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Finally we see Google’s Virtual World

So last year’s rumours finally prove themselves well-founded as it was announced today that Google have unveiled their own virtual world, Lively.

My own, brief experience with Lively hasn’t been overly productive, primarily die to the slow loading times of the ‘rooms’ and also because everytime I try to add furniture to my inventory I get an ‘error’ page telling me that my ‘query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application’ and apparently I’m not the only one.

Teething issues aside, as many other sites have pointed out, it’s difficult to tell what this has to offer to differentiate it from all the other browser based, chat room virtual worlds out there. The rooms visible on the homepage look aesthetically pleasing and suggest that users can make some pretty nice creations, although Raph Koster (commenting on Alice Taylor’s blog) seems to think that the creation tools aren’t currently available and that these are pre-made rooms. So it’s not clear how easy these tools will be to use, and after my experiences with the like of Scenecaster, I’m not overly optimistic.

But, even if users can make nice rooms and embed them in Facebook, I’m still not sure that this is going to make it big for Google. I have no doubt that personalisation is a big part of the popularity of socialnetworking, customising your own 2D space with images, music, videos and text feels pretty intuitive even to the less internet-savvy, and there is something of the scrapbook aesthetic to many Myspace and Bebo profiles but 3D is a bit more of a challenge.

Sure the figures for 3D chatrooms like Habbo and IMVU are impressive, but their appeal seems to be limited to a very specific demographic, a demographic Google may well have their eye on with this realease,  it’s just that  I expected more from Google, like the ‘killer app’ virtual world. Oh well, it is early days and the quotes on Raph Koster’s blog suggest that integration with other Google services and user generated content will be available in the future. On the plus side, Lively might fill the void left by Second Life’s decline in media popularity, which can only be a good thing.

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