Deadly


People wonder why Google pulled Lively after such a short run. After all, it couldn’t have been too expensive to run, at least not compared to Google’s monthly income. And at least some people were using it.

As a learning sandbox, I thought it would actually last longer, providing valuable intelligence and insight into if, how, and why people use virtual worlds to interact and spend time.

In the end, I’d speculate that’s why it was killed. They learned that griefing sucks. They learned that teenagers only hang out at the mall because it’s where their friends go and–let’s face it–they have nothing better to do. And they learned that user behavior in a semantically-limited virtual world can’t easily be mined for clues as to which ads will make the most money.

People wonder whether this withdrawal signals a downturn for virtual worlds. I hate to break it to you. The economy signals a downturn for virtual worlds — at least for those companies that require cash to operate. Google could have afforded to let this experiment run for 1000 years. But Google, like most companies, probably likes to focus on fundamentals when they anticipate a material change in the bottom line.

Google did, after all, announce they’d focus on their core businesses well before Lively even launched. There was apparently a sense that too many diverse projects were pulling the company in too many directions. I take it that on-going projects at least got to finish and maybe launch. But the bar got that much higher for the more speculative projects, I figure, which frankly happens at companies like Microsoft too…

From my perspective, the time to invest in speculative projects is exactly during a downturn — but only if you have the cash. This is your prime advantage if your competitors are stuck making ends meet or failing. Why take a pit stop if you have the gas? On the other hand, when your competitors pull back and slow down, even the leading forumla-1 car might ease up and coast for a while.

Bottom line, and just to be clear: virtual worlds do have a future. Unfortunately, it’s still in the future. Those that find their niche to survive deserve kudos. But no one — no one — has yet cracked the code on making virtual worlds ubiquitious and, frankly, useful, in the sense that cell phones, sneakers, or even shoe laces are.

 

 

 

  1. #1 by Maggie Darwin on November 25, 2008 - 1:46 pm

    Google pulled Lively because their developer resources can be better used elsewhere.

  2. #2 by Jonathan Agoot on December 4, 2008 - 12:08 pm

    I admire Google’s efforts in trying to popularize virtual worlds.

    Yes, virtual worlds are still in the future but it is those risk takers that contribute the much needed bricks and mortar to provide a solid foundation. Just how many bricks? Lots.

  3. #3 by bob on January 2, 2009 - 7:52 pm

    like most techs, you keep asking the wrong questions. vr worlds are not ever going to be like the cell phone or sneakers…

    its a medium for entertainment and visual education. Nothing more, or less.

    all vr worlds efforts not in these 2 areas–Like the ever stupid Lively- will always fail to be used.

    sadly lively was the google techs concept of a entertainment product, but it wsnt entertaining..

    look at the dead MSN and AOL and Yahoo Entertainment networks that all failed over the last to see the evidence of my point.

    Lively was just another geek effort at being a mass consumer entertainment media… and thus no one past the tech blogs found it remotely entertaining.

    boring tech bob

  4. #4 by avi on January 3, 2009 - 12:15 pm

    Is “visual education” any different than “education?” Because, frankly, if you say that VWs are going to be useful for entertainment, education, and I’d add, business, then that pretty much covers it, except maybe for military, which is just another form of business & education (I’d hope not entertainment) to some.

    Cell phones and sneakers are already used in those three domains, to talk and to walk, respectively. The point is about their ubiquity.

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