Nearly five months ago, Google launched Lively, an online world which seemed to have solved all the problems that plagued other virtual environments: The download to enter the world was tiny, moving around Lively was simple, and it gave you the liberty to create your own three-dimensional space. If that wasn’t reason enough, this world was backed by the biggest name on the Internet, Google. In spite of this, on 31 December, the search giant politely told users that it was closing the
fancy world, asked them to take pictures, save happy memories and then called the whole thing an “experiment”. What did the maker of many popular applications—from email clients to maps—get wrong?
While Lively seemed to have gotten almost everything right, it forgot Google’s most basic tenet: The search giant doesn’t make content. Instead, it sells advertisements on content made by other people, then tracks this content and makes sure it can be found on the Web. Users across the world write blogs on Blogspot, form communities on Orkut and share videos on YouTube, and Google makes money by putting advertisements on all of these; it even trolls your email to ensure that it targets you with ads for something that’s better suited to your needs. Not that it’s not fair trade; the user gets a variety of applications for free, in the hope that he will come across something he would like to buy. The manufacturer gets to sell his product, Google gets paid for a successful click on the ad, the user gets what he wants; everyone goes home happy. This is the most successful model on the Internet; this is what transformed an unlikely search engine, competing with Yahoo!, Lycos, Ask.com and Live search, into the behemoth it is today.
And yet Lively didn’t have an advertising solution on it, so there was no way Google could generate any revenue from its online world.
Where are the tools?
Lively also failed to facilitate users in generating their own content. It was expected to be a user-created universe, yet the user wasn’t given enough tools to create what he wanted. Even these limited tools were primarily used, in the most popular rooms, for sex and violence. This turned off a segment of first-time users, a demographic that Lively was aimed at. On the other hand, veterans of complicated massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and Second Life just didn’t like the watered-down number of movement and action options that Lively gave.
In the end, Lively just didn’t have enough users and no way of converting the numbers into a revenue stream. The economic downturn didn’t help either; Google could go the experimental way and hope to find a way to make money in the distant future, or stick to what it is good at. It simply chose the latter.
Yet all isn’t lost. In spite of its shortcomings, Lively did spark something. Soon after Google closed the world, an online petition to restart Lively started circulating on the Web. In fact, a clone of Lively, called ‘NewLively’, sprung up. It’s unclear if this new site has infringed some intellectual property rights. As of now, no legal action has been taken. Although some Lively fans have flocked to this site, the problems of monetization still loom large. By all accounts, it seems free worlds will have to wait for some more time.
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