This week Google unveiled its attempt at virtual reality, called Lively. The Web-based program is free, and won’t be displaying ads (well, kinda not). But, the bigdaddy of search is betting the personalized-3D-avatar world will keep users online longer, and hopefully, clicking away on Google search ads. The social software can be added to users’ personal Websites and is already compatible with Facebook. CNET reports the software will soon work on MySpace as well.
It’s a valiant effort to create a virtual space that fits right into a user’s existing online environments. But frankly, I was hoping for more. The download and startup alone felt clunky, and time consuming. Then, once I finally got started, each item I wanted to personalize (i.e. picking my avatar–I don’t even like cats but I didn’t care for the other choices; shopping for furniture; picking the layout of my environment) took painstaking minutes to load up. I’ll forgive Google for this–it is early on and they’ll likely work out some of these issues. But in the end, the program has to be compelling enough to keep users engaged. I got as far as a mostly empty apartment (reminiscent of my poor student days), a big red chair, a lava lamp, and a French looking kitty with an attitude (she kept turning her back on me and ruffling her tail in my face). Then, I got bored.
Advertisers will also likely want to know what branding opportunities exist within Lively; whether for users to choose from Trump Tower apartments or drink Red Bull in their virtual apartments. Thanks to this writer for pointing out there are indeed plans for the virtual space to bring in some dough for the company. As the Lively Terms of Service note:
You should be aware that Content presented to you as part of the Services, including but not limited to advertisements in the Services and sponsored Content within the Services may be protected by intellectual property rights which are owned by the sponsors or advertisers who provide that Content to Google (or by other persons or companies on their behalf).
Ah hah! So there you go, if Google can liven up Lively a little and encourage users to stick around as it evolves, I imagine there will be a good deal of companies who might be interested in displaying their wares via Lively. Google says interested parties can contact partner companies as Curiously Strong Entertainment and Millions of Us to find out more about creating a branded experience within Lively. In the meantime, keep those Lively product management meetings going, kid…I mean, er, Google.