Google Creates Second-Life-Like World

The latest virtual world news that's been buzzing around the Web this week is a post on the Google Blog announcing the launch of Google's "Lively," a Web-based "3D virtual experience" that allows anyone to create a miniature virtual world, design it, fill it with 3D objects, and embed them on their blog or Web site, allowing visitors to interact via avatar with one another in a virtual environment.

The easy comparison is with Second Life, but unlike Second Life, where building anything of your own requires a significant time and often cash investment, Lively is free to the user -- anyone can start up a room, pick a starter environment, and drop some furniture in with relative ease. It's not unlike Kaneva, another virtual world that went into beta last year, in that it aims to capture users who want a 3D experience online, but don't have the time necessary to climb the steep learning curve of Second Life.

The product as it currently stands definitely has some advantages in that arena. There's no client software to download, the whole experience is Web-based, and it's easy to figure out how to walk around, talk, and interact with the environment. All told, the learning curve for people who just want to chat should take about 10 minutes to surmount. But once that curve is surmounted, there's very little left to do, unless you find the people who happen to be in the chatroom with you totally scintillating (a relatively rare experience, on the Internet). Even creating your own room limits you to adding objects on; there's no way to upload your own 3D objects and include them in rooms, or create anything that isn't templated.

The good news for marketers is that Lively's development tools are available, so branded experiences can be created. The National Geographic Channel created a room to promote its "LA Hard Hats" series, which is definitely one of the best-designed rooms out there. You can walk around a construction site, and watch video promos of the show in the room.

But no matter how cool the rooms that marketers can make, Lively won't be a killer app unless there's something there for users to create content in addition to consuming it. YouTube didn't get huge by only having movie promos and commercial clips -- the base of the service was built by the community, and that community showed up because it was a place they could call their own.

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