Meet the Developer: Tranquility Dexler, co-owner of InWorldz

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We had a chance to talk to one of the owners of InWorldz, the software architect Tranquility Dexler. Dexler plans and executes the software side of InWorldz; everything that has to do with the software behind the grid goes through him. To help him, he has a lot of contractors, employees and volunteers, all dedicated to make InWorldz the best experience you can possibly have. If something goes wrong, Dexler or anyone on his team will be right on it, hunt down the problem and fix it as soon as possible.

Dexler started, as many others, in Second Life. He was building and exploring the grid, when one day…

“One of my contacts there let me know that there was a grid that needed some help with getting things working right on an Opensim based grid. I hung out a lot in what was at that time the IBM sandbox. I took a look over here and got to know the other founders. I had always known that I wanted to get into games and 3d simulations. I found out they were really nice people and great to work with so I started doing some volunteer work around March of 2010. I think that was when I officially became the third founder here after much work getting groups and some other things working.”

Here is the interview we had with him

The regions offer 45,000 prims, which is more than most of the virtual worlds. Is there any specific reason for this number?

45,000 was the default (I believe) when we started with Opensim 0.6.5 So what we did was optimize our code around this number to make sure that we could sustain high server-side performance with this number. We built the software into the limit that was originally set by opensim and made sure in our case that 45,000 was more than just a marketing objective, but an achievable technical goal as well.
When we first rolled the grid out. that 45,000 number caused a lot of headaches, and we kept pounding at the software until it became stable with fully loaded regions with lots of scripts and a lot of avatars.
Because we worked with that number rather than compromising, we now have a very memory and CPU efficient simulator that allows us to provide cost effective regions to people and still provide us with the income for staff and contractors to keep InWorldz moving forward.”

It’s free to upload assets.  Is it cost effective to you or is there a risk that it will overload the servers soon?

Ah assets! Glad you brought that up, I was just talking about that today.
Free uploads obviously aren’t actually free for us as a company. They have to be stored somewhere, they have to be backed up and when you get to the concurrent activity of InWorldz you start running into consumption numbers around 10 GB/day* at peak.
We have designed an asset system that allows us to scale out cheaply on commodity hardware, while still maintaining the integrity of the assets via active push/pull replication ** and backups.
However, because assets are such a large consumer of disk space (currently over 8 TB*), we were looking for ways to make storing them even cheaper for the company while still maintaining high performance and reliability.
We have come up with a high performance addition to our storage systems that will utilize a hybrid solution utilizing Rackspace Cloud Files in conjunction with our current asset system to provide better fault tolerance, better recovery in case of failure and cheaper per-gigabyte storage for the company. The project codename is Stratus and this is the first time I’m mentioning anything about it publicly, but it is my primary project right now.”

InShape is a rather obvious idea, if you think about it. How come InWorldz is the only grid trying it out? And how well has it gone so far?

“Yes it is rather obvious, but I think the difference between us and others is that the founders here really have a serious drive to push the company in directions that can really improve people’s lives. I really want all my feature projects to be able to have direct benefits for people and that is where the idea for InShape came about. I have been a very active individual for the last 8 months, after I realized I had fallen way off the path for keeping myself healthy.
Until there’s that push, that good reason for an idea to exist, sometimes things stay buried. I realized how much better I have felt and wanted to find some way to share it. Then we realized almost everyone now has some kind of smartphone and that working out can be rather boring.
Originally I was going to build a transmitter/accelerometer from a cheap arduino kit, but luckily Jim Tarber talked me out of that and into just using the smartphone.
People that have tried it out so far have absolutely loved it, and the great thing is that people report being completely bushed when they have finished our beta tests, which is the point. You don’t notice you’re exercising until the end because you’re actually having fun.
I hit a snag with Google groups and people not getting my beta invites, so starting in December I’m going to open the application to everyone and start an open beta in between my other core projects. After we get a bit more testing in, we’ll start doing exercise classes every weekend for 30 – 45 minutes and see if we can get more people to get back into working out.
I also used InShape to actually run the RFL. One of our residents joined me that day. What fun that was and really allowed you to experience RFL for real, virtually.
Next time though I’m not too sure about the real life camera. I was too sweaty to be presentable.”

What other near future developments are you working on?

“Getting InShape into production is a huge goal of mine as well as Stratus assets. We have a bunch of work items that other developers are on that I won’t share until they’re ready for them. One totally revolutionizes the way dance systems and sitting systems work. But I don’t want to give any of that away quite yet. The devs on those projects will let me know when they’re ready for reveals.
As far as basic enhancements, we’ll also be implementing materials and the ribbon particles in the near future.”

What do you feel when you see almost 90,000 people using InWorldz after only a couple of years?

“I am very happy that people are giving us a shot, and glad to see so many people call this their home. It has been a long journey and a lot of hard work to get to the level of stability that we have here, but through it all we have retained that same desire to try and make sure this is a welcoming experience. I hope deep down that people keep coming because they feel like this can be their home.
As a side note, I remember when having 10 people online was a huge deal to us.
Being a small business you have to attack things with that mindset as well. Celebrating every small achievement can keep you going against some very tough choices.”

Where do you see InWorldz in the near future?

