Google’s Lively

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Jul 082008
 

So at this point, I imagine everyone has seen the news about Google finally decloaking off the virtual bow with Lively.

The coverage showed up in both the gaming press, where Google shared a bunch of tidbits that seemed to indicate a PR outreach to the gaming community, and also of course in the tech press, where commenters seemed overall less than impressed, questioning how Lively relates to Google’s avowed purpose of “organizing the world’s information.”

It’s interesting, because at least as presented right now, Lively is definitely neither a info-organizing metaverse, nor a game; not a user-generated content environment, either. Really, it’s more of a competitor to stuff like IMVU, Habbo Hotel, and Vivaty (which also announced an open beta recently). In fact, Mel Guymon, the head of 3d operations for Google and the guy getting interviewed everywhere, is formerly of both There and IMVU.

We’re going to launch with 8 completely different avatars. We’ve got 2 or 3 times that that we’re going to launch over time. The investment and polish to make that content, I just haven’t seen elsewhere. I’m very pleased they allowed us to do that. Third, the implementation of it takes the best of the space, rich avatars and a large catalog of virtual goods, which by the way is free, and have it be a part of your existing social network, which is the big wave right now. That’s really the silver bullet.

Now, stuff like Vivaty comes from a VRML background and is to my mind undoubtedly aiming at a far more open system over time. I would strongly suspect that Google has similar goals — they mention Google Gadgets integration, for example, and in an interview at Virtual Worlds News, they comment that one of the main reasons more open user content creation isn’t available to everyone yet is the lack of a full copyright protection system. A post over at SLUniverse says

We’re also working with a small number of trusted testers, vendors and creative agencies as part of a test for creating custom items.

We hope to enable user-generated content and even more customization soon, but until then we’ve given you tons of choices from the catalog to help personalize your Lively experience.

Still, it’s clearly a consumer play, and one that strongly validates the virtual worlds category. In some ways, Google is trying to do to virtual worlds what EA did to massively multiplayer games way back when: drown the segment in the resources of a much more powerful player in terms of budget and distribution.

But still… PC only. Google-only integration. A truly bizarre interface. 10 megabyte plugin download. Gamebryo (a highly capable game engine, but higher-end than one would normally use in a web plug-in!), which is leading to reports of poor performance on some end-user machines. A 20 user cap on a room. And no cycle for user-contributed behaviors. Not exactly the recipe one would expect from Google, barring the distributed nature of it, and in some ways, not the one you would expect for a move for the future of virtual worlds.

  38 Responses to “Google’s Lively”

  1. Short URL/snapshot/citation/bookmarking apps: bit.ly http://bit.ly/go WebCite http://www.webcitation.org/ (courtesy of Seb Chan) Google’s new VW lively. Is it cool or does it suck? Some debate. RWW techcrunchRaph KosterI need to find out more about Lexara and Project SILVER: http://www.lexara.com/lexara/project-silver/ and http://www.silvereducation.org/

  2. usw. sind bestimmt sicher vor Lively. Multiverse, Metaplace, und viele andere gerade gestartete oder in der Entwicklung befindliche Plattformen fr “einbettbare” virtuelle Welten sind eher betroffen. Obwohl auch bei denen Unterschiede bestehen und siesich selbst nicht betroffen fhlen. Aber des gibt da eine virtuelle Welt, die sicher nicht von Lively betroffen ist: das Web. Systeme, die Leute auf Webseiten sichtbar machen wie weblin und (ganz neu:) RocketOn machen etwas ganz anderes, als virtuelle Welten, die in Webseiten

  3. XBOX, Wii, PlayStation and Google Games Activision and Blizzard together, XBOX 360 price drop leak, Massage Vest for PS2, PS3 firmware, Wii hacks from Johnny Lee, Wii Wireless Keyboard, New Wii Skate game andGoogle Lively.

