Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Does Lively Look Lively?

Yesterday Google joined the virtual world party with the launch of Lively. There have been dark mutterings and rumours for a long time that Google would shortly turn their gaze on this part of the Future Web and hose it down with a mega-product of their own. Well this prediction remains in force, since Lively does not - at least on first acquaintance - fit the bill.

I have to say that my stance is somewhat jaundiced owing to the number of issues I have had trying to get the damned thing running on my PC. It still doesn't work properly, despite several re-installs, careful checking of my security settings and even an unnecessary re-install of Adobe Flash. Did I mention it is Flash-based? It is.

To access Lively you will need to run a client-side installer and create yourself a Google account (if you don't have one already). Once you have done this you are ready to visit the virtual rooms. In Lively, the "world" is reduced to a number of 'rooms' - tiny handkerchief-sized pieces of virtual real estate. Some are pre-built, but you can create your own. In creating a room you can select from one of a variety of templates. I rather like the classic "tropical island".

I've explored a few rooms as best I could - and noted that it does integrate smoothly with, say, YouTube - allowing the owner to stream videos into the room. There is a small but growing catalog of avatars, clothing, furniture and fixtures for users to grab and employ. It is also very easy to embed links to your room(s) in web pages, including (I understand) MySpace and other social sites.

And that is basically where my experience with Lively runs out. When I run the software I should see a toolbar on the screen that would allow me to select and configure an avatar, add friends, view my inventory and so forth. Or at least, that is what I have read. On my machine there's no toolbar - so no avatar, no inventory, nothing. I also lack the "chat" feature. Instead I simply see the display "Joining room..." My Lively is not so lively, then. I've checked the related discussion forum and can confirm that I am not alone in experiencing this - but also, at the time of writing, as far as I can tell, no-one from Google has actually posted any replies to the many, many queries that are building up there.

So my views are somewhat soured by these frustrations. That said, Lively is far from being Google's virtual world "killer app" and I am mystified why the computerworld blog thinks this inflexible, buggy, room-based world represents a great leap forward for teleworking. Perhaps, as Chris Carella puts it on Twitter, Google's involvement provides validation (or even, benediction) of virtual worlds, and therefore stuff we've been discussing for years now becomes mainstream "news". But this is not really a virtual world in the style of, say, Second Life, Entropia or Active Worlds. Rather it is positioned to be used alongside existing social networking to add... well... what exactly? An increased sense of connectedness maybe? You tell me.

To sum up, Lively may prove popular because (a) it is coming out of Google and (b) it can be embedded in just about any web page to "extend" the page's reach and capability. But it isn't the virtual world we still suspect lurks somewhere behind Google's closed doors.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I tried it and i think its a little bit too much of a cartoon for me. Ticket4one has a similar thing but atlaest i can see real people from the 3D Virtual Chat Room