Will Google Cultivate Its Virtual Worlds To Make Them Lively? Definitely

from the me2.0 dept

We’re running a little experiment here with our discussion on Google’s new Lively offering. Two of us at Techdirt, Mike Masnick and Mike Ho, reacted quite differently to the announcement, so we’re each posting our own take (after sharing them with each other) and we’ll let everyone has out their thoughts in the comments. We’re hoping to work on a few more “debates” like this one in the near future. This is Mike Ho’s post. Mike Masnick’s post is here.

Google has been working on virtual world environments for about a year, and now they’ve announced Lively — which has an unfortunate moniker that could inspire lawsuits from Microsoft Live branding folks. The descriptions of Google’s new service have made Lively sound like a watered-down version of Second Life, aimed at people who can’t figure out how to install an application. I’m a Mac user, so I can’t even try it out — but I’ll take a stab at justifying Google’s “me-too” avatar project.

Obviously, the main difference between Lively and any other virtual chatroom is that Google has access to a nearly instant critical mass of global users. But that doesn’t mean Lively will be an sure-fire success. What will help ensure a Google hit is the consistent development of features that cater to users — and then some text analysis magic that will provide relevant virtual world advertisements based on the Lively chat discussions. This is basically the same game plan that Google has used for Google Maps and Gmail (and Gtalk, too) — start off with a sort of lackluster service and then add features that are compelling — while sneaking in ads to monetize the service.

I’m not really disagreeing that Lively seems a bit lame at its start, but I’m slightly more optimistic that Google will be able to cultivate Lively and bring contextual ads into the environment. It just has to be entertaining enough to attract people to use it — and I guess I don’t see extraordinarily high barriers to keeping a Web audience entertained (see Youtube). Additionally, Google can build upon Gmail and Google Maps and its other offerings to enhance Lively — which is something that Second Life and other virtual worlds can’t necessarily do. On the other hand, it is also entirely possible that Lively could follow Orkut — and miss out on the G-branding (why isn’t it called Glively? or Google Life?) and the popularity of Google’s more successful products. But I think Lively has a very good chance of tying together many Google services and reaching out to a younger audience.

In response to Mike Masnick, it’s mostly true that “you can’t just stick ads everywhere” if you don’t want to annoy your users. But several popular video games already incorporate subtle advertisements (and Second Life isn’t exactly devoid of advertising). In fact, a visual environment for chat only enhances the ads opportunities. I assume Google is smart enough to avoid the simplistic keyword-based ads that might present a user with annoying irrelevant ads that seem creepy and to be spying on your conversations (Google doesn’t seem to do that in Gmail, right?). I imagine that the contextual ads in Lively will be more attuned to automatically detecting demographics (eg. based on “OMG, LOLz” conversations) to present targeted, age-appropriate virtual billboards. That’s exactly the kind of unobtrusive, contextual advertising that Google is developing and gives it an edge.

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Comments on “Will Google Cultivate Its Virtual Worlds To Make Them Lively? Definitely”

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Jed says:

The descriptions of Google’s new service have made Lively sound like a watered-down version of Second Life, aimed at people who can’t figure out how to install an application.

Fist of all no-installation is somewhat like visiting a public web page versus one that requires free registration to view. That is a huge advantage in potential users IMO.

Secondly, Google is slowly turning the web into an application platform. Imagine a world where you can access every application you use from any OS, and you have just imagined a world without Microsoft.

Phillip (profile) says:

Re: Re: Installation

It’s not quite no-installation but it’s a lot closer than things like Second Life and it’s a whole lot faster and easier on the computer specs. At least what I’ve seen so far seems to be. It’s also much easier to figure out though there were some things that weren’t quite as intuitive as I’d like… But I’m assuming that’ll get better with time.

Not there yet says:

cute but no guts

Lively bogged down on my system (laptop) pretty quickly. (with an almost empty room).

Instead of this chat based gimmick… I would have liked to see Google earth leveraged more. Imagine Google earth with a virtual world layer. You can already create objects in gEarth. Add avatars, chat, realtime gps and you would have a pretty compelling virtual space… then allow for additional worlds…. what do others think?

SmellyG says:

Re: cute but no guts

Yea, that sounds like an interesting idea, but i dont think it would be as simple as laying a virtual layer on top of it.

Imagine the quality of what you get when you zoom into somewhere in google maps, and then imagine trying to implement a stable and convincing virtual environment on top of that.

I know i wouldn’t wanna be given that task.

theborg989 says:

has some serious bugs

I tried it. made a room then logged out. once I logged back in, a glitch in the client that makes you choose a user name, then it informs you that you already have one. So won’t let me back in. Not only that but the log-in app has no back, or even close options such that the only options are to reload the page or kill the lively process via the good old three-finger salute. and I am not the only one http://groups.google.com/group/lively-help-sign-inaccess-issues/browse_thread/thread/1a5f89c1a8079e68?hl=en

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