I’ve taken a 60 minute break from the motorcycles, and have been playing with Google’s new offering called Lively which is a new entry into the virtual world space similar (but also quite different) to Second Life. Unlike Second Life in which there is a whole virtual world within which you are free to roam, in Lively it is a series of user created non-contiguous ‘rooms’ which you visit. These rooms can be open (visitors can add, delete and move elements), interactive (visitors can move around, but not add or delete) or private which is self explanatory and requires a specific invitation. Second Life of course allows private areas also, which owners can restrict access to, but the spaces created are closely linked, whereas in Lively each user actually builds many standalone interactive virtual experiences.
I’ve created a room here, which is nothing special, but on the other hand it only took me a very few minutes to set up – this is a very easy to use application. To create and interact with Lively virtual rooms you must download the Lively application (I’m using the Firefox plug in), but it appears that you can visit any room to at least see a screen shot of it, having just the URL. The application frequently crashes (it is beta after all), but when it is running, the response using my internet connection at least is quite good. There is an interesting Facebookconnection which I still need to look at, plus the code to allow you to embed your virtual space in your personal web site is provided – I expect I will be able to play with that sometime in the next week.
IBM has done quite a bit of work in the virtual world space, and business use of this technology appears to be growing in companies like Shell, where pilot sites are well advanced. Shell actually took first place in the R&D section of the TEC Intraverse 2008 competition in Paris this year for its Second Life pilot. In contrast to the sorts of business focused testing that you see major companies working on, the offering from Google seems to be more of a pure consumer play. At this stage at least it is difficult to see how it fits in as a longer term product within the Google universe (Docs, GMail, Sites etc.), and what it might be best used for in a business context, but it is intriguing.
Quite a number of rooms have already been created in Lively by other users who are much more creative than I am – it will be interesting to see how this evolves.