Google's Lively.com, introduced this week, is kind of Second Life Lite. Both provide software you download to create your own avatar (a cartoon-like digital representation of yourself). But instead of creating and living in a piece of a very large virtual world, as in Second Life, with Lively you simply create a chatroom (or choose and customize one someone else has created and made available to all users) that can fit up to 20 of your friends' avatars at a time. The product will probably have a lot of appeal for kids and teens for a number of reasons: it's creative and self-expressive, allowing young people to experiment with identity (a key task of adolescence, child development experts say); it's about communication and socializing; there's no learning curve; it's basically an add-on to teens' existing social utilities, blogs and social sites; and they can embed their chatrooms in their blogs, social-networking profiles, or any other Web page, "as easily as a YouTube video," the New York Times reports (right now the software's only available for Windows XP and Vista computers). Here's brief coverage of the Lively launch from the Financial Times.
Parents will probably want to be aware that there is as much potential downside for young users of Lively as for any other user-driven service of the social Web. As of this writing, right on the second page of the Popular Rooms list are several sex-related rooms to choose from and download. Lively's minimum age is 13 and the service's Community Standards say people under 18 "must have their parent or legal guardian's permission to use Lively. If we become aware that a user is under 13, we will delete their account." However, as far as I could see, neither the Community Standards page nor the Help Center says how to submit that permission.