Google gets Lively

Google’s recently launched its own virtual world: Lively. The announcement was posted on the Official Google Blog earlier this month. So I’m a little late in finding it, but that means that other blogs and commentators have covered the basics and we can dig a little.

What is it? It’s not by some distance a full competitor to Second Life. Instead it’s aimed to be simple to get into, and relatively easy to use. It’s a 3-D representation of a string of chat rooms, not a full virtual world. You can create your own real estate, but it’s limited to a room. There aren’t all that many things you can customise. And at most 20 people can be in a room at once: no IBM WorldJams here!

Gartner believe it’s aimed at Facebook and MySpace, not SecondLife; and you can (for the moment at least) read Gartner’s admittedly brief comment in full on the website, even without an account. There’s a key thing that they highlight, which is that Lively rooms can be embedded in other websites and blogs. You can’t do that with SecondLife. The gadgets you create in your Lively room can also run on your desktop, Google say. You can’t do that with SecondLife, either.

As Gartner say, it breaks little new ground in virtual world technology. It’s based, at least partly, on research carried out at Arizona State University, but reading between the lines it looks as if this research was into the social side (what will attract users?) rather than the technology.

Forrester cover Lively in more detail (but you’ll need an account). They broadly agree with the points above, that it’s “aiming for a more mainstream, social, and multiapplication audience” – it’s more “Small World” than SecondLife, and its ties to other social networking tools (including Facebook and, of course, the Open Social platform) are important. Forrester’s coverage is aimed mainly at consumer marketing people, and they list a number of markers to track over the coming months to aid decision making.

What is clear is that Lively is designed specifically not to be self contained. It’s going to encourage movement to and from the standard desktop, integrating Lively into all sorts of other things people already do. And there’s one possibility which this raises, which I haven’t seen anyone comment on.

This feature just might turn out to be one to take virtual worlds into the everyday enterprise as well as the consumer arena. If it’s easy to embed a virtual room in, say, an internal meeting database then global companies might finally see the value.

Be who you want on the web pages you visit (official Google blog)
Facebook Is the Real Target of Google’s Virtual World (Gartner, 10 July 2008 )
Lively: Google Enters The Virtual Worlds Space (Forrester Research, 15 Jul 2008 )

There’s a ton of commentary on the web. Just put “Google Lively” into Google!

IT professionalism vs the UK’s DNA database

I’ve just finished marking a set of student scripts from an Open University course which links IT and workplace practice. One question concerned the UK’s Data Protection Act, which has eight principles designed to ensure data processing is open, fair and not compromised.

So which organisation do we find flouting at least seven of the eight principles? The UK Government.

For some time in this country we’ve had a DNA database which is supposed to help the police catch offenders in sex cases. It contains DNA profiles not only from everyone convicted of such a crime, but from everyone accused – even if proven innocent. And the “data subjects” don’t have the option about whether to supply the data.

This Government beefed up the role of the Data Protection Registrar, calling it the Information Commissioner’s Office. It’s supposed to enforce compliance.

Now we find that same Government not only maintains data on this database which is not required for the purpose it is supposedly collected. It is also passing the data to commercial research companies and other unconnected bodies. For a purpose which may of itself be admirable, but which is quite clearly not that for which it was collected, and without any authorisation from the data subjects.

If I captured this as a case study for my students, they would have no trouble telling me what was wrong with this practice. Who are the IT practitioners (I won’t call them professionals) who allowed this gross violation of professional practice to happen, and didn’t blow the whistle when it was happening, and didn’t resign in protest?

• UK Data Protection Act: the eight Principles (Schedule 1 of the Act)
• Home Office allowing private companies access to the DNA Database (Liberal Democrat news release, 28 Jul 2008 )
• Information and communication technologies at work: Open University course T121

No false hiding at Forrester

I liked this.

Forrester made a small bloomer on their web backend last week which resulted in one of their analysts’ mugshots being replaced by a picture of a colleague of the opposite gender. Far from just correcting it quickly and hoping nobody would notice, the analyst concerned has made a mini-case study of it to remind people of some fundamentals of web publishing.

