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Google's Lively Flops Badly

Sometimes, the media makes it sound like a foregone conclusion that every new Google product launch will be a success. Not so with Lively: barely a month into its beta release, The Economist has declared the virtual world a dud. It had seemed promising, too: Whereas users of World of Warcraft and Second Life have to install hefty software onto their desktops, Google's Lively exists solely on the Web (although you have to download a browser plug-in).

Yet Lively has remained relatively "lifeless." It may be early days yet, but the site's user base is already declining, and reviews have been negative. The Economist says the environment is too simple with little on offer besides a series of 3D chat rooms. Unsurprisingly, the most popular rooms revolve around sex and dating. Some, like "Love Sweet Love" and "Sexy Babes Club" have had thousands of visitors, but the number drops precipitously from there.

Why the flop? Greg Lastowka, an expert on virtual worlds at Rutgers School of Law in New Jersey, points out that there's nothing to do in Lively if you're not chatting with someone. By comparison, Second Life has a thriving economy, which engages also engages users' creativity. Disney's Club Penguin, a popular virtual world for kids, offers lots of games. Google admits that Lively hasn't been a success. Mark Young, part of the site's design team, said he hopes to tweak "everything. Much of the user interface is not as complete or polished as planned in designs.

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