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Lively, quick impressions

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Jul. 9th, 2008 | 01:11 pm

By the way, yes, in case you're wondering I have seen Google's virtual world thing, Lively; I have to check these things, you know.

Was I impressed? Not terribly. In fact I was rather pissed off that Google seemed to have basically made an IMVU, a virtual chat and dress-up and shopping system. IMVU makes no bones about this being its purpose but I was expecting just a tad more from Google. What can you do? Wander around "rooms", chat to people, dress the doll. Also, it's flakey (try running it at 1am on Parallels, yeah, that works well), the resolution is poor, the controls are weird and it doesn't work on anything except Windows + IE/FF.

I tried it again today on an actual PC but I still can't say I was a fan. There's very little sense of presence, which is rather important when considering a virtual environment; why else have an avatar? It feels a lot... thinner than something like SL, which admittedly has five years of content behind it, but the small scale, the point-and-click mouse controls, the odd zooming and more importantly the completely separate nature of the rooms made me feel more like I was playing with a Flash animation rather than that I was embodied in an environment.

They seem to be aiming for the idea of embedding Lively plugins in web pages - a fatuous concept in my opinion but one which seems perenially popular. (Though the fact that browsers automatically detect and invite you to install required plugin software is a good method for a company to get its base VW software out there, as long as it's not too large and the signup is not too awkward.)

Apart from the obvious question of how much point there is in having a teeny little 400px interface to a VW anyway, there's the same question of embodiment. If it is part of a web page rather than, say, a popup or another application, you are always one level above the VW; your "avatar" such as it is is the invisible, faceless one that you use to browse the web with, and that avatar is looking at a plugin on a web page, instead of you moving down into the world and experiencing the point of being in a VW in the first place. You don't get the full effect unless you are able to immerse yourself and this is a barrier to immersion.

I can see the point of having a button somewhere saying "Visit My Lively Room" which then launches it the thing in a popup window - that would be fine. Or on a dedicated page on a site with nothing else on it. Or maybe a "viewing window" embed (tough on bandwidth, that). But not as a sidebar on a Myspace page or anything like that, which to me smacks of Compulsive Mashupitis.

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One thing which does give me a bit more hope now, though, is that Google is not basing its business on selling microcontent in this word. Google is an advertising company, and I'm sure they will make it easy for people to put adverts in their Lively rooms, but that isn't so bad; you won't have to have them if you don't want them (I hope).

But apart from "taste and decency" issues, there isn't much that I can see that would prevent them from allowing user-created content to be uploaded given time. They don't need, financially, to control it, and it is barriers to the creation of things inworld, the necessity for licences and corporate approval, which make There, Kaneva, IMVU etc such wastes of times. I'm not expecting it to grow capabilities anything like Second Life's in the near future, certainly not on the scripting side, but there's certainly quite a bit of potential in straight spatial-only creation, buildings and objects and clothes and avatars and so on. They've already got Sketchup out there after all. The idea of interaction with Google Earth also interests me here.

So, I wouldn't get too excited at this point - people are having great difficulty entering it at all right now - but it has potential which I just don't see in other proposed and existing VWs. Second Life is the only one which actually does the job at the moment, despite its perennial issues, and it will continue to be the best option for at least a year or two, but this is the first time that I've seen a "Second Life competitor" launch and not just yawned. If they don't allow user creation they're automatically stuffed, but they might, and then they just have to solve all the other issues.

IT NEEDS TO BE CROSS-PLATFORM THOUGH. As if that needed to be said.

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