In the latest expansion beyond its main mission of organising the world's information, Internet search leader Google Inc hopes to orchestrate more virtual socialising on the Web.
Google debuted a free service on Tuesday in which three-dimensional software that enables people to congregate in fantasy rooms and other computer-manufactured versions of real life. The service, called "Lively," represents Google's answer to an already well-established site, "Second Life," where people deploy animated alter egos known as avatars to navigate virtual reality.
Google thinks "Lively" will encourage even more people to dive into alternate realities because it isn't tethered to one Web site like Second Life, and it doesn't cost anything to use. After installing a small packet of software from lively.Com, a user can enter Lively from other Web sites, like social networking sites and blogs.
Google already has created a Lively application that works on Facebook.Com, one of the Web's hottest hangouts, and is working on a version suitable for an even larger online social network, News Corp's MySpace.Com.
"We know people already spend a lot of time online socialising, so we just want to try to make it more enjoyable," said Niniane Wang, a Google engineering manager who oversaw Lively's creation over the past year.
Lively's users will be able to sculpt an avatar that can be male, female or even a different species. An avatar can assume a new identity, change clothes or convey emotions with a few clicks of the mouse. The service also enables users to create different digital environments to roam, from a child's room to an exotic island.