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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this website.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this free virtual world from Google doesn't use filters, so teens 13 and up can say anything and everything (including giving away personal information). The principle thrust of the site will be amped up chat. But, once the software is downloaded, the site can stimulate creativity in the building of new rooms. There are public and private rooms -- depending on privacy controls -- which we encourage teens to use. Special interest rooms are dedicated to fighting or promoting sexual activity (peep shows, for example), but others are just coolly decorated islands. As with most virtual worlds, Lively.com can be addicting -- which means it's a potential time suck. Teens can also attach outside URLs to objects such as furniture. To report abuse, you can click on the offending avatar. Teens need a Gmail account to play around.
What's it about?
Google has officially jumped on the virtual world bandwagon with LIVELY.COM, a SecondLife.com-esque site where, in a matter of minutes, users create an avatar and personalize their 3-D environment to hang out with up to 20 other avatars. The main purpose of the site is to chat, and the lack of filters make it easy for users to express themselves freely -- which can sometimes be an issue. Users can also put their created rooms on their other sites such as personal blogs.
Is it any good?
Some sites make setting up and traveling within a virtual world complicated, and in return very frustrating. Lively.com has taken away some of the annoyance by making the process of creating your own room really easy and by offering individual rooms for teens to explore one-by-one (although it's still annoying that the site isn't available for Macs just yet). The room possibilities are endless and the avatars' activities (dancing, shaking hands, throwing up) are more than most sites, but there's not a lot of choice when it comes to the avatars themselves; at launch, there were only three female options to choose from -- all of which looked like Angelina Jolie on steroids. The site still has some kinks to work out -- like the occasional computer freeze from playing, faulty avatar movement, or the inability to move certain pieces of furniture around -- but if users learn to be respectful toward one another, Lively.com can be a fun way to dip into virtual worlds.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about online etiquette. What's OK to say in a chat room? What information is fine to share with "friends" online and what's better to keep to yourself? And ask your kids what they can do in a virtual world that they don't feel they can do in the real one? What's the appeal? Also, what should you do if you're being bullied or harassed in any way?
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