Not So Lively: Chronicles of Day One on Google’s Virtual World

So by now it’s not news any more, but a fact: Google has entered the profitable (?) world of virtual worlds (pun obviously intended). A much awaited development, at least by the faithful believers that Google will save the world.

I don’t think there are coincidences. In about 24 hours (not in the same day for the timezone-impaired), Sun’s Wonderland gets slashdotted, Linden Lab announces the massive growth of Second Life and demonstrates the interoperability between their main grid and IBM’s OpenSim-based grid, and Google launches their own virtual world, Lively. July 8th was definitely the Day of the Metaverse!

Simultaneously, Metaverse Development Companies like Millions of Us and Rivers Run Red announce that they have developed virtual presences for their companies on Google’s brand new virtual world, so it’s clear that this wasn’t a surprise to either of them — both have “rooms” in Lively, and MoU even has already placed one of their clients, National Geographic.

So, like probably billions of people around the world, I tried to join in to Lively and see what’s all about. Not to be turned down by the lack of Mac support (no new virtual world supports the Mac these days, in spite of the “promises” done to “support it soon” — with “only” 8% of market share and growing, the Mac is simply not interesting for developers to focus on), I launched Parallels and hoped to get in that way.

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About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I’m just a virtual girl in a virtual world…

  • Whilst I can’t comment on a lot of this… no parallels for me, no way to log in to Lively until I can find someone with a PC I can use for a while, it’s not true that all new virtual worlds don’t work on a Mac.

    Small Worlds, which seems remarkably similar to Lively from what I’ve seen in the former and read about the latter, runs quite happily in a browser (just about any browser) on any OS.

    Lively? The comments I’m reading make me wonder if it will be a really bad choice of name in a month’s time. But then if they called it Moribund it would never last for a month.

  • Meez is actually more interesting than Lively and works on any browser… but, well, they’re not Google.

    Lively is Deadly indeed, Eloise. In fact, the most fun so far seems to be hanging around with fellow SLers and discuss whatever we discuss in SL. With the crappy interface (tiny window, chat history covering half of it and silly messages popping all over the place so that you’re not seeing anything anyway), there is really nothing else to do. It’s sort of a super-heavy IRC channel with cartoons and stupid animations. And that is a strange comment coming from me, I’m a famous collector of silly animations in SL…

  • Gwyn, as always you have well thought out ways of saying what I think. I quoted pretty heavily and linked with my thoughts over at

    Anything you want to add I’d love to hear. It’s that interesting gray area for both Google and Linden Labs where they have to do something for their due diligence to their company and their desire to be ‘good’ that is fun to watch, let’s just hope it plays out for the benefit of us all.


  • Orfeu Miles

    Lively does indeed seem half-baked and ill concieved.
    It has the feeling of a product rushed to market.
    I find it very hard to imagine any serious business people, wanting to have a virtual meeting with the cartoonish avatars.

    Still early days granted, but I guess we all expected more from Google.

    For all the problems associated with Second Life….and they are Legion….there is an ambition of vision there, which I havent seen anywhere else.

  • Scarp Godenot

    Great summary Gwyn. I was afraid that Google was not going to get into the full 3d experience, and it looks like that is just what has happened. IMVU here we come.

    You are correct to note that when Google talks people listen, and it is an extremely bad thing that the masses and the media will confuse this very limited product with the much more immersive stuff that is already out there, specifically Second Life.

    People will check it out, find it is lame and then think all VR experiences are like that. It is unpardonable that a company with the resources of Google would devote such a minimal effort to an idea and a technology that has such massive potential.

    Maybe the google forecasting ‘experts’ don’t think that the potential is really there. After all, the bigger a company gets the more conservative its decisions tend to become.

    I think what will happen with Lively is a sputtering existence followed by Google buying a company with a better product down the road.

    I like your analysis of their interests depending on the future of the 2d web. Do you think Google comprehends the not-to-far-down-the-road introduction of Virtual World surfing with avatars and inventory and its implications? This has the potential to run them over in the long run. I wonder what they are thinking? If they were smart THEY would be the developers of OpenSim or something like it.

    Thanks for the efforts. The speed of your research always amazes me.

    Have a good one,

    Scarp Godenot

  • Awesome analysis as usual, Gwyneth. I’m actually hoping that the lackluster features and unimpressive ‘virtual world’ experience of Lively will be good for SL. Maybe folks will get their feet wet in Lively then go searching for something with a little more depth. After all, nearly every news article announcing Lively also mentioned Second Life as the main competitor – even though the two have very little in common.

  • Dear Gwyneth, this was an excellent analysis (of course), but I tend to disagree with some of the verdicts. Please do not be offended, but I think your assessment was a bit biased by your experiences as a seasoned Second Life resident – and that is certainly NOT Google’s target audience (or a large and interesting market, yet). Google is always targeting as broad an audience as possible with their platforms. Lively is another example for that.

    Lively is NOT a direct competitor to Second Life. It is IMVU, Small Worlds, Vivaty, Meez, Kaneva, Smeet etc. which will have a hard time, soon. Because they target the same audience: not the immersionists, that want live a second life, not the creative crowd, that wants to create an alternate world, but the teenagers, who always love a cool new way to express themselves with and communicate with their peers. That is a huge target group and the fastesd growing group of virtual worlds users, currently.

    Lively’s user experience is not THAT bad, either. I agree, that it was not much fun to use yesterday. But my first session in the EU morning, when it was not yet slashdotted, was quite nice and smooth. I quickly created an avatar. It was easy to move around, to move the camera and chat. (The account creation process could have been smoother).

