Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Discussion About The Bright Canopy Viewer

By Bixyl Shuftan

On Saturday September 5, the creators of the Bright Canopy Viewer, designed to bring the Second Life experience to tablets and improve it on older computers like the defunct SL Go service, held a conference in Second Life to discuss recent events and developments. The sim was at an auditorium at a sim named after the product: Bright Canopy. Founder Bill Glover, known in Second Life as Chaos Priestman, did most of the speaking. Those with questions were asked to IM Jerri Glover, who was Bethsael Robbiani (Beth) inworld.

"Hello, and welcome," Chaos greeted the audience, "We're here today (to) talk about this last week and the future of Bright Canopy. We want to answer your questions, but we want to get to everyone, so if you have a question, please IM our Community Coordinator Bethsael Robbiani. We also have some questions sent in by email and we will be answering those too."

"Bright Canopy started a few months ago as a project to help people get the best out of Second Life and Open Sim without having to buy the latest hardware and eventually to be able to use mobile as well. We built a beta and it worked well and there was a lot of interest, so we moved on to pre launch and worked on billing and getting the last bugs ironed out. That also went well, and there was even more interest, so we planned a launch. We did the numbers and with the cost of goods on the back end we had a plan that we believed would break even and even make some money to fund new development and hiring support people."

Chaos described their business model was "Amazon Spot instance prices," and besides the costs of the instances, there was "the waste inherent in swapping people on and off those servers." And unfortunately, the price of the instances spiked starting in the first week of August, "What had been $0.12 was now over $1.00 and sometimes almost $8.00. This broke our business model, but it looked like a temporary spike. We decided to continue with the planned launch, We believed the prices would come back down. In the meantime, we moved to on-demand instances at $0.80 and that allowed us to continue. An $0.80 instance price meant we were losing money on every minute of user activity, but we hoped that usage would even out in such a way that we would lose money slowly enough to maintain our course until we could build out a solution that cost less on the back end. In the meantime we also hoped the spot prices would come back down and give us some relief."

 They launched on August 29, and realized things were not going as planned, "We had a good look at the usage with more people, and it became clear that we could not sustain the losses. Usage was just not the same as we had seen in Pre Release. We expected a difference, but we didn't expect such a huge difference. We agreed to pull the plug and rethink things. Now, as the dust has settled, prices have come back down in California and Virginia, but not in Ireland. And there's no guarantee they will remain low. Also, now that we've seen more of people's usage patterns we know that even the pre launch prices ... won't be profitable. At best we may break-even. It's probably a few months out before we could reduce cost enough (by splitting servers) to make it sustainable."

Chaos went on to say "This has never been about making alot of money. So far, no one but Amazon has made anything at all. Frame has offered a tremendous amount of support because they believe it’s important and could eventually be a sustainable business, and Jerri and I have volunteered our time and invested our savings. We did it because we believed it was important, and we still do." They were working with Frame witha proposal, which would help pay for expenses, "and hopefully for some of Frame's time."

For now, they would "have to back-off from 24/7 support to answers within 24 hours. I know there’s alot of disappointment, and we all share it. We want this to be easier for everyone, but for now, this is just a small flame that we will have to tend carefully if we want to keep it alive."

Chaos then opened the discussions to questions from the audience.

Several people asked, "Doesn't having more users make it cheaper for you?" Chaos answered, "I understand where this is coming from. We often see volume discounts when we buy things and in a sense it's true over the long term. But as I described, that's not the case right now. We actually lose a little money on each user until we have a less expensive way of sharing instances."

"Is there a business model in which a user could buy and pay up front for server time at particular times/days thus getting chaper access to the hardware?" Chaos answered, "That's an interesting idea. To make it work we would have to be able to get that time cheaper ourselves or utilize what we have more efficiently. We can look at that, but I'm not sure I see a way to do it off the top of my head. Thanks for that suggestion. Who was that from? ... Thanks, Lynxx."

"What has the reaction by Linden Lab been to Bright Canopy?" Chaos answered, "Linden Lab has been very supportive."

"Other services like Kitely have found ways to go to a monthly plan, can't you just do what they did?" Chaos respinded, "I want to explain, that running sims requires different sorts of servers. We use servers that have a GPU card, and special support for streaming. That's a relatively rare beast at the moment. But we expect to see other providers stepping up soon, and Amazon is likely to provide more, just based on the demand we've seen. No one has ever pulled this off. We're still hoping to be the first to make this work in a sustainable way."

Beth then spoke up, "We have several of a similar style, so I am going to paraphrase a bit. 'We have questions about the feasibility of using other servers or even our own servers to provide the service at a more affordable rate? Alternatives to the Spot instances and so on.' " Chaos spoke, "There aren't alot of providers what we need right now. There will be in 2016, I would expect. We could begin buying servers and configuring them and over the long term that might be less expensive, but it's a huge upfront capital cost.  We don't have funding for that, but it is a possibility."

"Is Linden Lab offering any support other than advertising the service?" Chaos answered, "They've been open to talk about other support. We haven't talked about anything specific."

"what server used SL GO ?" Chaos informed, "SLGo built out their own servers, originally for another purpose."

"What is the feasibility of a kickstarter for upfront costs for servers, or would it simply be too prohibitive?" Chaos responded, "That's  a topic that has come up a couple of times. It's not out of the question, but there's more than servers. We would want all of the platform that Frame provides, so it would be a discussion about setting up a self-hosted option with Frame I would think."

"Do we have an estimate on when we may be accepting new subscribers? Or are we in a holding/wait pattern." Chaos answered, "Yes, I'd say a holding pattern is the best way to put it. We mentioned that Monday would be the earliest we could come back up, but we are not ready to do that yet. We want to make sure when we do, we have something that will last."

"Also, asking for clarification from 'Other Support' from SL – are we talking financial support? Wouldn’t it be to their financial advantage to build the customer base or are they more into the new platform now?" Chaos spoke, "I can’t speak for Linden Lab. But I can say our core mission is to bring as many people to this and opensim worlds as we can."

"Does LL realize that services like this are the way forward not everyone can afford to upgrade on a regular basis . Soon they will have a platform that is unusable by the majority?" Chaos responded, "I can’t speak for LL, as I said. But I think everyone understands how important this service is. We just have to find a way to offer it that will stand on it’s own two feet."

That was the last of the questions. Several people in the audience thanked Chaos and Beth for their efforts, "We hope you get it there, you all seem like a passionate and great bunch of people, and it's a great idea." "Thanks for the info, good luck ..." "hank you for inviting us." Chaos told the crowd, "Thank you all for coming. ... We will continue to provide updates through our twitter @BrightCanopyApp and through the Bright Canopy group."

For more information, one can check the Bright Canopy Blog, which also published a transcript of the event.  Inara Pey, whom Chaos credited with helping him get the idea to create Bright Canopy, also wrote on the event. New World Notes brought up a Reddit thread which suggested a somewhat mixed reception to Bright Canopy, some users enjoying it, others feeling it could be better.

Bixyl Shuftan

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