  4. – This latest Google venture combines virtual world 3D chat rooms with social networking. Is this a sign of things to come, the beginnings of a true 3D virtual web for the masses, or an uninspired step backwards? I wonderwhat Raph thinks?Quote: If you enter a Lively room embedded on your favorite blog or website, you can immediately get a sense of the room creator’s interests, just by looking at the furniture and environment they chose. You can also express your own

  5. the gadgets you have in your Lively rooms can also run on your desktop. A virtual world development firm, Millions of Us, also released a tv-show-associated room. With whom is Lively competing? On the one hand, its simplicity and emphasis on chatsuggests3d chat environments, like IMVU. On the other hand, as TechCrunch observes, “Well, this sucks for Second Life.” Lively could grow into a competitor, if uptake occurs, and Google throws its might behind it. A third option:

  6. The user cap could make it relatively private social experience, which appeals to many outside the MMO crowd. If items remain free, then choosing furniture and fluff might appeal to non-gamers as an alternative to Solitaire and Sudoku. No predictions from me, though.

  7. ( obligatory discosure: Millions of Us is using lively as a developer)

    Raph:

    I have to say, I think you’re spot-on re. positioning. Limitations, well, I think we all know that doing a project like this from within a big company is tough because you have all the expectations of unlimited budget but a reality that’s similar to any 15 person startup. Nothing’s perfect, things get prioritized and some stuff ships and other stuff. . . doesn’t.

    That said, remember that most of the speculation over the last year re. Google and virtual worlds was around whether we’d all be teleporting as avatars into Google Earth. This indicates (smartly) otherwise. The basics are all there or will be soon for an experience that’s user friendly and easy to plug into existing social network pages. More in a sec — battery dying.

  8. Raph, can you elaborate on this one? While I find Gamebryo listed in the reference links, I can’t find anything mentioning poor performance, or tying it to Gamebryo.

    Gamebryo (!), which is leading to plenty of results of poor performance on end-user machines.

  9. I predict this goes the way of Google Answers rather quickly.

  10. That said, remember that most of the speculation over the last year re. Google and virtual worlds was around whether we’d all be teleporting as avatars into Google Earth. This indicates (smartly) otherwise. The basics are all there or will be soon for an experience that’s user friendly and easy to plug into existing social network pages.

    I don’t mean to come across as overly critical. I think even just an embeddable IMVU is a nice big step forward, and will likely have a big impact on mainstreaming VWs.

    While I find Gamebryo listed in the reference links, I can’t find anything mentioning poor performance, or tying it to Gamebryo.

    To be clear, I am not blaming Gamebryo per se — it’s a highly capable engine. But it’s also a somewhat higher-end engine than one would normally use in a web plugin, I think. The comments I saw were scattered around several forums, from people who had issues with it simply not working, or rendering very slowly. I’ll clarify the post.

  11. What is most amazing is that this has being in development for 3 years.

    So, Lively has being a low priority project inside Google or it’s huge and what we are seeing now is only the tip of the iceberg.

    My bet is that this is huge, and the next step is to send the killer robots to slave us, sucking energy out of our bodies to power the Googleplex and its datacenters around the world, making us live in a virtual reality with a free economy supported by targeted ads.

  12. So, Lively has being a low priority project inside Google or it’s huge and what we are seeing now is only the tip of the iceberg.

    Several reports say a team of 15, plus art contractors.

  13. […] On a related note, Google announced the launch of its virtual world product, Lively, today. The product appears to be a serious challenge to the virtual world space currently dominated by Second Life. A study last year by Nottingham Trent University concluded that a significant portion of virtual world users switch genders when they register online: 70% of women and 54% of men. It will be interesting to see how this plays out with Google’s new product, which looks to be gender-neutral at first glance. Raph Koster has a good summary and discussion of the announcement on his blog. […]

  14. […] Koster, of EQ fame, posted his thoughts on Lively.  Worth a read and I ditto his thoughts on the lack of features and how maybe this isn’t a […]

  15. Im one of those crazy google fanboys so you may need to take this with a grain of salt. but almost everything google has released seemed useless and irrelevant to begin with, (eg: grand central, docs, etc). while i haven’t found what possible use this could be aside form mindless fun. im sure the google guys are going to make something of it.