Being able to share lessons from your own mistakes is a mark of considerable maturity! Well done Stephen Power and Forrester.

Link: (I don’t think this is restricted to Forrester clients)
Steve, You’ve Never Looked Better (Forrester Research blog, 9 July 2008 )

Iona, Ireland’s success, is acquired

A note in Gartner’s latest mailing alerted me to the fact that Iona Technologies, a great Irish success story, is coming to the end of its independent existence. It’s being acquired by Progress Software.

Why do I call Iona a great success? For me it’s always been an example, particularly to the Eurosceptic UK, of how to get the best out of Europe. From the Irish Republic’s wholehearted participation in Europe, researchers at Trinity College Dublin (Chris Horn, Annrai O’Toole and others) used the Esprit and Framework programmes to support development of innovative middleware. Iona was spun off in the 1990s, became an international player, and acquired a base in the US, but remained an Irish company and the acquisition will proceed under Irish law.

Its principals took technology leadership to the Object Management Group, contributing to OMG architectures and basing products on them. The company is active in a range of Open Source initiatives. They shared their insights widely through collaborative research and speaking engagements. Although Iona as a company will be judged to have stayed a leader in the second division – it never became an Oracle or BEA – its influence has been disproportionately huge.

We wish Iona well for the future.

• Progress Software Corporation to Acquire IONA Technologies Progress/Iona press release 25 Jun 2008
• Iona Technologies company website
• Progress Software company website
• Iona Technologies (Wikipedia)
• Progress Acquires Iona to Strengthen Presence in AIM Market from Gartner Flash, 3 July 2008, fully accessible to Gartner clients only

Part 2: new ideas for the Social Web

Following on from yesterday: Tech Review has also posted an article covering ten new ideas for the Social Web. These are startups which could catch on, for a variety of reasons.

Have a look. There are some you might recognise, like Pownce. There’s a peer-to-peer traffic reporter based on contributed GPS data from gridlocked cars. There’s a new take on making mashup APIs manageable. And more.

But the one that caught my eye is Ushahidi: not just for its idea, but for where it comes from. Ushahidi is a not-for-profit that can aggregate reports by mobile phone and display them via Google Maps. The original was developed in Kenya, as a way of gathering reliable information in the troubles following the disputed election, from local people in areas where the news media couldn’t reach. And it wasn’t developed by someone in the west with a social conscience. It was developed in Africa, by African people, for an African situation; and it could be deployed in any trouble spot or disaster area where conventional communications are disrupted. In the west, even!

• Ten Web Startups to Watch MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008
• Ushahidi

Watch this space … while you still can!

I was catching up on a backlog of alerts from MIT Technology Review. Lots of stuff about social networking, and I’m not going to discuss that here. Some of the services reviewed are the standard ones (MySpace vs Facebook, Twitter and so on) and some are smaller scale upstarts which might be the next great thing.

But this one article is worth reading, and I thought I’d flag it here rather than just tag it in MIT’s Technology Review discusses whether the level of traffic now being generated will kill the internet as we know it.

The surge in video traffic started with YouTube, but there is a lot of higher-quality user-generated video out there now and some of it gets insane numbers of hits just because it’s quirky and catches someone’s attention. And the broadcasters are in on it. In the UK, the BBC’s iPlayer is coming up for its first refresh; it’s been a wildly successful service, allowing programmes to be retrieved and re-watched over a seven day period, or retrieved and downloaded until the DRM software causes them to self destruct. ITV and Channel 4 have a slightly different model, but the key thing – in common with the US broadcast-linked services mentioned by TR – is that these are peer-to-peer applications. So, not all the bandwidth used is server-to-user; a lot of it is user-to-user, and the iPlayer T&Cs make explicit the permission for your iPlayer to be used in this way.

What’s the growth factor? TR quotes analyst Nemertes as saying 100% per year. An alternative academic estimate of 50% growth can probably be coped with by current technology trends. Watch this space … while you still can!

Internet Gridlock (MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008 )
The Internet Singularity, Delayed: Why Limits in Internet Capacity Will Stifle Innovation on the Web (Nemertes, Nov 2007)