It's obvious that I need to spend more time on Google Lively before being able to make an in depth assessment of it. In the mean time, here's more thoughts on Google Lively.
Virtual yes - world no
First, I wouldn't call it a 'virtual world'. It is not. A 'virtual world' should, in my opinion, have certain properties in common with the physical world. A geography, maps, places, buildings and inhabitants, a currency and/or an economy, to name a few. One should be able to freely wander/fly/drive/swim around in a physical environment that could be real - in this or an alternate universe. In this regard, Second Life is a virtual world; Eve Online is a virtual universe. Metaversum is expanding Twinity to become a virtual world, too; their virtual rendering of the city of Berlin is interesting in this regard. Google Lively doesn't have the properties I expect in a virtual world, it is a flat list of separate rooms one can choose to visit. Lively is a virtual environment, a 3D chatbox, but not a virtual world by any of my standards! The comparison with Second Life is, in my humble opinion, an unfortunate one; it is comparing apples to oranges.
Lively, a new default browser plugin?
For those of you who haven't tried Lively yet: it runs in the browser, but it requires a small install. Once installed it can display all Lively rooms, and rooms can be embedded in web pages, as you can see in the blog entry below. It looks like Google created a 3D platform for the 2D internet with Lively: adding a 3D element (the Lively room) to an existing website is really easy, and I expect a lot of them to pop up in the coming months. In the near future, having Lively as an addon or plugin to your browser may be as common as having Adobe's Flash player or Sun Java are common plugins today. If I were an MSN executive, I'd be very worried about these developments, because why muck around with a 2D text message service if you can have a 3D room just as easy?
This opens up all sort of interesting marketing perspectives as well. Going 3D suddenly doesn't require much; basically it's just a Google account you need. My room was ready in five minutes! I don't know yet how easy it is to brand a room; I know you can put advertisements up, but that may not be enough for all prospective Lively customers. My current employer for instance, a large bank, has a distinct visual identity, which must be used in all internal and external communications, but also in the layout and furniture of offices. Being able to sufficiently brand a room would be critical to management acceptance of a Lively room as a suitable solution for corporate communications. Disclaimer: I am, at time of writing, not involved in any 3D efforts my current employer may or may not deploy.
A Lively room is a relatively safe 3D environment too. A room does, for instance, not share anything with other rooms: you can't see you neighbours' smut store or gothic SM cave through your windows of your room! Something like this happened to us in Second Life. Two female (former) colleagues of mine were once confronted with a couple of girls having 'lots of explicit fun' on the lawn of our companies' test site. The couple said they chose the site on purpose, in order to piss off corporate users of Second Life. Lesson learned: SL mainland is not suited for corporate presence..
Google Lively may not be full blown virtual world (and hence not be of much interest to me, personally), it probably is an important step in the emergence of a 3D internet, by dramatically lowering the bar to an entry 3D presence on pretty much any 2D website. Coming soon to a website near you: the 3D internet.
A couple of minutes after writing the above, I stumbled upon an interesting interview with Google's Mel Guymon. It contains useful extra information: "Feature: Lively - Google's Contribution to the 3D Social Web?"