A less-than lively venue

By Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

Google Inc. is big enough that when they do something, people tend to notice, and they've been successful enough that when they stop doing something, it's even more noticeable.

Less than five months after giving the whole virtual world thing a try, Google has decided to end the experiment, announcing it would kill Lively on Dec. 31, 2008.

For most people, this will likely bring forth the reaction: "Wait, what's Lively?" Which is perhaps the point. After an initial spike of interest (captured in this Google Trends image, courtesy of Techcrunch), people decided to either stick to the virtual world they know or continued to ignore and/or deride virtual worlds.

About the only connection between Lively and other Google products was its portability - entry points to the site could be embedded on web sites and blogs, just as with YouTube videos. Otherwise, it was fairly outside Google's wheelhouse, which is search and advertising.

Naturally, this has caused some (such as Valleywag and Pocket Lint) to suggest that the whole Second Life, avatar thing is over. (As Valleywag astutely noted, the Reuters reporter who had the half-baked idea to set up a bureau in the Second Life world stopped filing at the end of September.)

It's a valid point. Here's our own Google Trends look at how Second Life compares with World of Warcraft, Guild Wars and Lively.

It actually did better than I thought it would, particularly outside the U.S., but one point is clear: there is no "trend," as was once suggested, about Second Life catching on with the mainstream.

While the appeal of Warcraft and other virtual online games seems obvious, a world without dragons to slay or, ahem, anything to actually do has always seemed like putting the cart before the horse. It's not the internet, nor a virtual world, that is inherently cool. It's what you can do with it.