Lively is a series of disconnected virtual chat rooms, each capable of holding up to 20 avatars at once. Rooms vary in size a little, up to approximately 500 square yards, and can be listed on the website, or remain unlisted.
A Lively room can be embedded in a web-page, much like a Metaplace space. Only a small snippet of HTML is required to do so. Windows users (only, at this stage) can view and enter Lively rooms with the aid of a plugin for Firefox or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. The download is approximately 10 Megabytes and you can get it here.
As beta plugins go, this one seems quite stable and doesn't seem to be at any risk of crashing your browser unexpectedly. Big plus there. The lack of Linux and Mac support knocks the utility value down a couple of pegs. If you have the plugin, we've embedded a sample room just below this paragraph. (If it sits on Joining Room forever, go and sign into the website first)
There's nothing much unexpected about chatting in Lively. Click in the chat bar and type. The text appears in cartoony chat bubbles that Lively will try to keep in your view, regardless of where your camera is.
Movement is accomplished by double-clicking on a spot to teleport your avatar there, or clicking and dragging the avatar with the left mouse button to walk your avatar. Don't try to drag your avatar past the border of the camera view without repositioning your camera first, or you will get unsettling jumps and find your avatar in strange places.
Dragging the mouse with the right mouse button rotates the camera, and holding shift at the same time allows you to pan the camera.
Lively keeps things simple and does those simple things well. The television in our sample room is playing the trailer for Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. A few clicks is all that is required to link a YouTube video to a television object -- but as far as we know, no other embedded video formats are supported.
All content that is currently in Lively is made by Google-approved developers, and is presently free -- though it looks very much like the majority of content in Lively will be pay-for before long. At present there don't seem to be any active plans to open up the system to user-created content, but we'd be surprised if there wasn't some of that before too long.
Permitted users can add objects to a room, and reposition them. If you can't see what you're looking for in your avatar's inventory, try the Shop for More buttons at the bottom of each inventory category. Lively wants you to go shopping. As we said, currently all the content is free, so why not?
If you want to interact with an object (sitting down, for example), single left click on the object. If you want to play an animation, single left click on your avatar, and select an item from the animations tab (different lists of animations are available depending on whether you are sitting or standing).
And ... that's actually about it. Lively is simple, and straightforward, and focuses on doing one thing well: The furnishable 3D chatroom. It can be embedded on a webpage and your avatar can be in multiple rooms at once via different browser windows or tabs.
If you've got a group of up to 20 people (who all have Google accounts and are running Windows), and want to share a Youtube video or sit around and shoot the breeze in a lightweight space, and having your own content isn't for you, then Lively is for you.
But a rival to Second Life? No more so than corn syrup is a rival for sea salt.