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

So why are people so enthusiastic about Google Lively?

I have only one explanation: it has the brand “Google” behind it.

As a 3D-chatroom-embedded-on-the-web, it falls behind almost every other product and application I have tried in the past 4 years, no matter where you wish to find something good. The animations are goofy and cartoonish, to the point of extreme irritability. The interface is not obvious, but then again, SL suffers from the same problem, and it’s just a question of getting used to it. There is no content creation at all; no way to integrate it with anything; no programming/scripting; no chat tools (even GTalk, known to have the least features just after SL’s chat system, has far more!). And, more important: no support, a terrible forum system (I can’t answer on half the threads), no helpful people around… if you bump into a Google Developer, they’re very likely very friendly (or so everybody who met them claims), but that’s all you get. Google’s webpage for Lively is even more minimalistic than anything else they’ve launched before. And there is nothing on the Google developers’ sites either.

You can show YouTube videos inside Lively, as well as stream music, and grab the code to embed a room into any webpage. That’s the degree of “interaction” with the outside world that is provided by Google. Beyond that, there is nothing.

Searching for the “most popular” rooms leads to the inevitable: the most rated one was a dance club (since you can stream music) and on the top ten list you had a lot of sex-related rooms as well. Since animations are fixed and you cannot import content, I wonder what the fun is supposed to be on those (I didn’t bother to check them out). 

This was a terrible disappointment. I admit to being very naive. I was expecting something with at least the quality of Vivaty which at least has pretty decent avatars (nobody seems to wish to create a social world with the high detail of Second Life’s own avatars; photorealism is left to games on consoles and high-end hardware; we regular users of social environments are left with low-polygon cartoons and anime characters), but using SketchUp to import at least crude models. Even importing plywood cubes would be nice! Instead, we have to rely on the “Catalog”, created by a limited group of Google developers. There is no “click here to add content” button, like you’ve got in, say, IMVU or There.com. There is no information whatsoever on how to add it, although, as said, both Millions of Us and Rivers Run Red have a “special” contract with a “limited” number of developers that Google allowed to participate in the creation of a few personalised rooms.

No content, no fun, just chat and embed rooms on webpages

So this seems to be Google’s recipe for success. Their virtual world, like Second Life®, is supposed to be about “people doing their own rooms”. In a way, a 3D Orkut: let people socialise on each other’s rooms by doing live (text) chat, listen to music, have fun together, arrange a day to download the 10 MBytes Lively client and chat, chat, chat. Visit each other’s rooms to see the cool arrangement of sofas that your friend has managed to glue on the wall. View YouTube videos and comment on them while you watch together. Go to a club and dance. That’s all. Oh, and for corporations, instead of chatting on GTalk, go to a corporate room and watch a slideshow presentation on YouTube.

Some SL residents managed to talk to the Google Developers, and these said that there was a 3D Max plugin to allow the creation of content into Lively. The plugin works 90% of the time but it can only improve. There is no idea or plan or announcement on if that plugin will be released to the public. People speculate that if Lively had three years of development (and not 2 months, as it looks like…), we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and that we should soon expect integration with all major Google applications and APIs. It seems to be clear that they won’t integrate with anything which is not “Google”, although some creative people will probably be able to use Lively-to-GTalk gateways to at least get access to external content. SL programmers are used to all sorts of tricks to get access to external content in Second Life in ways that Linden Lab never predicted, so they might be able to do the same with Lively, too.

So the marketing strategy seemed to be simple: leverage on the Google brand to get the media hyped about something new. Exclude companies like Meez, Vivaty, Whirled, or ultimately even Metaplace to forge strong ties with the Big Social Sites out there, and have them adopt Lively avatars and embedded rooms instead. Turn Orkut into 3D. And when Lively reaches a few hundreds of millions of users in a year or so, start adding interesting features to it. By then, everybody will use “Google” as a word synonymous to virtual worlds (like we use “to google” as a verb to describe using a web search engine) and they can do whatever they please with Lively.

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