Virtual worlds: Not so Lively

Google Labs has killed its virtual world experiment dubbed Lively in a mere five months. What does Google’s move say about virtual worlds?

Google Labs has killed its virtual world experiment dubbed Lively in a mere five months. What does Google’s move say about virtual worlds?

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While the death of Lively puns are unavoidable (Techmeme), I've been pondering the virtual world thing for a few days. On Monday, I was on an enterprise 2.0 panel for the New York Software Industry Association. Most of the talk was about using social networking, wikis, Twitter and other tools inside the enterprise--we'll overlook the fact that half the folks in the audience worked at companies that banned Facebook.

In the discussion, virtual worlds came up. The question was whether your avatar will be attending meetings and saving travel budget. SAP managed to have a sales meeting in a virtual world--and it saved a lot of money. My reply was that there's potentially some corporate use for virtual worlds, but its time won't arrive anytime soon.

After that reply, the guy who asked the question stopped up to talk more. Turns out he was a big believer in virtual worlds and an avatar advocate of sorts. He would have sent his avatar to our little chat if he could. Virtual worlds are on the cusp of being huge--even in businesses, he argued.

My reply: Why would you send an avatar when telepresence will ultimately allow the real you to show up? In what circumstance would you rather have your avatar conducting business over the real you?

But there's a bigger thing going on here. Virtual worlds are a tweener technology. They aren't quite a good enough of an escape in these tough times. Am I really going to go to Second Life where there's another recession going on? Meanwhile, these virtual worlds aren't serious enough for real business. Imagine if your boss said: "Hey I need you to lay off five employees and cut your budget by 25 percent. I look forward to meeting with your rabbit eared avatar to go over the plan."

Silly eh? Google played with Lively and decided it wasn't worth the detour, which is saying something since the company encourages its workers to experiment. Perhaps virtual worlds will become huge at some point, but today we're just not in the mood for it.