Update: Google Labs' Lively, the virtual world project that lets users create an avatar and connect with friends in virtual rooms of their own design since July, has bit the dust.
The Lively team last night said that it is shuttering Lively.com by Dec. 31, marking a rare public failure in the marked track record of Google's programming teams. The Lively team wrote in a blog post:
"Despite all the virtual high fives and creative rooms everyone has enjoyed in the last four and a half months, we've decided to shut Lively down at the end of the year. It has been a tough decision, but we want to ensure that we prioritize our resources and focus more on our core search, ads and apps business."
Looking at the Lively site it's hard to tell how much activity was going on there. There are a bunch of rooms, but only 11 avatars.
We don't know how often people frequented the rooms, which of course is the key to success for any virtual world and one of the reasons Linden Labs' Second Life is still kicking.
A Google spokesperson said Lively has "approximately 10,000 seven-day active users," which seems like a lot to me. How is that not enough?
Maybe they thought the Lively folks were spending way too much time on a project management didn't think would bear fruit either on its own, or stitched into Google Apps, which was what I ultimately expected would happen. I know, I know. Wishful thinking and pipe dreams. But most of you didn't expect voice and video chat in Gmail a year or two ago, either.
My guess: this is a subtle move to eliminate a frivolous experiment in a time when companies are buckling down for the recession. Google wanted to put the talent in Apps or elsewhere where they could contribute to the bottom line. ReadWriteWeb's Rick Turoczy thinks the lack of relevant data returns to Google killed Lively. He's probably right.
So now I get to check off one less thing to remind myself to ask Google about in phone interviews.
I had been wondering what's going on with Lively because I haven't heard a peep in months, though I've tried a few times to ask Google Apps engineers and executives. I asked them if there were ever any plans for integrating Lively into, say, Gmail, where Google already has a passionate, involved user base.
Apps engineers spoke about it generally, noting that anything is possible and that there were certainly ways to integrate Lively into the Google Apps experience. Now I know such noncommittals could be as much the kiss of death as allusions to the potential for innovation and subsequent integration.
Now the Lively team will move on to other teams. It was worth a shot, but it just goes to show it takes a special brand of patience to build a virtual world. The velocity of Google makes building a virtual world a dead end.
I have to wonder, though. If Google can't make virtual worlds catch fire, what about startups like Vivaty, whose whole business hinges on fostering adoption among consumers?
In the meantime, for those Lively members who don't want to lose their work, take videos and screenshots of your rooms because you won't be able to by the New Year.
So long, and thanks for all the fish.