The initial experience looks just like IMVU or Meez: you get to design your avatar even before you download the client application, which works inside your browser. Allegedly Firefox is supported too; I’ve tried it with IE7, and the download doesn’t take long. In the mean time, I had the opportunity to browse through all the options to create my avatar. Being — like all Google products! — a Beta version, there are perhaps 40 or 50 available options (not the “millions” announced by Google reps) and they can be somewhat configured, but the choices are confusing and very, very limited. Nothing like the creative fun I had with Meez, some time ago (and which also have a virtual-world-based-on-web-embeddable-rooms, of course).
Then it was time to pick a room to visit (unlike Meez, there is no way you can obviously create your own room, although it’s clear it should be possible somehow). There is a list to pick from. Surprise, surprise: on the top five “Most visited” rooms, a club (what else?) was at the top, with Pathfinder Linden’s own “Linden Lab” room a close second. Figuring out that here I would already find a few familiar faces from Second Life®, I went for that one.
The choice was certainly correct — Dusan Writer, Grace McDunnough, Jurin Juran, and likely a few others (sometimes it’s not easy to figure out who’s who!) were around in the room, testing the cumbersome interface. And cumbersome it is! Or perhaps it was just me, fighting to get a few frame rates per second (and not a frame every two or three seconds!) out of Lively. The room was, of course, crowded… with about a dozen avatars (20 is the hard-coded limit). I’m sure, however, that someone with a good PC (and not using Parallels) might have had a much better experience than me. Then again, it looked like most of the crowd was complaining about the excruciatingly painful lag.
Is it fun?
Combine that with a confusing little interface and it was clearly anything but a “fun” experience. And remember that we were all cheating. Everybody on the “Linden Lab” room at that time was a veteran Second Life resident; we’re not exactly newbies with virtual worlds. We have tried several, and in some cases, use different VWs regularly and every day. We’re used to lag, to semi-functional software, to application crashes (several people crashed during the few hours I was online), to things not loading, to silly mistakes that everybody does. We’re also used to the insanely complex (but virtually rich) interface of Second Life, and use computers and their complex applications to accomplish tasks every day. And, of course, we all are very open minded and eager to try new things out.
Lively was anything but Lively — except for the fact that you were in a visually unappealing chatroom with a lot of friends or at least acquaintances from one’s journey across the Metaverse. Like I usually say, most virtual worlds I’ve tried only capture my attention for about 15 minutes, and it’s up to the developers to make sure that I enjoy the first 15 minutes (Meez, for instance, in 15 minutes let me choose an avatar, personalise it quite a lot, create a room, make small changes, log in, take snapshots, make a movie… and well, that was basically it, but at least I had fun in those 15 minutes! With IMVU I had very similar experiences). Lively was only lively because there were people there I know — people whose opinions I respect — and that made me stay about 2 hours in it. The old rule applies: if there is nothing else to do in a virtual world, it’s the people you meet that will make you decide to stay, not the interface.
Unless, of course, that there is a lot to do. My first experience in Second Life was getting the idea that there simply was too much to do, and I’d take hours and hours to learn it all (I since then realised that the most correct time estimate is “several centuries”, but I had no idea of knowing that…). On Lively, the attraction seems to be to figure out how to embed Lively rooms on web pages (easy), how to create new rooms (no clue; I’m looking for pointers and welcome them) or new items (also no clue, but it’s clear that some items have descriptions like “curvy-body-shape-25” done by Google’s developers, so there has to be a way to import the meshes). You can just drag and drop items around the place and add comments to it.