Chat Comes Alive with Google`s Lively

While Google’s services are often a delight to interact with, some have accused the search engine of not quite "getting" web 2.0. The doubters may shut up when they see Lively, one of the company’s newest services. This article takes a close look at the offering.

Chat and social networking are easy with Lively, a service offered by Google. You might see the fun design elements, the custom avatars and the list of locales and think that this free service is akin to popular online social games like Second Life. You would be wrong if you came to this conclusion, however. Google’s Lively isn’t necessarily meant to be a world unto itself, but one you can integrate with ease into your own existing network.

What is Lively?

Lively isn’t exactly an online game, but it isn’t that far off. You will create your own character (avatar) and you can even design your own personal space. From there, you simply choose where to want to go. Maybe you’d like to virtually visit a quiet cabin in the woods, a mountainside retreat, or a quaint coffeehouse in Vienna. Lively, in its way, offers these treats. All you have to do is point and click.

Google’s Lively is probably best described as 3D chat. Think of it as the next generation of chat. This free client allows you to load rooms equipped with embeddable video and pictures — rooms that are user-designed and inhabited by custom-made representations of the chatters. It’s chat, but it’s much more modern than the plain-text rooms of old Internet days.

But is Lively lively enough to make an impact?

{mospagebreak title=What Lively Offers}

Google’s Lively gives you simple, unadorned navigation so it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. A download link on the first page helps you get started. However, you can only use Lively if your computer is running Windows XP or Vista (sorry, Mac users) and you view the Internet using Explorer or Mozilla’s Firefox. In recent press releases, Google has stated they will work toward developing a Mac client for users of related operating systems.

From the first page, you can view the catalog of available item and avatar design elements, search the list of rooms, view the forums or download the Lively client. The forums, like the rest of Lively, support many different languages.

Lively offers social networking at its best. You can almost reach right out and touch the people you come into contact with, and even share elements from other social networking sites with your Lively friends. The client is made to support photos and videos, which provides easy integration with other social networking applications and places.

With Lively, you can create a custom avatar and even your very own room — not just the name of the place but the shape, size and style of it as well. Lively also offers the usual social features, including invites, so you can tempt friends to see your creations. Lively is designed to work with Google Desktop, so you can view some Lively elements even without the client.

{mospagebreak title=Meeting and Mingling}

It’s not necessary to create a room with Lively. You can choose instead to surf existing rooms, meeting and mingling with online chatters. The rooms list not only displays full-color pictures of the chatting locales, but a list of the chatters who can be found inside. A counter show exactly how many people are chatting in a room at any given moment.

When you chat with Google Lively, you see your character inside a full-color, three-dimensional environment. You can move around in this world and even interact with some of the elements therein (furnishings, etc.). When you type text into the chat bar, words will appear in a talk bubble over your avatar. It is also possible to send private messages if you wish.

The rooms list offers everything from cafes to high schools, dance clubs to lounges. You’ll find a forest, a singles’ cafe, a World of Warcraft room and even a fight club when you peruse the popular places. Countries from all over the world are represented through Lively rooms as well.

Lively boasts large numbers of chatters at any given time, giving you ample opportunity to meet and greet new people and potentially make new contacts.

{mospagebreak title=Is Chat All There Is?}

The rooms are full-color, fully interactive, fully dimensional — why not go full throttle ahead? Google Lively may offer features which are different from other chat rooms, but it may not offer much more. Is chat all there is when you’re using Google Lively?

Lively offers other features which allow you to integrate your Lively creations on your MySpace page or personal site if you wish. You can offer a link so that others can view information on your Lively room (should you create one) and other details. But when it comes to creation with Google Lively, don’t expect to go too far outside the lines and limitations.

When you go to design your avatar, you’ll find you can create a male, female or even an animal, but your choices in appearance are somewhat curtailed. The catalog offers several different clothing items in many different pages of pictures. You’ll find many different styles and even time periods represented, even strange costumes and somewhat fantastic creations. Even so, the clothing choices seem too few and many of the hair styles too farfetched.

When it comes to creating your avatar and rooms with Lively, what you see on the catalog is what you get. Unlike Second Life (an online world to which Lively is often compared), users cannot create products or buy and sell them among themselves. You can only use the catalog to create what you will with Lively.

The room designs offer a blank canvas in many different shapes and styles, so you can place furniture and decorative items within at will. Everything from chairs to wall stickers is included in the design catalog, which contains completely free items for your Lively use. With Lively, you do not have to earn credit or currency to enjoy every aspect of the virtual world.

Lively Controversy

Though Lively is still relatively new on the Internet scene, it has already made a few headlines for pornographic and sexually explicit content. There are some rooms on Lively that bear the word “Sex” in the title and there have been claims of inappropriate images inside the world.

Google’s Terms clearly prohibit nudity and sexually explicit content on Lively, as it bans rooms designed for sexual purposes. In response to the recent attention toward this issue, Google has promised to crack down on such violations and address improper content inside Lively rooms.

What’s It All About?

Google’s Lively is for recreational chatting and socialization. Extra elements that allow you to integrate personal Web pages and other networking features, along with the three-dimensional rooms and personalization, put Lively a cut above other text-based chat rooms out there. This is, however, still a very limited world with limited choices and design options.

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