Google Lively had a friendly atmosphere: preliminary observations from an on-going study

I am running a survey on the significant aspects of the by now closed Google Lively service at http://survey-3.istohuvila.fi/index.php?sid=11279&lang=en. The preliminary findings indicate that the most highly appreciated aspects of the service were its friendly atmosphere and ease of meeting people from around the world, ease of use and the possibility to build a room without having to purchase anything in the first place. The survey is still open and all former users of Lively are still invited and encouraged to participate with similar, contradictory and additional viewpoints to the service. 

Survey and its purpose

 The purpose of the survey is to map the most significant perceived aspects of Google Lively service for its users. The data will be used to enhance understanding how virtual 3d environments should be documented and what should be told and archived for future generations. We know a lot about 19th century society and the ways of how, for instance, the Romans lived because certain materials and documents have been archived and preserved from those days. The study attempts to map what would be significant to preserve for the future of Google Lively and similar services in order to tell the coming generations about the service and how we used it. The survey is a part of the Academy of Finland research project "Library 2.0 - a new participatory context" conducted by Dr. Isto Huvila (Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi University, Finland). 

Preliminary findings

The preliminary findings are based on a sample of the first responses (N=14) to the survey. The analysis is based on close reading of the responses. A more comprehensive analysis of the final results will be published at a later date. Besides its small size, the sample is likely to be biassed by comprising mostly of people who had used or tested Lively for a longer period of time (several months) while short-time users are in clear minority.

Professionals, first timers and virtual citizens

Even though the present sample is very small, three rather distinct user groups emerged from the data. The first group of two respondents, “Professionals”, had tested Lively in their professional work and were not very impressed of its functionality and flexibility in comparison to other virtual worlds, especially Second Life. The informants indicated that Lively was unimportant for them and that they would continue their work in Second Life.

 

For the second group, “First timers” (5), Lively was their first experience of virtual three dimensional worlds. The first timers liked Lively, its ease of use and friendly atmosphere and graded Lively as important or very important. The group was somewhat unsure where they would be moving after Lively. 

 

The third group of “Virtual citizens” (7) had experience of several virtual worlds and tended to appreciate Lively especially for its atmosphere and people and secondarily for its deemphasis of purchasing items and integration to browser and web sites. The group tended to like Lively and judge it as important or very important for them. Informants had decided to move on into Second Life, IMVU and NewLively.

Significant aspects of Lively

 According to the informants, the most significant aspects of Lively related to its atmosphere, which was characterised to be friendly and encouraging. The informants were emphasising same time the vividness of the avatars. In spite of their cartoonish appearance their gestures and, for instance, that they seemed to breathe was considered to be important for making them more life-like than in many other services. The defensive mentions of the cartoon-like appearance of Lively rooms and avatars could be interpreted to indicate to be an advantage in comparison to the services imitating a more life-like environment.

 

Another significant aspect of Lively was mentioned to be its deemphasis of purchasing things. In contrast to many other services, users could start building their rooms without having to buy a room, house or a piece of land. Simultaneously the emphasis was seen to be in communication with others from around the world and in enabling people to create imaginative spaces for themselves and others to visit.

 

The third significant aspect of Lively seems to have been its ease of use and integration to browser environment and web sites. One informant mentioned that the possibility to use software translation in chat was a significant attractor in Lively and enabled her to chat with different kinds of ordinary people from around the world.

 

In summary, it seems that the major significant aspect of Lively service for this small group of users were other users and the technically rather uncomplicated access to interaction with others. Same time Lively provided enough depth in form of an attractive environment with adequate tools and freedom for self-expression and creativity, and the possibility to enjoy of the creativity of the others.

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