Yesterday Google announced on its blog that its online virtual world, Lively, will be shut down at the end of the year. Since July, users have been invited to download the program, customize a personal avatar, and design rooms in which the avatars can interact. Sound familiar? It should, since the exact description could apply to the Linden Labs service that people actually used, Second Life. Second Life can claim over fifteen million signed up members, and has steady traffic to its main site, currently around 250,000 visitors per month. Lively's site has just under 70,000 visitors. The only time visitors to Lively's site exceeded that of Second Life was in its launch month.

Faults can be attributed to lack of operating system support - Lively was only made available to Windows users, or lack of user-generated content. Second Life's key feature allows anyone to import objects, design specific avatars and animations with a small amount of coding knowledge, and more importantly, charges for the content to be brought into the game. Google has template characters and authorized contributors only, which makes the content available for users a laughably minimal amount by comparison. When compared with other community-based projects, such as Orkut and Jaiku, maybe the social arena is Google's weak spot.

Lively had some winning attributes for those who actually used the service. Instead of requiring a separate application to access the environment, it simply ran in a browser window after installing a plug-in. Because of this, it was simple to embed personally designed rooms into web pages, blogs and social networking profiles. With wider implementation, this could have made film and book lists obselete - modeled books, records or DVDs could be clearly visible strewn about in a publicly visible, yet highly personal space.

Lively team Googlers will be redistributed to other projects at the end of December when the service is terminated.