On Tuesday, search engine giant Google Inc. [GOOG] announced the beta release of its own free 3D virtual world, Lively. Unlike Linden Lab’s popular virtual world, Second Life, to which it is similar, Lively is an internet plug-in, not a stand-alone program. Users create various locales and personalized avatars, create rooms that are embedded within websites, chat and interact with the environment. Integration with social networking Web sites like Facebook and YouTube – as well as the Google name – will very likely make Lively the most visible 3D virtual world. Lively will also feature unique branded content. The first, “L.A. Hard Hats,” is a tie-in with National Geographic Channel series of the same name debuting August 3, 2008. Users will be able to visit a virtual version of a building being built on the show. This points to future possibilities in virtual narrative and advertising. As an immersive advertising platform, Lively should be especially


One of the most interesting things about Lively is the possibility to participate in the creation of a virtual world from the ground up, as early users test the universe’s rules and eventually begin manipulating and modding them. When I tested, though, no one in the rooms seem to know what to do, except hug other avatars and tell them we don’t know what to do, and ask each other if what they were doing was technically considered fun.

Lively is a result of Google’s 20 Percent project, where employees spend one day per week working on projects of their own interest, unrelated to their own jobs.
Engineering manager Niniane Wang, desired to make the web “less static,” creating a 3D environment for typically 2D things like blogging or commenting on social networking sites. It is still in the beta phase, the interface is still a bit clunky. There are also performance issues when running on lower-end PCs, and loading times can be extremely long.

While Lively is getting all the press, earlier the same day Vivaty announced the public-beta release of its own “Immersive Web” program, which will be integrated with Facebook and AIM.

By Mark Alvarez