Google just announced its foray into yet another Web domain: the virtual world. Lively, which is Windows-only at the moment, operates through a browser plug-in for Mozilla Firefox or Internet Explorer, which is probably what most differentiates the service from Linden Labs’ Second Life. Unlike Second Life and other virtual worlds, Lively isn’t one single world at all—it’s a series of virtual rooms that users create and attach to their existing Google accounts. Rooms can then be embedded into blogs or other Web pages, meaning Lively users can go in and out of rooms as they stumble around the Web.
At first glance, the service is relatively easy to set up and use, as Google has provided a number of templates for both rooms and avatars. At present, Google is driving all the content creation for Lively, though it’s likely they’ll allow users to generate content for the world in the future.
It’s worth noting that Lively is a “Googlette” (the product of Google employees’ 20% free time rule). While some people are confused as to why Google would enter this particular space, we can see a lot of opportunities here that Google is very well poised to leverage. As the largest advertising platform on the Web, Google stands to really drive some new and innovative advertising and communications offerings through this service. Also, being that it’s less game-like than existing virtual worlds (and that users don’t need to download a desktop application), Lively has tremendous potential to morph into sort of an interactive social network—almost a fusion between Facebook and Second Life.