Interview – Kyle Gomboy, CEO of ReactionGrid

reactiongrid2-sml ReactionGrid is one of the OpenSim-based grids that’s been making an impact during the year. The more formalised partnership with Microsoft has only increased the momentum for ReactionGrid, as has the increase in educators moving or diversifying to OpenSim grids.

I took the opportunity this week to catch up with ReactionGrid’s CEO, Kyle Gomboy, to have a detailed chat about the company, its plans and the wider challenges for OpenSim grids.

Lowell: Can you give a potted history of how ReactionGrid initially was created?

Kyle: ReactionGrid was an experiment in controlling & developing our own virtual world experience. While managing events for Microsoft we found too many issues with X-Rated content & problems like a rolling restart in a well planned Microsoft event of over 300 attendees. We are thrilled to say these preventable situations no longer occur during our events on Opensimulator & our PG TOS has helped prevent any mature incidents. We now have Microsoft moving here & an educational and business community forming fast because of these decisions to focus on reliability and security.

Lowell: While we’re talking reliability – why are you able to avoid issues like the restarts? Is it because of ReactionGrid’s smaller size or do you have a different approach from an infrastructure viewpoint?

Kyle: Both actually. Our use of Hyper-V virtualization software has allowed us to give clients the option of a dedicated server which they can lock down to users registered to their world. When you now know exactly how many users will attend, exactly what the build is and exactly what resources you have, you can begin to plan for reliability for any platform.

Lowell: So the obvious question is why don’t grids like SL have the same approach? What’s the downside, if any?

Kyle: The downside is these smaller worlds are just that, small. The upside is with Hypergrid world hopping technology we can allow shoocls and business to go private then link up “Stargate” style anytime to any other world. SL doesn’t have virtualization because their plan is a huge monolithic grid to serve all. Our plan is a galaxy of smaller, niche interconnected worlds. For this reason we rely heavily on virtualization. It also lets us migrate or copy your public world locally behind firewalls for the ultimate in uptime and security.

Lowell: To step back for a minute, can you talk a little about your own experience in virtual worlds pre-ReactionGrid?

Kyle: My experience started in 1995 when I was working as an aerospace test engineer. I started mixing 3D visualizations with data to help engineers learn how to improve part performance. I ended up using 3D to train workers worldwide, to display our parts at tradeshows and to educate our sales people by flying them in from around the world and showing them 3D animations of new product. Now there’s the rub, we flew them in! I thought wow we could have a Quake or Unreal engine and show these CAD parts and movies in 3D. I had to wait awhile when we launched our company to prove that but now is the time.

Lowell: So what was the catalyst for you starting ReactionGrid?

Kyle: Simply running into too many development and enterprise acceptance roadblocks. I hate being slowed down, or if there’s trouble being able to hands on fix it. After hosting web applications for almost 20 years now, we do not like our hands tied when serving our clients. Plus, how can we do such amazing events like when we taught C# inworld with Microsoft and recreate the ’39 World’s Fair without kids? We badly wanted teachers and students to come inworld with us.

Lowell: So what platform were you using before ReactionGrid?

Kyle: We started in 97 with Macromedia Shockwave with Havok1. We got slammed by business clients for the choice. They weren’t ready at that time for ANY downloads or plugins. So we waited for a true platform unitl we found SecondLife. We loved their concept of inclusion with user created content. So we started there really but now we have Opensimulator and recently Unity3D for our own scratch built world.

Lowell: For the non-techie, can you explain the difference between OpenSim and Unity3D?

Kyle: Sure. Open Simulator with user created content, for the near future will require a client download to fully utilize. We need something to compliment OpenSim that can operate in browser & mobile. Unity3D is perfect for this. It allows you to build your own world concept from scratch. We plan to use its .mesh import abilities to provide richer experiences for those not needing to build their own content. We will in fact be offering templates and training soon for others to learn with us.

Lowell: So are the two platforms seperate or will RG users who’ve created content in OpenSIm be able to have others view it in a browser?

Kyle: That’s a great question. The plan is a merging of the platforms abilities over time. Like a web content management system we store all our data for content in a database. This means we could share that info with any other systems that can query it. A little mathematical transform in between to put OpenSIm’s data in another world is definitely a part of the roadmap R&D.

Lowell: Which leads to the related issue of interoperability: at the broadest level, do you see much progress occurring in ensuring interoperability between environments?

reactiongrid3 Kyle: We had hoped the AWG group in SecondLife would mature as a basis for interop. Why not start with your most compatible world after all? But they are not keeping up with the speed of the Opensim dev’s with items like Hypergrid now linking any Opensim world. So since we cannot get hands on to help there on the SecondLife side we have decided to experiment with our own interop focusing on the access we now haveto the worlds core database store. We can get to the data now so anything becomes possible.

Lowell: So to some extent Linden Lab is lagging the OpenSim efforts?

Kyle: Yes, recently a Linden began participating in the IRC channel with the developers so there is hope. The problem I think is the Lab deciding whether connecting to us would benefit or hurt them. We feel that kind of openess will propogate virtual worlds faster in the mainstream but I can understand all sides of the issue. I just know the web would not be the web it is if it worked like virtual worlds do now.

Lowell: Are the OpenSIm dev community still fairly tight-knit? Do you get the feeling everyone’s still working pretty much to a common purpose or are you seeing commercial considerations increasingly creeping in?

Kyle: I think the Opensim community is incedibly tight knit. What is interesting is it is much like a company with stress, deadlines, support always testing your nerves. But in this case the company’s struggles are fully exposed to the world. So it can seem at times there’s infighting, but it is usually just normal wrangling over how things should be done best. An illustration of our working together is Hypergrid itself where many competeing worlds now link together and have regular cross world meetings and events.

