Live from Lively, Google's New 3D Virtual World

What if the Web could be more life-like and immersive? It’s a question technophiles have been asking for a while, but Google engineers have finally taken the wraps off their answer: Lively is the company’s 3D social network, a series of chat rooms that can be embedded directly into pages on the Web.

Lively is a mash up of instant message, chat room, virtual world, and Web page. Think: Second Life in a web browser. Rooms, like the avatars that represent the users within, can be customized and individually linked to. “If you enter a Lively room embedded on your favorite blog or website,” Google’s Niniane Wang said in the announcement post, “you can immediately get a sense of the room creator’s interests, just by looking at the furniture and environment they chose.”

Lively is a 20% project, still in Beta, and it shows. Even on a powerful machine the performance is clunky and, for the moment, it’s Windows only. (Mac and Linux clients are on their way.) However, the user interface is refined and, in general, the idea has a lot of merits. Lively rooms are so easy to embed on pages, requiring only Flash and a lightweight plug-in. Lively promises to packaged the wildly popular environments and interactivity of games like The Sims and virtual worlds such as Second Life into a simple, easily accessible web experience.

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