    No, Lively is not a virtual WORLD (that is a matter of definition, though) but it is – or can be – an immersive social 3D environment that offers most of what most users want from a “virtual world”: individual avatars, a 3D scene they can customize, and a shared experience to hang around in with friends (or have cybersex in their private room). This does not make it a Second Life clone (or Killer) but these requirements even fit with what is probably important to the majority of Second Life residents. This does not mean that many Second Life users will flock over to Lively in substantial numbers. I very much doubt that. While Lively’s visual quality isn’t exactly bad, the cartoonish look won’t satisfy the average resident – and does make many corporate applications implausible, to say the least …

    We will still see tremendous growth in the user base and a gazillion of Facebook profiles and MySpace pages which will feature Lively rooms in the near future. And we will see marketing activities like MoU’s National Geographics room. Many other applications of virtual worlds – for which platforms like Second Life, Multiverse, OLIVE, Wonderland etc. are well equipped – are not possible with Lively, yet. That “the press” doesn’t grok this and compares Lively with Second Life was to expected. In a way it just shows, what a household name Second Life has become (virtual world = a Second Life).

    Just now Lively targets the largest possible market for a 3D online platform: customizeable 3D chatrooms. The next years will show if it can be more. And the next months will show how well it can compete with the current competition. We’ll see. I would not want to be an investor in IMVU, Vivaty, Meez, Small Worlds and the like, these days, though …

  • Gwyneth Llewelyn wrote
    > The lower the quality of Lively,
    > the better for Google

    Scarp Godenot wrote
    > People will check it out, find it is lame
    > and then think all VR experiences are
    > like that

    I’d like to add a different point of view about this:
    “it’s all about training wheels”, as Hunter Walk puts it (Walk was previously an early Second Life team member and he now works at Google, though not on Lively):
    Why Google Lively is good for Second Life

  • Extropia DaSilva

    Roughly every four years, the next generation of games consoles are released, usually with the same negative criticism aimed at the first batch of games. Several months prior to its commercial availability, the company behind the platform inform us of the machine’s specifications. It sounds very, very impressive on paper, but mostly the games seem a bit disapointing. People compare the games on the new system with the best games the old system had to offer and you know what? There doesn’t seem to be the leap in quality one would expect, given the technology packed into the new console.

    Here’s why.

    The software companies take time to learn how to make the most of the new technology. Typically, the games that come out on launch or soon after use 20% of the theoretical power (something like that, anyway). On the other hand, they have developed a formidable array of development tools for the old console and the very best games get close to 100% theoretical capabilities.

    Compare a game using 90+% capability on your old generation console with one using 20% capability on your next generation console and what do you get? Yup, two games that, technically speaking, are a near match.

    Obviously, sooner or later the software developers master the new platform and the technical quality of the games leave the older console far behind.

    But, here’s the thing. Once the hardware is done…it’s DONE. People like Sony don’t use Moore’s Law to churn out PlayStation3s every 18 months that are twice as powerful for the same price, they use it to churn out consoles of the SAME power for HALF the price. It is inevitable, then, that a NEW generation of hardware/software will surpass the technical best that the old-generation had to offer.

    Right, finally getting to the point…So a company releases something like Lively and immediately people compare it to Second Life. And it is not a flattering comparison. But, they are making the WRONG comparison. What they SHOULD be doing is comparing Lively NOW to what SL was like when it first went live (kind of like how the TRUE comparison in regards to consoles is the 1st-gen games for the old platform versus the 1st-gen games for the new one, NOT 4th gen versus 1st gen!).

    I was not around when Sl was born so I’ve no idea whether Lively as it is now compares favourably to SL as it was then. But it MUST be obvious, even without logging into Lively to see for yourself, that it is going to be disapointing compared to the SL we have NOW. After all, how much content creation has been incorporated into SL since it launched? If Google or anybody insisted on equalling the content creation of SL before they launched their world, it never WOULD be launched!

    The only way I can see SL being surpassed is if A) there is some dreadful flaw in its design that cannot be overcome through updates, and requires a complete overhaul of the entire platform (you know, junk SL 1.whatever and release SL 2.0) and B) if this radical overhaul cannot be done without loosing all content creation on SL 1.whatever.

    I’m not sure if Linden Labs would go down this hypothetical path. Sounds like too much bother to me. But a NEW online world developer, with no large user base with years of effort invested in the platform, could work out what that flaw is and bring out their online world with the flaw removed. Then, possibly, their world can one day surpass SL no matter how many updates or how much content creation goes on from here to eternity.

    But other than that, I think any new online world developer is playing a game of catch-up that they cannot possibly win.

    Extropia DaSilva- wonders why hardly anybody in online worlds wears cool shades. The Matrix said we would!

  • loool “Google will save the world.” quiet crazy. I didn’t tried the Lively because all 3D alternative worlds, or most of them they just forgot the MAC USERS, damm, Mac in this days is much more powerful than the #$%#&#$%# windows pc (even the name sucks). What I saw about lively is so much limited, and so much that isn’t even near the hole SL features. Lively can be used for free, but u can’t make your creations to the in-world.

    For me it’s just a silly 3D chat room, no creations content, no open source, nothing new for those who are in the SL.

    Anyway, Second Life it is just 10.000 Steps away from Google new product, Google just can claim their success for now because their name behind it, no duds. Like in the same day SL announced the “teleport to other 3D worlds” damm that is just to advanced that we can dream in 2 years great innovations on the Grid, and perhaps some connections to other companies that explore the 3D worlds.

  • Not only is it confusing and slow, it is fun. Yes, that last sentence seems a little strange when you read it the first time, but it makes sense if you think about it more. Lively can be slow, and not very unique, but one thing it brings to the table that is more unique than Small World, There, SL, and others, is the ability to easily embed their chat rooms in your website/blog.

    There lack of content and real purpose (other than just chatting and throwing 3D objects all over the place in your own room), is acceptable in their beta stage; hopefully future versions will show us more purpose.