Lowell: On that note, who do you see as ReactionGrid’s main competitors?

Kyle: Second Life & OSGrid are 2 worlds that are run very well & offer options we do not. On our side, we also offer many optins they do not as well. For this reason in terms of attracting users, developers and more, we feel those two worthy worlds are a source of concern. At the same time, we reach out to both for partnerships & have had great success with OSgrid in this way. If we all row in the same direction we’ll get to our destinations a lot faster.

Lowell: Which leads to the partnership with Microsoft. Can you talk a little about how that came about and what opportunities it offers you and the wider community?

Kyle: I have been a Microsoft developer since day 1 of programming for me. One thing this company does right is cater to developers. When I arrived in SecondLife I simply hoped to move my skills from Visual Basic to C#. I instantly was helped by Chris Hart who now is 1/3 owner in ReactionGrid. Over time I began to return the favor with ineractive games, not slideshows, to teach C# to new users. Over time because we used the medium properly they began to invest more in virtual worlds. Soon we spread to dozens of internal departments and to this day they all continue to try various inworld events. With the move to ReactionGrid, the plan is simply to do the same thing but now include teachers, students and families in our educational events with Microsoft. They are even developing and donating spaces for free for low budget schools and innovators to use anytime. What’s also important on that note is you can script inworld on opensim in C# or Visual Basic or even JScript like you would with LSL2 and in fact can mix the code launguages together! This, as you can imagine, is loved by Microsoft who has suggested a 3D world toolkit with us for Visual Studio 2010.

Lowell: Really? So is that a confirmed feature at this stage?

Kyle: No, just part of the ideas for next year being tossed around. Step one is to engage the Microsoft business, teacher and student communities and see how they can help foster fun learning here. We may find they want something else other than our suggestions – teachers are amazing at innovation and this spreads to the students once they get the hang of things. So we like to listen first to our users, then generate and produce our own ideas after that.

Lowell: You mentioned earlier about ownership – who does own ReactionGrid and can you disclose any future plans around growth?

Kyle: Myself and my wife Robin Gomboy are in an equal partnership with Christine Hart in the UK. We recently incorporated as a ‘for profit’ in Florida, USA. We plan to grow initially with hosted, turnkey worlds with great support ( free service) and have ideas for including our clients next year with ideas like sim ownership equals a small stock investment in the company, and other ideas to share guidance of how we operate with our end users. We believe our single file download of worlds behind the firewall recently deployed will eclipse our hosted solutions one day. We also feel by delivering superior support we will surpass most other systems in terms of customer loyalty.

On growth, since launch in January we’re up to almost 5,000 users platform wide, with over 60 independent servers and almost 500 sims platform wide, 150+ here on our world. So extrapolating to next year, we could be pretty huge hehe….

Lowell: One of the biggest challenges for any virtual platform provider is governance. As you move beyond the current 5K users on 60 servers to five or ten times that, how do you see ReactionGrid playing its governance card?

Kyle: Keep in mind ReactionGrid is a platform for virtual world hosting first and foremost. We have our own world of course named the same which is an illustration of the power you get with Opensim. So while this world does grow itis far eclipsed by our resellers and private world owners already. We govern here simply with a PG kind of ethos. Our client and partner worlds handle ther own TOS and other governance. This is exactly like web hosting where we play no part in your worlds rules if hosted with us. If it is legal it is ok with us. As far as growth in this world we’re focused on education and business and have laid down rules similar to those environments and have created a culture here that accepts that in order to be able to bring managers, school administrators and others inworld, they need to experience the medium safely. So we’re hiring former teachers, architects, estate managers and more to help us as we grow on thisparticular world.

Lowell: So the obvious challenge for any business is to make money – what is ReactionGrid’s primary commercial model now and is it likely to change into the future?

Kyle: The business model is three-fold. 3D world development is primarily our team integrating with other systems and applications. On our store you will find tools for business & schools to connect to 3rd party systems for single registration or remote user editing. We also are now building an ecosystem with other content creators. Our hosting services of course provide turnkey virtual worlds and web based administration for mainstream users. So development, ecosystem, hosting are the 3 tentpoles.

Lowell: So if you were able to sum up ReactionGrid’s value offering versus others, what would it be?

Kyle: ReactionGrid is focused on the “launchpad” of your ideas. Our belief is when we deliver users their part of a world the process doesn’t end there. We follow up with you. We help with sim challenges and how to improve performance. We build tools & create fixes based purely on what our users ask for. We want to get the basics right of good customer support before all while Opensim is alpha and far after it matures. Support is key. ReactionGrid sees customer service before and after the sale as critical to launch-padding our client’s ideas.

Lowell: And you’re confident of being able to deliver that personalised service ongoing as you scale in size?

Kyle: I am fully confident. With almost 20 years experience in such care and the fact that since Jan 1 2009 we have doubled in size every couple of months, we are already on track there and simply cannot drop the ball on this.

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds

nedspub 1. Need to create terrain on an OpenSim grid? This tutorial may help in a big way.

Microsoft is also taking note of ReactionGrid, an OpenSim grid.

2. Here’s an interesting perspective on Linden Lab’s adult content changes in recent months.

It’s not hard to imagine Linden Lab have a very close eye on the US Congress and its views on virtual worlds.

3. The MacArthur Foundation are holding a public forum on philanthropy and virtual worlds on 18th May, featuring former Linden Lab CTO Cory Ondrejka and MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton. All the details here.

4. South Africa’s University of the Free State and Sweden’s Lulea University are running a survey on avatar behaviour in Second Life – click here to take part.

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