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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Google Makes Chat More Lively

The latest project out of Google Labs gives chatters avatars and virtual spaces to interact, like a scaled-down version of Second Life.

Goofy animated avatars and colorful fantasy worlds may sound like the stuff of a new Wii game or time-killing mobile app, but they’re actually part of one of Google’s most playful new projects yet. The company strayed from its utilitarian side on Wednesday with the launch of Lively, a new chat environment that adds graphics and animation to the usually plain world of chat.

With Lively, Webmasters can set up a virtual “room” for visitors to drop by and interact in. They can select everything from the wall d├ęcor to furniture, while visitors can create their own Sims-like avatars to play around with. Rather than merely chatting, users can walk around and perform different actions – like giving a hug – the same way they might in a more immersive game like Second Life.

Engineering Manager Niniane Wang created the concept as a “20 percent project,” Google’s term for an out-there side project that it allows employees to indulge with 20 percent of their time. The idea was to create a virtual space for Web surfers to interact with one another in a more interactive way than the more conventional chat.

Users can try Lively by merely visiting a Lively-equipped page, or create their own custom rooms through
Google Launches 'Lively' 3-D Online CommunityThis week Google launched a 3-D social community called Lively to make the online community less static. The platform allows users to populate Web pages with a virtual room, including YouTube video on virtual TVs, photos in digital frames and avatars to navigate through the environment.
Lively, however, isn't a new concept as some Web users have been using Second Life for nearly five years.

Writing on the official Google Blog, Niniane Wang, engineering manager, said the platform will be pushed to users through Google Labs.

"The Lively team wants to help people experience another dimension of the Web," wrote Wang. "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."

The inspiration for the project came to Wang when she felt that the Web had become too static.

"Sure, you can leave a comment on a blog or write a text blurb on your social networking profile," Wang wrote. "But what if you want to express yourself in a more fun way, with 3-D graphics and realtime avatar interactions?"

Lively users can choose and design their own avatar that interacts in the environment, which can also be customized to user tastes. Users can pick furniture and other decorations to make their Lively environment closely reflect their own personality, interests and taste.

A Lively room, as created by the user, can be embedded into a blog or Web site. Wang hopes that users on the platform will connect with Lively because it offers interactions that are more than just text.

"Of course, you can chat with each other, and you can also interact through animated actions," wrote Wang. "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]]'."

Google worked with students from Arizona State University to develop the Lively platform. The version rolled out to users was based on feedback from ASU students as well as the Google Desktop team.

Privacy Concerns Continue for internet

Privacy, nothing than extreme basic need for internet
The Internet is progress, but it's also a source of concern for privacy advocates, who draw alarm signals on Internet practices that break all the rules and invade users' privacy. The latest subject on the agenda refers to the use of traffic content for behavioral advertising, which the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) believes to be intrusive.
In a memo released on July 8th, CDT is questioning whether the new approach to online advertising is legal: “Based on what we know so far, this new advertising model appears to defy reasonable consumer expectations and may violate communications privacy laws,” CDT President and CEO Leslie Harris said.
NebuAd is one of the advertising networks companies that uses Internet traffic content from ISPs for targeted advertising, a system that is completely different from the cookie-based method.
The system NebuAd uses is possible in collaboration with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and works as follows:each individual's Internet activity is tracked with the help of the ISP, who allows the advertising network to copy the contents of the individual Web streams of all customers.
This gives the advertising network the possibility to create records of the individuals' online behaviors and interests. However, tracking the online behavior of individuals goes beyond commercial activities. What's even worse is that it's all done without the user's consent, situation somewhat similar to the phone conversation tracking discussions.

NebuAd's business model is the subject of a hearing scheduled to take place on Wednesday and held by the Senate Commerce Committee.
The company responded to privacy concerns in a statement on July 8th, by releasing “state-of-the-art online privacy protection for consumers.” In a desperate move to avoid legal accusations regarding its practices, NebuAd introduced a new system that ensures direct consumer notifications and “unprecedented innovations in opt-out technology.”
Well, it's never too late to repair a mistake; however, their move doesn't impress privacy advocates that much, as they fear of the possible consequences on NebuAd's previous practices. As CTD Vice President Ari Schwartz pointed out, consumers do not expect such practices from their ISPs.

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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