Monday, March 5, 2007

Voice in Second Life - it's coming

We've been able to do voice in Second Life for a while now using Skype and other 3rd party voice technologies. It's suffered from two shortfalls: 1) Your avatar didn't know you were speaking so it was disconnected from the input, and 2) your voice was directly from RL, and that is most definitely an issue for a good number of people.

The Linden's announced last week that voice is coming to Second Life, and it sounds like it does a great job of addressing the first issue:
Voice in Second Life will offer high-quality communication capabilities with 3D “proximity-based” voice communication. This technology uses spatial awareness, taking distance, direction, and rotation into account, for a more realistic experience. Basically, you’ll be able to tell who is talking in a group since the voice will sound like it’s coming from that direction. We’re also working hard on an initial set of avatar animations, which change and trigger according to the intensity of speech.
That sounds very nice. One of the more interesting things in SL right now is the way your avatar will pay attention to someone who is chatting. It just flat works. When doing voice over Skype inworld it was easy to have your avatar fall asleep from inattention. What was happening inworld became totally secondary to the voice communication. Where it worked, it just didn't work when it would disconnect you from the SL experience. For the most part text chatting was actually richer.

The second issue of having your avatar speak in your RL voice is also an issue. Linden doesn't have a solution for this just yet:
At present we’re not offering voice modulation or modification. We understand than some Residents may wish to preserve their anonymity even further by disguising their voice. Those that wish can use third party software to modify their voice, but when evaluating it as a standard feature we found the existing technologies just not able to deliver a high-quality result.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I think that RL voice has the potential to change some existing social networks. I could see some communities dividing over this, or at least having the potential to lose some significant nodes.

Linden says this is coming at the end of March. It's definitely a needed technology, but like any new development it will have both positive and negative effects. I'm anxious to give this a try, and also to observe what impacts it might have on the SL experience. I don't expect that it will be immediately adopted as the default method for communication.

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