In a way, it’s very un-Google. The new Lively 3D “virtual world” that launched today is perhaps another run at social networking after the mixed experience of Orkut (popular in Brazil and India, among a few other places). Apparently aimed at teens and even tweens cutting their virtual teeth on sites like Webkinz and Club Penguin, Lively is apparently the product of the long-rumored Google Metaverse project. It’s only available for PC at the moment.
I spent some time with it this afternoon and found it relatively easy to use and engaging, although there’s slight a learning curve. A nice, fairly in-depth discussion of the mechanics of Lively is on Google Blogoscoped. There’s considerable customization built around avatars and rooms, which can be exported in the form of widgets. Users can enter each others’ rooms and interact/chat with one another. You can also embed and watch YouTube videos within Lively.
Unlike Second Life, the service is entirely free. Lively is likely to be immediately popular. Coincidentally, another 3D social network, Vivaty, launched this morning with an emphasis on Facebook (Coke and Target are sponsors). There are numerous other competitors and there has been considerable VC money flowing into the over-hyped “virtual world” segment.
Beyond comparing the now proliferating virtual worlds on features, it’s worth asking why Google is doing this. As I said in the beginning, this effort is quite far removed from Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information.”
One could take the cynical view and see it as an effort to further develop the burgeoning “in-game” advertising market. In 2006 Google acquired the in-game ad company AdScape. Alternatively, it could be seen as a product to appeal to the youth market (and later offer demographic advertising and sponsorships accordingly). But it may equally be a product of the creativity of a number of Google engineers who just thought it would be “cool.”
It will also be interesting to see whether and how Lively integrates with Google Earth and Maps. Here’s a visual, video overview: