It had been rumored for quite some time that Google was looking to move into the virtual world space. Many of us with an interest in 3D platforms had tried in vain to get details on what they were cooking up. Speculation was that they were building something on top of Google Earth. And others wondered if it would be the Second Life killer app.
At the beginning of this month, they finally went public with the beta of Lively. Less a true, immersive virtual world, it appears to be more of a new 3D chat room in the vein of IMVU. Which is not surprising when you hear that Google once offered to buy IMVU and see that one of IMVU’s co-founders is now leading Google’s Lively programs.
Many virtual world bloggers and mainstream media expressed their disappointment in Lively soon after the launch. Jonas Karlsson, a researcher at Xerox known as Poinky Malaprop in Second Life and simply Poinky on Twitter, remarked: “To me, this type of platform is not that interesting. I want to be able to create things.” One of the guys at EightBar said, “I have to say it’s not quite what I was expecting from Google as the social room on a web page is quite a common concept already.” Over on Digado, Rick van der Wal.said “I don’t think it packs enough of a punch to really reach out into this market, even when that punch gets delivered by the 800 pound Googlerilla.” And, Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek noted: “Lively is certainly easier to use than Second Life, but it lacks the latter’s programmability.”
But, is that programmability and ability to create things one of the barriers that has slowed adoption of the use of a true 3D environment like Second Life? While those who really want to sink their teeth into the possibilities that type of virtual world offers will take the time to learn a new scripting language, a vast majority of users probably do not have time or desire to make such an investment. And, for them, a browser-based virtual environment may be all they need.
Gartner has released a report that argues that Lively is more of a competitor to social networks such as Facebook than to established, large-scale virtual worlds like Second Life. Google themselves called Lively a “3D virtual experience” rather than an actual virtual world. Virtual world consultancy KZero believes that the target demographic for that experience is 10-20 year olds, and I must admit that myself, and many other Second Life residents are closer to 40 than 20 than we’d like to admit.
There is more to Lively than just chat. You can embed their virtual rooms into other web pages, a function IT Week Labs Blog called Lively’s “killer feature”. You can even embed them into Google maps. You can also do a bit of avatar customization, design your own room, embed YouTube videos and display Picasa photos.
But, rather than go into much more detail here, I’d rather stop and ask for your opinions. If you’ve tried Lively, what did you like or dislike? If you’ve not been there, here’s a video that can give you a first look: