Admittedly, I am a Google fanboy. I use Gmail for the bulk of my correspondence, and keep track of deadlines in Google Calendar. I get all of my RSS feeds through Google Reader, and collaborate on documents with others using Google Documents. It's scary how much of my life is driven completely by Google products — but until somebody offers something better, I wouldn't have it any other way. Yesterday afternoon, there I was, going about my day-to-day business, when something interesting (read: disturbing) popped into my reader.

Google Labs announced this on their blog:

"[…] excited to announce today's release of Lively by Google – a 3D virtual experience that is the newest addition to Google Labs.

The Lively team wants to help people experience another dimension of the web. We hope you will use the product to express yourself with and without words, and to do this in the places you already visit on the web."

When I came to, I thought it had just been a horrifying nightmare. But there it was, still on my screen: Google released their own browser-residing version of Second Life. Reluctantly, I installed the plugin enabling me to take part in the "3D virtual experience". Toying around with it for a bit, I created the Bivings Lounge. After the break is my list of why Google Lively is unsuitable for just about anything beyond making a cool-looking-bear-pirate avatar.

 Cool-Looking-Bear-Pirate Avatar. Rawr!

  •  The approach of the platform does not take itself seriously. This includes the user interface design aesthetic, the cartoony selection of avatars, and a soundtrack that makes me think I'm stuck in a pop anime. I have come to expect a Google product to be more about productivity, synonymous with their branding — help me get things done, faster and smarter — Lively by Google falls quite short.
  • There isn't enough to do. There's nothing that this platform really offers me that I couldn't already do through email, messaging programs/SMS, or social networking websites. If I wanted to increase my personal connection to someone online, I'd start video conferencing.
  • The platform is not as lightweight as it seems. Shoving something into a browser via plugin isn't always the way to go, and it doesn't always mean it's going to be lightweight. While it does allow the embedding of these rooms in any webpage (arguably the strongest offering of this entire product), the rooms take a long time to fully connect to (and sometimes time out completely).
  • The controls are awkward. Moving your avatar, furniture, and other elements on Lively isn't as easy as one might think, and for something that feels like a videogame, lacks decent keyboard functionality. It combines the awkward interface of click-to-move with the neck craning camera angles of an uncompensated third person viewpoint.
  • Limited Compatibility. Currently, there is no Mac compatibility, and the only browsers supported are IE and Firefox. Non-mainstream users (read: people who are generally interested in Google Labs releases) will have to sit this one out.
  • Chatting is dead. In this era of IM and social networking, it seems that Google Labs did not receive the memo that chat communities seem to be on their way out. I'm well aware that IRC survives to this day, but then again, IRC has an actual use.

All in all, I'm not impressed with this release by Google Labs. I'd prefer that they stick to their branding and release tools most people actually have a use for.