I was caught up in meetings most of the day, so I was a bit surprised to find out that Google has launched a virtual world service called Lively. My reactions went as follows:
This is one of the silliest things I’ve ever seen.
Why would they do this? It’s not that I have any problems with avatars or virtual worlds. I’m not personally into Second Life but I was one of the first users playing Ultima Online. I played Asheron’s Call and Everquest (a game that single-handedly ruined my interest in online gaming, but that’s a story for another day) and I created a little avatar in Yahoo 360. But, this, from Google? It just seems so odd. Then I started to think about it. If they have the money and the means to do it, why not? Kids and teenagers all over the world spend an awful lot of time in virtual worlds. Why not experiment if you can? Why not try and get a foothold?
More importantly — Google is not just a search company. Google has been focused on search and then on utility-based applications because, more than anything, Google is invested in one very specific goal: keeping you online as often and as long as possible so that you can see more ads. Google wants to make being online easy and enjoyable. Why pick up an encyclopedia when you can Google something in 20 seconds? Why use your computer’s Outlook software, when you can use Gmail and Google Calendar? Why bother with clunky Word or Excel when you could just use Google Apps? If you’re going to spend your time tooling around virtual worlds with an avatar, why not use the browser-based Lively instead of a piece of software that will take you away from the web?
Google says they have no plans to sell advertising in Lively, but I’m not sure I’m buying that as a long-term promise. Does product placement count or can it be discounted on some kind of technicality? I honestly can’t judge Lively, because I’m one of the unwashed masses using a Mac and therefore can’t actually see it, but here’s a little preview: