Google goes virtual with Lively

By Mark O’Neill
Contributing Writer, [GAS]

For a search engine company, Google has today made a very strange move by starting up a Sims-type virtual reality website where you can set up your own avatars and virtual reality environments. No prizes for guessing what I’ve been doing for the past several hours – yep, pushing a bed up two flights of stairs.

I was initially dismissive of Lively and at Google’s attempts to imitate “The Sims” and “Second Life”, but in the end curiosity got the better of me (as it always does). After trying it out, I have to admit it does have potential and a certain fun factor, but I am still scratching my head wondering why Google of all companies chose to make this.   What does Lively have to do with search?

Lively basically allows you to build your own interactive character and environment.   After you have built it, you can then invite people to visit (by giving them the URL) and you can chat to them in that environment using your character. Obviously the people you invite must have Lively installed as well as their own interactive character, but that doesn’t take too long.

After installing the program on my computer, it immediately linked to my Google account and I was then introduced to the Lively room directory.  It’s quite a big directory and you are free to jump into any of the public rooms.  However, I chose to make my own room and this obviously involves quite a bit of work, which will take some time.   But I’m in no rush.   You may choose to browse in one of the public rooms instead.

As you can see, you have to choose whether to make your room public or private and there are various options you need to set.

Once you have chosen what type of place you want, you can then transport the place to your own website (if you want) so you can invite people round.   So although my place is empty, apart from a bed, a chair and awful wallpaper, I can still invite pals around if I want because I moved it over to my website.

You can then start to change your character to the way you like it.   I suddenly realized with a shock that Lively had made me a black female, and I think I can safely say that I am NOT a black female!    So time to do some sex changing!

So I went from this :

to this :

which is better since I am now the correct gender, but it could still use a lot of work!

The decorating of the house is going to take up a lot of time.   It’s one of those things where you will be clicking around with your mouse and cursing under your breath.  For example, I got the bed up the stairs but it was facing the wrong way.   So I thought to myself “how do I turn the bed around?”.  I then spent the best part of 30 minutes clicking all over the place trying to get the bed to turn around.   At one point, the bed suddenly jumped on its side and stuck to the wall.  Then my character thought it would be fun to jump onto the bed (which was still stuck to the wall), bow to an imaginary audience and then start dancing.    So I had to try and pull him off, but he didn’t want to come off!    When he was finally off, I used my mouse to throw him down the stairs, but then my bed started to float through the wall (call Ghostbusters!)   So you can probably imagine how long it’s going to take to get my 4 bedroom bachelor pad up and running.    It won’t be this week I can tell you.

All in all, Lively is going to be a very interesting project for me to work on during the coming weeks and months. I’ll start inviting people round when the place looks a bit more respectable.    But since this is one of Google’s 20% projects, I hope they keep it going and officially support it.    After putting a lot of work into my character and environment, I’d hate for Google to pull the plug on the whole thing.

I’d really like to know though why Google is doing this in the first place.   Where does this fit into their grand plan?   Where are the monetization possibilities?

If you have a Lively public room, why not post the URL in the comments?   I’ll pop round for a visit!

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4 Responses to Google goes virtual with Lively

  1. You're mistaken on what kind of company google is. They aren't a search company, they are an advertising company. As 'sixtyoldman' pointed out, it's all about the ads.

    • Since they have a search engine, some would debate whether they are a search company or an advertising company. Perhaps they are a search engine with an emphasis on paid ads? Where do you draw the line between search and advertising these days?

      OK, assuming they are an advertising company, where are they going to put the ads in Lively? On the characters backs? On big flashing billboards as you enter the 3D world? It'll be interesting to see how Google integrates this without annoying everyone and driving people away.

  2. It would not be that much of a stretch to put ad unobtrusively into a virtual environment. I would point out that it has already been done with some measure of success in the game Battelfield 2142. In that case the ads are put on billboards and signposts much the same way they would be in real life. Just How many places in a typical room is it possible to see ad materials? There is your answer…

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