Gartner has released a report on Google’s Lively which argues that Lively is more of a competitor to social networks such as Facebook than to established, large-scale virtual worlds such as Second Life. Steve Prentice, author of the report (whom is also presenting at the Virtual Worlds Forum in October), argues that Lively occupies a ‘middle ground’ between traditional social networking sites and full-blown virtual worlds. He cites Lively’s room metaphor, as opposed to Second Life’s whole world. Further, Lively lacks an economy and only has limited content creation options.
In some ways he is right. Lively is perhaps best described at present as visual chat, and certainly doesn’t match up to the vast functionality offered by rivals such as Second Life and Twinity. In that sense it does have more in common with social networking websites than it does with other virtual worlds: it is perhaps easier to see a user going into a Lively room to chat to their friends instead of using Facebook than it is to see a user enjoying Second Life as a substitute for Facebook.
However, I would argue that all virtual worlds are competitive with all social networking sites. The 2D web and the 3D metaverse are just different ways of doing the same thing: communicating over the internet. Beyond even that, though, it seems to me that the two will merge. We are already seeing this with Facebook. Applications such as Vivaty sit on top of the social graph which Facebook provides. The virtual world and the social networking site will become two different interfaces to the same use case. And that’s also what Prentice is arguing: ‘We believe this could mark the start of a transition to a new kind of three-dimensional social Web.’