Should you care about Google Lively? The comparison with Linden Lab's Second Life is inevitable; but Lively is not (yet) a virtual world.
Google calls it "a 3D virtual experience", which is just about right, though you can forget high definition; this is more like being in your own cartoon.
Lively depends on a browser plug-in that is currently for Windows XP or Vista only, and lets you design virtual rooms from a catalogue of furniture. You can't create your own furniture in the current beta, but crucially you can embed YouTube videos or images from a Picasa web album, Google's answer to Flickr. You can also add hyperlinks to items of furniture. The next step is to create an avatar, jump into a room and interact with other users through chat or other expressions from laughing and waving, to kicking and punching.
If Lively has a killer feature, it is the ability to embed virtual rooms into other web pages, by copying and pasting a few lines of HTML. Now it is trivial to offer your users a virtual meeting space, or an engaging way to view a video.
Lively is not done yet. Rooms are slow to load, usability is only so-so, and important features are missing. It has potential though, especially if Google works out how to adapt it for business use. One idea is to link it with Google's other collaboration tools, so you could create a presentation in Google Docs, schedule it in Calendar, invite participants with Gmail and hold the meeting in Lively. It might just work.
That said, Google is currently pitching Lively squarely at consumers, and Linden Lab has a head start in an enterprise context. Earlier this year, I spoke to Gene Yoon, vice president of business affairs at Linden, who told me that, "You're going to see the client get integrated with high-end business collaboration tools." Another interesting development is the recent announcement by IBM and Linden Lab of successful porting of avatars between virtual worlds. It would be great to see standards-based virtual worlds, rather than the all-Google approach which seems to characterise Lively.
Author: Tim Anderson
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