How Lively? Google’s Me-Too Virtual World

The other virtual shoe finally dropped today– after a year and a half of rumors, Google (GOOG) now brings us Lively, a web-driven mini-virtual world. Not a contiguous, immersive, fully user-created metaverse like Second Life, as it turns out– so it’s not really a direct competitor– but a series of virtual world chatrooms more akin to IMVU. (However, IMVU has a virtual economy of user-created content, while Lively does not, least not yet.)

On first glance, Lively seems too similar to several existing (and very large) MMOs, making it an also-ran without a key market distinguisher to be truly compelling (besides being from Google). You can stream YouTube videos in these rooms and embed rooms on websites, and it’s got appealing cartoon visuals and a fairly intuitive interface, but that’s true of numerous online worlds already out there.
 Of course Google is the Net’s dominant force, but then, that probably won’t matter to the tens of millions already happy in existing virtual worlds. Without some special magic that I’m not seeing as yet, it could easily wind up being a virtual world version of Google Video, easily eclipsed by the YouTube-level dominance of Habbo Hotel/Club Penguin/Gaia Online/etc.

Of course, all this doesn’t answer the most salient question: why would a search engine company create a virtual world in the first place? Does it even fit into their larger plans? As Mel Guymon, Google’s Head of 3D Operations, suggests to Virtual World News, the real takeaway is to validate a growing market for this space. “We’re basically saying this is a real space and everyone is doing this.” Sounds like the 800 lbs. gorilla is just saying, “Me too.”

Lively image credit: Metaverse analyst Dusan Writer, who has some interesting thoughts.