  16. Aside from the obvious downsides of PC only, limited content etc. the embeddable part of this is rather powerful and not to be taken lightly, and for the most part it seems to work. You can see it here or just go visit any open room and do it yourself. Even if the room is at the capacity, you can still see what’s going on, but you cannot chat… which just gave me an interesting idea.

    And you are right, performance was an issue for a few people last night, but they arguably had a few too many applications spinning.

  17. the embeddable part of this is rather powerful and not to be taken lightly, and for the most part it seems to work. You can see it here or just go visit any open room and do it yourself.

    Of course, I agree, since Metaplace has had that feature since day one. Whirled launched with it months ago. Vivaty launched with it yesterday, right opposite Lively (oops).

    The embedding part is clearly key.

    And you are right, performance was an issue for a few people last night, but they arguably had a few too many applications spinning.

    It’s CLIENT performance that is the issue. On my home machine, it takes 100% of the CPU, and I have seen dozens of reports of the same all over the Net. I am guessing browser incompatibilities with the plugin maybe?

  18. It’s also disappointing* that a third of the human avatars would be so casually racist (the description of the black male avatar: “Now’s your chance to be a Big Balla’, Shot Calla’, Rough Ridin’, Mac Daddy, OG Playa! You can also hide things in you afro.”)

    Raph, could you fill us in on a bit of history I’m stumbling over: you wrote

    In some ways, Google is trying to do to virtual worlds what EA did to massively multiplayer games way back when:

    Can you point me to what you’re referring to here?

    * Disappointing coming from Google; not at all surprising in general, unfortunately.

  19. To be clear, I am not blaming Gamebryo per se — it’s a highly capable engine. But it’s also a somewhat higher-end engine than one would normally use in a web plugin, I think…. I’ll clarify the post.

    Thanks for the clarification, Raph!

  20. Lively seems to me like a, um, lively play at “monetizing social networks” which if we remember was a frustration for Sergey: ““I don’t think we have the killer best way to advertise and monetize social networks yet.”

    Their TOS clearly positions it as an ad-supported social network, and their position on the blogs and so on is that it links in to your “real life” rather than being a destination. So their idea, I think, is to provide another tool in the social tool box. I posted on this in greater length including some highlights of their TOS.

    So, Lively is a social network play. And as an ad sell it would be a nice pitch: “Social networks are hard to monetize. Lively has rooms with content we control, in an immersive space, linked in to the users’ search histories, content, and other data. What better place than that to place your IKEA couch (with embedded HTML) or to run ads on a youTube TV (and P.S. maybe pay the room ‘owners’ much like AdWords?)

    However, I don’t think we’ve heard the last from Google. This is hardly a metaverse play, it’s a social networking play. I’d anticipate that at a corporate level there’s a much higher commitment to Google Earth and Sketch-Up and that this is seen as an experimental chat application – afterall, it was build by someone using their Google 20% exploration time, according to the New York Times and elsewhere.

    So if Google is making a bigger play in virtual worlds, this ain’t it. The Google Earth crowd is obviously wondering what the big deal was – years of development and this is the best they can do? I think that at a more strategic level they’re probably looking at something deeper using mirror/augmented reality, and this is just a sideline.

    Good news for MMORPGs and virtual worlds, however, is that the Google name will help bring a sheen of good corporate responsibility to things like avatars and 3D space and may serve as an orientation experience to folks who have never played a game let alone wandered around Conan or Second Life or wherever.

    Eventually, folks are bound to get bored with cartoon chat and watching youTube videos and ask for games, or a world where you can at least walk out on a street and have a contiguous experience.

  21. LOL
    how quickly “google” goes from techie hero to villian when they launch to OWN “your” market.

    amazing how the metarati of the last 2 years , now funded to release 3d chat rooms again after 5 years of quiet, are now not so sure about those “do no evilers”…..

    well..
    before googlechat3d there was BOB, PALACE, AOL avabuddies, MSN chatbuddies, and so on and so on.

    next…. oops no next– we all work? for google?>

    frk.

