world. We’ve made small changes to these worlds.

First, we replaced the “Empty Island” world with a world called “Empty Land”, which is a 256m x 256m square of flat terrain located just above sea-level. This is more useful as a starting point than the island, which was quite small.

Second, both of our world templates (“Empty Land” and “Virtual Collaboration Environment”) now have the sun fixed at the noon position. We’ve made this change to make these worlds more friendly to people who aren’t familiar with changing light conditions. We’ve been told that when new users enter a world, and see that everything is dark, they can sometimes become frustrated with the user experience.

Since this environment setting (“Fixed Sun”) can be changed, you can easily modify it if you wish.

Imprudence 1.3.2

We’ve updated the default viewer that we provide to people who don’t already have a viewer installed to the latest stable version of Imprudence (version 1.3.2).

More Free Kitely Credits

We’ve noticed that some of our users have used up all of their Kitely Credits and therefore can’t enter their worlds. Since we haven’t implemented a system to purchase credits yet, these users can’t use Kitely anymore. Therefore, we’ve decided that during the beta we will top-off every account that has less than 500 KC up to 500 KC. We will do this at the beginning of every week. The first top-off was yesterday.

Terms of Service

Our Terms of Service are finally up on our website. We’ve been listening to how people in the virtual worlds community would like to be able to use Kitely, and it has taken us this long to get a legal document created that allows the flexibility people have been asking for. We hope you will approve.

This is how we addressed the most frequent requests made by the community:

You are allowed to create an account using either your own identity or a pseudonym. This means that if you prefer interacting with people using your avatar’s identity, Kitely’s terms now officially allow you to do so.

Children under the age of 13 are allowed to create a Kitely account if they have parental or legal custodian supervision.  This means that if you are a teacher, our terms enable you to give classes inside Kitely to your underage students once you’ve gotten their parents’ consent. You are not required to involve Kitely in the process.

Mature content is allowed in any world, as long as the World Manager takes proactive measures to ensure that no underage users can access that world. This means that if you wish to engage in adult activities our terms permit you to do so behind closed (virtual) doors. One caveat is that we will not accept any kind of activity and/or content that involves anything that can be construed as pedophile behavior anywhere on our servers. Such activities are illegal in many countries, even when only adults are involved, and we don’t want Kitely to be associated with them.

Please note that our terms do not free you from complying with terms set by other service providers that you use in conjunction with Kitely (e.g.  Facebook). This is currently a problem because Facebook prohibits creating profiles for pseudonyms and for children under 13, whereas Kitely does allow them. We will be adding additional login options such as LinkedIn and Twitter in the coming months to give you more flexibility.

We tried to maximize your freedom as much as possible, while retaining a few restrictions as advised by our lawyers. Please let us know what you think of the result.

Welcome to Kitely

Hi! My name is Oren Hurvitz, and I’m the Co-Founder and VP R&D of Kitely. My Co-Founder and CEO Ilan Tochner and myself have launched the service just under 4 weeks ago, but we only got around to creating this blog now. It’s been hectic.

We’ve released a major update to the service today. Our focus in this update (and in the near future) is on making the service more robust and manageable. This means most of the changes aren’t visible on the surface, but that doesn’t make them less important! Here’s what we’ve been working on:

Improved Communications

We’ve added this blog. Until now our main channels of communication with the community have been our support site [Edit: in Jan 2013 we moved support to our self-hosted user forums], Twitter account and commenting on other people’s blogs. While we’ll continue to use these options, a blog is a better way to communicate some things — such as this post, which describes what’s new in Kitely.

We’ve added a Contact Us page so you can get in touch with us more easily.

We now have the ability to post short announcements that appear at the top of the website. This will enable us to let you know about important updates: e.g., if we release a new version of the Kitely Plugin.

We can also broadcast messages to every user that is currently connected to any of the Kitely virtual worlds. We’ll use this feature to warn you before we update the system, so that you and the other people visiting your worlds can exit our service cleanly. Until now we’ve used Twitter for these announcements, but sadly not everyone follows our account.

Content Protection

We’ve added two online forms to allow you to lodge complaints about other users:

  • You can now use the Abuse Report form to report a violation of our Terms of Service.
  • You now have easy access to a DMCA Takedown Notice to report cases of copyright infringement.

When these forms are submitted we receive an email, and we’ll quickly follow up to determine the appropriate way to respond to what you reported.

If we decide that a violation has indeed taken place, then we’ll first contact the offending user and ask them to fix the violation without delay. If they don’t do so quickly, then we now have the ability to suspend their account in several ways, depending on the severity of the violation:

  • We can suspend access to a world. The World Page will still appear, but it will not be possible to enter the world. In the specific case of a copyright violation, we do allow the world’s owner (and only the owner) to enter the world for a short period of time. This is necessary so that the world owner can remove the offending material.
  • We can hide the world page entirely. This sanction may be required if the World Page itself contains copyrighted material or violates our Terms of Service.
  • Finally we can suspend access to the user’s entire account so they will not be able to login.

User-Visible Features

In addition to the management features, we’ve also added a few features that should now be visible to you:

You can now set the access control of a world to “My Friends” so that only your Facebook friends will be able to enter that world. This feature saves you the hassle of managing a Facebook group when all you want is just to have a private place that you and your friends can access.

The site now works with Internet Explorer 9 so you can use Microsoft’s latest browser with Kitely if you wish.

Bug Fixes

We fixed many bugs, and improved performance in several areas.

Here’s one specific problem that we fixed, which is more user-visible than other problems: in the past, you may have seen messages in the browser status bar such as: “Waiting for notif1.kitely.com…”. These messages were a side effect of the mechanism that we used to update the site dynamically (e.g., have the number of Active Users change immediately when users enter or exit a world). We are now implementing this feature in a different way, so these messages will no longer appear.

We found and fixed a major bug that unfortunately caused a few worlds to be deleted. This happened when a networking error temporarily prevented the OpenSim server from communicating with the main server. Here’s what happened: when a world becomes idle, we save the world state to a file in the cloud (in the Amazon S3 service). This networking error caused the OpenSim server to tell the main server to save the file to the cloud twice. The first request was handled correctly, but the second request, which was unexpected, caused the file to be deleted. We fixed the problem by having the server recognize when it’s getting duplicate requests and ignore them.

This problem only occurred in a very small number of worlds, but that is no comfort to the users who were affected. To them, we offer our humblest apologies! Unfortunately, as a one-month-old service which is still in the testing phase, some bugs are inevitable. We take this extremely seriously, we have fixed the problem, and we will continue to focus on robustness ahead of other features.

Although this particular bug has been fixed, we recommend using the “Copy” button to create backup copies of any worlds which you’ve invested a lot of work in. When you create a copy of a world, the copy is entirely separate from the original world, and is not affected by anything that happens to it. This is also useful for keeping different versions of the world, e.g. in order to try out new things, but be able to revert to the previous version if desired.

Coming Soon

We (or rather, our lawyers) have been working on finishing the Terms of Service. We now have a draft that is very close to being complete, so we expect to be able to post the TOS soon.

Some users have had problems using the Kitely Plugin because it isn’t digitally signed. We are in the process of getting a digital certificate from Thawte, which will allow us to sign the plugin. Thawte are very assiduous about verifying that we’re a real company (good for them), but we expect this to be finished soon.

That’s it for now. Please continue using Kitely, and let us know what works for you, and what doesn’t. May all your virtual worlds bloom!