“Our goal for InWorldz is to build the business to the point where we can get even more talented people on board and start working on some of the projects that we have ideas for that are just a bit out of our reach right now. This company is filled with people that have great ideas and the only thing holding them back is the manpower to get them done in a reasonable amount of time. As InWorldz has grown, we’ve always reinvested everything back into making sure we’re doing things that matter. Projects like InShape and Dreamshare are examples of what this small team is capable of.
If things go as planned, we’ll reach a critical mass where we have a team large enough to tackle projects that really change the landscape. We’ll be able to concentrate more on ideas that haven’t been tried and even more projects that help people in a more direct way. I believe Virtual Reality is an environment where anything is possible and one that can give hope and happiness to people that need it the most. That is a vision that will be sustained with this company as it prospers.
It is all about people. It always will be.”

Have you noticed any change in InWorldz due to the TOS controversies in Second Life?

“I think that we have seen more people looking for alternatives that provide less of a divide between what the users want and what the company wants. We may be a limited liability company, but we were all once content creators and residents. We know how important your stuff is to you and how proud you are of your creations. We don’t want to do anything that damages your trust in us around those basic ideas.
I believe a company has to keep the basic ideals of its customers in mind first before everything else.”

As a developer, what is your favorite thing in what you do?

“My answer may not be what you expect. I really do love software development, I love everything about it from coding solutions to tough problems, to debugging that really nasty obscure bug through memory dumps and often wrong stack traces that flow in and out of native and managed code. But…
My favorite part about being a software developer is watching people use what we make to build their dreams. To do things that make them happy and bring them together. I am a people person first, I love seeing people happy. I think there is far too much isolation in the world today, far too much loneliness. In my mind, when we are developing and testing features and fixes, all I hope for is that it will assist in making people feel more fulfilled, less isolated, more connected.
Working with a team of really smart people does the same for me. It makes me feel like part of something special that maybe can help people in our own small way.
I used to think a lot more individually about software, but through experience I’ve learned it is all about people. It is about your team and the people that use your products and making sure everyone doing work realizes that vision.”

Will we see any other projects on virtual reality and InWorldz in future, apart from InShape?

“Oh yes, absolutely.
I have a few ideas I’ve been tinkering with, but no hints yet. I need to get a few other things out of the way first.”

Second Life recently introduced fitted mesh that turned out to contain a glitch. Are you planning to introduce this too, or are you working out some other way?

“We will support both the deformer and whatever SL implements. We’ll make sure to keep the deformer maintained in our new releases so that people can choose which to use. We’ll also continue to keep a close eye on how the new bones and rigging works out for creators.
I haven’t followed it closely yet, but I’m hoping they can work that stuff out so there will eventually be one good solid solution for SL and other grids.”

With more people joining InWorldz is a risk of copybot scripts or hacker scripts, how do you propose to stop them in order to safeguard the creators interests?

“The InWorldz devs are always actively working on solutions to problems like these. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to griefers and copybotters, so we take care to analyze attacks on content and on our infrastructure and take steps to mitigate them as best as possible. We actively seek out and pay white hats to try to crack our systems and find problems with our security measures or script engine systems. It is a continuous battle to balance creator ability with the potential for abuse, but that is always on our mind when implementing new features.
It should be noted that in the case of content theft, by law we have to follow the provisions of the DMCA very closely to maintain our safe harbor status. When we receive reports, we act quickly and according to the letter of the law.”

With the introduction of InWorldz Dreamshare, do you think the in-world shopping experience will be decreased?

“I think that coming in-world and buying something will always have an appeal to people that really want to be immersed and shop. You are correct that Dreamshare will allow people to see 3d views of in-world objects, but our future plans for that actually still involve making sure people visit things in-world as well. ”

How much influence do you think social media has on Inworldz in terms of gaining more users?

“I have found many InWorldz users on Twitter and I have an account there myself (@TranquillityIW). It is a great way to get our messages out and keep in touch at a more personal level with our residents. We have also used Facebook to launch small campaigns with some success. I have also integrated Dreamshare with Twitter and Facebook to allow people to share their in-world creations with their friends that may not have accounts here. Direct integration from the viewer for those who want it for something like Twitter is a definite possibility.”

What would you like to say to young developers and fans of Inworldz?

“For young developers: The most important thing about software is to find something you really love to code and follow your heart. Don’t sit at any programming job if it leaves you feeling unfulfilled. Use your talents to lead an exciting career. Be satisfied with what you are doing and you will go far.
For fans of InWorldz: Thank you so much for believing in us and for picking InWorldz as your place to come together. This exists because of you! Remember that when things get tough you have a place to go and friends here that really care about the true you. We’ll keep working hard to make this the best experience we can.”

If you had to define InWorldz in just two words, what would it be?

“Oh that’s a tough one!
How about Self Discovery?
When people really ‘get it’ when it comes to Virtual Worlds, I think that is the biggest, most life changing thing that happens.
When I still had time to build I discovered the poet in myself that could reach out to others via 3d modeling.
That was a huge burden off my shoulders, to finally be able to express myself in a way that felt very complete.
And it helped me during some of the hardest times of my life after I lost my father.”

*1TB = 1000GB, 1GB = 1000 KB and 1KB = 1 000B. 1B = 1 letter in an unformated text document.
**The method InWorldz uses to keep track of the assets on the grid

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