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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Google Plans to Shut Down Lively 3D World

Google announced that on December 31st they will shut down Lively, which was their 3D chat world, and somewhat of a potential competitor to Second Life. Room widgets embedded in other sites are then supposed to show an image but no more interaction, which would add Lively to the list of Google’s canceled products. Google’s post on this decision does not really give a detailed reasoning for this shut-down of a product which was just released this year, except that they’re saying “we want to ensure that we prioritize our resources and focus more on our core search, ads and apps business.” In particular, this leaves some questions unanswered as a company could theoretically embed ads in this 3D world app.

Lively was a great-looking Google product. On the other hand from the beginning on it was riddled with regular program crashes for some users, though the situation improved over time. There were other oddities as well, like a flood of sex rooms almost kidnapping the Lively rooms directory, or custom images never quite fitting the object you’d put them on (and then being disabled altogether for a while). It was still a fun experience, with a fresh and intuitive interface that I found more beginner-friendly than Second Life. Building rooms was entertaining and casual, with features like integrating YouTube videos by pasting the video URL, leading to quickly shareable results.

Now, Google say they’ve “always been supportive of this kind of experimentation because we believe it’s the best way to create groundbreaking products that make a difference to people’s lives” but that they’ve also “always accepted that when you take these kinds of risks not every bet is going to pay off.” Google apparently made up their mind that this bet will never pay off, even if the product was only given the chance to grow for 4 months; a short time to make a good judgment on potential future success. Others feel like Lively was an odd release for Google to begin with; Andy Baio in the forum comments, “I never understood this product. It never seemed to fit Google’s worldview, and even the standalone domain and branding were weird. I wonder what the story behind it was.”

Google says current users of Lively are supposed to make “videos and screenshots” of their “hard work” to preserve some of it. They also mention that current members of the Lively team will move to other projects. In 2006, Niniane Wang, who headed the then-secret project at Google, quoted from an email a colleague sent to their team:

i realized today during the meeting that...

- if we’re working on the best project at google, and
- we’re working at the best company on the planet, then

we’re working on the Best Project in the World.


Already by now, a website by Lively users has sprung up protesting against the shutdown. On the homepage of, which is accompanied by a discussion group, the following is written:

Livelyzens are the proud and happy residents of Google Lively. Today we are saddened by Google’s decision to shutdown lively.

We are appealing through this website to keep Lively alive and will showcase all the great things about lively and why Google MUST revisit their decision.

Also, people are currently coming together in – where else – a Lively room set up for the purpose. Called “KEEP LIVELY ALIVE!”, this room plays the song “Staying Alive.” An image from South Park reads “Don’t Kill Kenny.”

[Thanks Andy and Niranjan B.!]


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