Google Invites Avatar Banter in Lively Chat Rooms

If you already thought it was a Google world and we’re all just living in it — well, now you can with the introduction of Lively, Google’s free 3-D virtual world application that brings game-like qualities to the concept of Internet chat.

“The Lively team wants to help people experience another dimension of the Web,” Niniane Wang, a Google engineering manager, wrote in a post on the Official Google Blog. “We hope you will use the product to express yourself with and without words, and to do this in the places you already visit on the Web.”

Lively is Google’s attempt to replicate the real-world success of Linden Labs’ Second Life virtual world game, but with some major differences: It is a Web browser add-on for Firefox and Internet Explorer 7, not a separate program; it can be integrated into existing Web sites like Facebook or a personal blog; and your animated Lively avatar is limited to a virtual “room,” not an entire world (as in “World of Warcraft.”)

Virtual Reality for the Rest of Us?

Lively could represent “the first signs of a second wave of virtual world development,” Paul Jackson, principal analyst for Forrester Research, told LinuxInsider. “It is a more mainstream platform that integrates to other applications. That’s a big step forward.”

Indeed, Lively users will be able to show off YouTube videos and Picasa-downloaded photos in their “rooms.”

The program, released by Google Labs as a beta application currently for Windows only, does allow for customization of avatars and environments but not on the level of Second Life. You also can’t buy and sell goods with virtual currency.

“That’s why you’re seeing some negative commentary (on blogs) from those people who have played around with Second Life,” Jackson said. “This is a bit of a retrograde step for them, but the people targeted are people who are doing what they want in social networking. … For them, it’s easy to reach and use.”

An Accessible World

“For some people, virtual worlds truly have an otherworldly feel,” Michael Nitsche, assistant professor in the Digital Media program of Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, told LinuxInsider. “This is a very good entry point for virtual worlds. … What I really like about the approach is the focus on social interaction. If they (Google) drive on that hard, it will be fantastic.”

It doesn’t hurt to have Google’s brand and money pushing the 3-D realm into new territories, including revenue generation, Nitsche added. “In Second Life, you pay for real estate. In Lively, initially you get the real estate for free. What you can charge them for is stuff within this real estate.”

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