  22. Hey Reuben, some people speculated about GE going all “Second Life” on us. But I don’t know of anyone who took that stuff seriously except a few breathless futurologists.

    Anyway, a virtual world that gives its owners the ability to track and cross-reference everything we say or do or see in-world is bound to be a boon to advertising and is the stuff Google loves to do.

    Interestingly, the project manager said they don’t plan to have ads. But I wonder if that means “in-world” or outside the frame. Because this seems like a really big sandbox, not for UCC like Second Life is, but for Google itself to try out all sorts of user metrics under the hood.

    That’s more than enough reason for them to put this out there — and with the styling and simplicity (if not intuitiveness) it has, it might just target their demographic very well.

    I don’t think it’s a threat to anyone in the near term. Long term, if Google can discover and patent the best ways to monetize interactivity, then that’s another story.

  23. It’s hard to understand what G-money’s vision is here. Other than a new front-end to Gmail. All chat and content will be indexed, and adds could be served up within the rooms. But at first glance it feels like it’s their first “Bob” (see MSFT ’95 for the kids out there).

  24. It’s the first foot in the water. They can tie it into Google Earth by using real world maps to find virtual world rooms. They can enable social rooms to become YouTube rooms or any other content and eventually license access or increase the use of licensed content.

    There are many ways to monetize this if they so choose. I suspect the viacom issues are a bit more daunting. As the behavioral repetoire increases, so does the observability and mineability. It sounds paranoid but so far in a long career in the industry, we haven’t been paranoid enough in my paranoid opinion.

    Yes it seems to go across Vivaty but the guys using the Flux engines use X3D and therefore do have open content options if they take them and they are standard. Google is rumored to be terrified of that big numbers or not because they don’t plan on using standards, rather, extinguishing and claiming to be the de facto standard.

    For IBM and Second Life who announced teleporting avatars but who have also and rather unwisely been kicking standards in the teeth while claiming to be opening up, well, the chickens do come home to roost.

    The truly open metaverse is still a pipedream. No vendor wants it and no one can convince them otherwise. I suspect we are a generation away from that.

  25. Google is an ad agency. Just thought I’d throw that out there. 😉

  26. As I said on the blog of some crazy Lum fellow… I pretty much saw this coming from a mile away. Does it organize information? No, doesn’t seem to do so. However, Morgan Ramsay put it pretty well: Google is an ad agency.

    Not everything they do organizes information. Everything they do generally is intended to earn them money and attract people. Also, if something is pretty big on the ‘net, there’s a good bet that Google will create something to compete. Orkut anyone?

  27. […] Raph’s Website » Google’s Lively Koster on Google’s entry into the virtual worlds space: “Not exactly the recipe one would expect from Google, barring the distributed nature of it, and in some ways, not the one you would expect for a move for the future of virtual worlds.” (tags: lively google virtualworlds MMOs 3D criticism) […]

  28. Thanks for the great post about this news. Best I saw anywhere. I just wanted to let you know I linked you as a source on my item on mobuzz.tv. Keep up the great work!

    dailybuzz episode

    Cheers!
    -Gabemac

  29. I installed and tested both Lively and Vivaty last night. The results are clear enough. Lively is clunky and so far the 3D is pretty awful style wise. On the other hand, it was easy to install, actually can be embedded in a blogspot page (I did that at my 3donthewebcheap blog if one wants to look), and has security on each world. It is very betaish but one can see how like YouTube it can be integrated for viewing. One wonders about the API. As yetAnotherGoogleMediaThingie, it’s a good start.

