I set up a virtual coffee shop, embedded below. If you download the Lively client from Google, you can stop in and re-arrange the furniture (it has been set to public editing).
Unfortunately, you can’t really add anything *too* original, since all the object content has been created by Google. So it certainly is *not* a Second Life killer at the moment. This is a good way of avoiding problems with obscenity and/or secondary IP liability — a bit of a drag on creativity.
There’s also no scarcity, as I noted to Frank in the comments — everything is free for now. However, from the “shopping” pages with the “free” price and the inventory idea, one gets the strong impression that Google is 100% poised to enter into the virtual property micro-payments model that has proved so popular with many virtual worlds. But they’re not going there quite yet.
It strikes me that this is a very strange play for Google, since it is so content heavy and (if they let the virtual property hounds loose) could involve consumer payments to Google for content. On the other hand, this meets their goal of acquiring broader Web screen real estate (as they did with AdSense) and making themselves integral to social software networks (they’re integrating with Facebook). And there’s datamining potential here too. And it fits with Google Talk.
Part of the oddness, I think, is that this originated as an employee’s “20% time” project that got the green light. So the broader Google mission of “organizing the world’s information” is going to have to be retrofitted to this project.
I do see potential here, especially with the embedded web idea, as w/the coffee shop above. Imagine reading something novel in the NY Times and wanting to talk about it with someone. Instead of placing your comment below the stack of others in the long list that few people will read, you pop into a virtual coffee shop or desert island right on that page, and start up a discussion with someone who really wants to chat about the same thing (and, let’s say, is a bear wearing a cowboy hat who you’ve met before). It’s like an instant water cooler conversation or soapbox at Hyde Park — kind of like a blog, but with more presence.
If you’re familiar with the virtual world scene, the employee who started this apparently worked at IMVU and There.com, which, I guess, is why this feels so much like both of those environments.