Google’s tentacles have now penetrated the 3D space with this week’s launch of Lively, a 3D social environment which allows users to furnish and style their own rooms and invite their friends round to admire them. Is that really all it is?
Well, apart from anything else, it’s Google: as Google’s Head of 3D Operations Mel Guymon says, ‘Google making a play validates the space like no one else.’ It’s straightforward to install, runs via a plugin in Internet Explorer and FireFox (but, significantly, not yet on the Mac OS or Linux), and like Vivaty, it provides a 3D context in which to view 2D user generated content like YouTube videos. Every room comes with HTML code to allow users to embed them into a web page or, in Guymon’s ’standard use case’, their Facebook page.
The obvious comparison is with Second Life, but they’re really very different creatures. Reuben Steiger, CEO of one of Lively’s two preferred content developers, says:
I think you’re going to see a lot of blowback at first from people that don’t matter. The Second Life cognoscenti. They’ll be pissed because they can’t build stuff and blah, blah, blah. The real test is whether other people like it. If they do, that’s when it gets interesting.
To be honest, I think it’s a pretty superficial comparison. SL offers a fantastic space for those with the skills and inclination to build content - but at a price. If you don’t own or rent land, you can’t really build anything. If you can’t afford land, you can’t afford to be creative, and your in-world experience is reduced to passively consuming other people’s creations.
Lively, by contrast, is currently completely free for the end user, but provides them with no content creation tools whatsoever at the moment. Users create rooms by selecting a room name, and can then choose from around seventy shells or bare environments (both indoor environments such as two, three and five room apartments, a coffee shop and a dungeon and outdoor environments such as treetop windmills, a graveyard and a winter scene). These can then be furnished from an extensive catalogue of furniture, toys and other goodies. Avatar choice and customisation are pretty limited but movement and camera use are very easy to get to grips with (and infinitely easier than Second Life at its worst). There’s text chat but no voice, and you can stream music or embed videos from YouTube; further integration with Google Gadgets is planned for the future which is where things could get really interesting for educators. On the downside, it’s pretty laggy: popular rooms such as World of Warcraft (how could I resist?) and presumably also the inevitable sex rooms that keep springing up despite regular weeding-out took a while to fully rez, although you can start to move around and interact with content fairly quickly. There’s a limit of 20 avatars per room at the moment, with additional users becoming passive observers.
I don’t really think there’s any need for the SL community to feel threatened by Lively - in fact, just the opposite. Lively really isn’t trying to compete with SL in terms of direct content creation, although its potential as a 3D environment for mashups is very exciting. Where SL could really benefit from Lively is in familiarising reluctant users with 3D environments: it’s so user friendly and so easy to quickly create your own little space without learning sophisticated and intimidating building techniques and without financial investment that it could create a whole new audience for virtual worlds, with SL providing a natural next stage for those who become frustrated with the limitations of Lively.