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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Google'sVirtual Reality - 'Lively'

As if Google didn't have a strong enough hold on the planet already, today it's launching its own world -- a virtual world, to be exact. Lively, which Google likes to call a "virtual experience," allows you to create an avatar, decorate your own virtual room, invite friends to your room and do things you've always dreamed of, like blow up oil barrels on a deserted island.

Unlike popular virtual worlds such as Second Life, Lively doesn't require you to download new software. All you need is a browser plug-in. The service is also more distributed than Second Life: Its rooms will live on Web pages on Facebook and other sites, so you might stumble across them when browsing the Internet. Rooms can be private spaces, with entry by invitation only, or open-topic rooms, where you can meet people interested in discussing topics you love, like Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston or Google. It also ties into other Google services. You can stream YouTube videos into your virtual living room or post your Picasa pictures on your walls.

Virtual reality is a little 2006, but Google is looking to give it a new spin with Lively, a new 3D 'world' that can be integrated with a number of online applications.

The Lively download is available now on Users can create "rooms" that can be embedded on blogs or Web sites and explored via avatars you create yourself.

It is currently only available for Windows XP and Vista users using Internet Explorer or Firefox. You'll need a video card with at least 32 MB of video memory, Flash 9 or higher, and a broadband Internet connection.

Users must be at least 13 years old to participate, and those under 18 must get a parent or guardian's permission before joining, Google said.

"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," Niniane Wang, a Google engineering manager, wrote in a blog post. "In our user research, we've been amazed at how much more poignant it is to receive an animated hug than seeing the text '[[hug]].'"

That research included a trial with students at Arizona State University (ASU).

"Based on feedback from ASU students and with help from the Google Desktop team, we added support for playing YouTube videos in virtual TVs and showing photos in virtual picture frames inside our rooms," Wang wrote. "Better yet, the gadgets you have in your Lively rooms can also run on your desktop."

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