Google adds third dimension to online social relationships

Google gets Lively.

Google has entered yet another space with the launch of Lively, a tool for creating 3D social spaces on Web sites, which is now available in a public beta test.

The platform lets users create and personalize their own character, so-called avatars, and their own rooms, which is nothing new: Second Life does as much.

But a key feature of the Lively platform is integration with the regular Internet. Users are able to create a room, and embed it with their web site or blog, writes Niniane Wang, Engineering Manager at Google, on the company blog.

Rooms can also be integrated with both MySpace and Facebook pages, and there is also support for playing YouTube videos and showing photos in virtual TVs and picture frames, according to Wang.

The inspiration for the platform was the realization that the current social world is too static, according to Wang.

With Lively she wants users to be able to interact using words, 3D graphics and gestures. The furniture users pick for their room should give visitors an idea of who they are, and it is more poignant to receive an animated hug than seeing the text "" displayed on the screen, according to Wang.

To be able to use the Lively beta, users need a computer running Windows, and either Internet Explorer or Firefox (the browser is the client), and be older than 13.

Whether Lively will be a success is very hard to foresee because social networking is one of the most unpredictable markets, according to Steve Prentice, vice president and fellow at Gartner. "It will have to wean users of existing platforms, and that is always difficult. It is all about attracting key individuals, and not so much about the features," said Prentice.

He believes the platform is more a way for Google to compete with Facebook than with other existing and similar platforms, including IMVU and Habbo. He also expects there to be opportunities for developers who want to come along for the ride.

Making money will also be an uphill battle for Google Lively. In general, making money from social networking continues to be a challenge, according to Prentice. For example, users cannot be charged for entry to social network because then they won't join, and selling information about users is a very tricky proposition. "But if anyone can make money, it's Google," said Prentice.

Immediately after the launch comments are starting to appear, and it's a mixed message. The fact that the platform only supports Windows, at least so far, annoys some, especially Mac users.

Users are also complaining about the interface, which they say is too clunky, and questioning whether there is really a need for another platform. There are also reports of the Firefox version crashing. So Google seems to have its work cut out for it, but it is after all only a beta, although some suggest it should only be an alpha version.

But at the same time there are also those who think Google will dominate the field, and the cartoon-style graphics are also given a thumbs-up.

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