    Vivaty takes a little longer to install if one doesn’t have a Facebook page already (I didn’t. I’m not a social network fan.). All of that is taken care of during the setup. I trust Vivaty so the Active-X control doesn’t bother me and it didn’t take that much more time to download. Once installed however, the differences are stunning. The 3D is orders of magnitude better, the navigation is easier and familiar, avatar gestures are built in and easy to control. The 2D layer tips work and are well organized to get one through the first segement of the learning curve. It integrates nicely with Facebook (I didn’t try AIM).

    Google is big but they have a ways to go. Vivaty clearly wins this round. I think the basis in the original VRML/X3D technology is well vindicated by this. Google has good reason to fear those standards.

  30. Excellent article, Raph. Sure, we’re all a bit biased, but we were also expecting quite a bit more from “the company that does no evil”. What I worry about is the 250 million or so registered Google Account users who might just see their first taste of a 3D virtual world and go: “oh, so that’s it? how disappointing” and disappear, delete the plug-in, and never return…

    And they’ll be spreading the news. “Virtual Worlds? Yes, I’ve tried Google’s. It was immensely boring and primitive. I cannot possibly understand what’s the rage about them.” If the person saying that is a CEO from a Fortune 500 company, I can bet it’ll make the news pretty quickly and dramatically — even making Google’s shares drop on NASDAQ. So the consequences might be a bit more serious for us virtual world evangelists — but for completely the wrong reasons.

  31. the interest towards Lively of the metaverse scene is also confirmed by the recent actions of some mmorpg social network to add a Lively channel in their network, look here for example
    http://www.koinup.com/in-lively/

  32. I see it as a kind of placeholder, where Google is saying, “We are putting this marker down, just so you know that when do feel it and do throw manpower and resources at this we will pawn you.”

    Did I hear that 269 million people already signed up to it? That’s why I immediately put SLURLs (URLs taking you to load up Second Life and land at an SL destination) for rentals in my room, Prokofy’s Flamingo Court, because surely out of 269 million people one of them will drop into my rentals, right? I put on the ad “drop into the real Flamingo Court” lol — isn’t that odd that it felt like that.

    Then I started putting stuff on all the other objects. The book has a URL for my blog. The food platters have links to articles on cheap food that is good for you, etc. Once they make the URL connectors a little prettier and less clunky, you essentially have an, er, lively web page that does more stuff, that makes linking more fun and visual.

    I put in the pictures and YouTubes — the youtubes currently have to endlessly loop and you can only sound one of them at a time so that’s a bit clunky. But, make another room and another, there’s no real estate or anything for now.

    I personally don’t think you can make a room without real estate, without contiguous earth. I think rooms, the dream of geeks, are dull and limiting even if you can make them endlessly and walk between them endlessly, they don’t have a full staying power.

    Embedding on the website feels like a thrill for a minute but…if someone really wants to talk to me, why bother to go into that clunky room? They can write a comment, go on Twitter, go in SL, go on Yahoo Messenger or whatever, I mean, it’s not vital always to have a cartoon to go with the chat.

    My bet is that Google with have a Google FIC (Google Feted Inner Core) that will be allowed to make content or widgets for the masses that they will cut into some kind of sharing deal. That’s essentially what they have now, although the stuff is free.

    For now, you can’t put your AdSense scripts in there. But that will change, or they will have LivelySense or something and each and every object is set up already to comment on or abuse report or edit.

    I guess I see it mainly as a big link far for ads and they hope that scraping chat and harnessing social media power around that will help ads.

  33. […] Raph’s Website » Google’s Lively Raph on Lively (tags: raphkoster review commentary google lively avatar 3dworld integartion gamebryo virtualworld) […]

  34. […] Raph’s thoughts on this are worth a look. […]

  35. […] Podcasts &middot Blogs &middot Store &middot Support! &middot Login &middot Register Googles Lively Posted by Raph’s Website on 8 July 2008, 11:11 pm So at this point, I imagine everyone has seen […]

  36. […] ??????? ??? ? Lively ????? ????????? ????????? ??????????? ??????? ? ????????? ?? ? ????????, ????? ? ????? ?????: “?????? ??? PC. ?????????? ?????? ? Google. ???????????? ?????????. […]

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