The implications of voice in Second Life

I’ve now played with the new voice feature in Second Life’s Voice First Look Viewer, available since mid-June. Download it and take it for a test drive; it has clear sound and no apparent scalability issues, and gives you a sneak preview of what Second Life will soon feel like.

Integrated voice chat is going to completely change the dynamic of Second Life, benefitting those who see this virtual world as a immersive communications tool, though perhaps at the expense of those who see themselves as inhabiting an alternate virtual world.

The reasons for this shift is twofold:

  • First, when your avatar uses voice chat, you can no longer lie about your gender. Avatars who always refuse to use voice chat, meanwhile, will be suspected of “lying” about their “real” gender. SL etiquette may well find a way to accomodate voiceless avatars, though they could become a class apart. (Also possible is that those who invest the most time in SL and its role-playing possibilities may not take to voice chat at all.)
  • Second, the use of SL as a virtual conferencing tool will become much more natural. Yes, you can currently set up a text chat room on the web, send out a URL and wait for interested people to show up at the appointed hour, but such a solution lacks immersion — you can’t all watch the a movie synchronously, for example, or listen to a music performance, or get feedback about who is actively present and paying attention. You can do all this currently in Second Life with public text chat. Adding voice, however, turns this into a much more fluid, realistic experience.

Imagine, for example, that you invite the director of a short film to present her work in Second Life in front of a group of interested people. The film can be shown “live” via Quicktime Streaming Server in such a way that everyone sees the movie synchronously, while the director does a play-by-play voiceover, just like the commentary track on a DVD. You can say a lot more if you say it rather than type it — and meanwhile you can concentrate on watching the film, instead of on spelling.

But the arrival of voice chat won’t cannibalize text chat, for the same reason that we send SMS messages on our mobile phone or text chat with Skype or iChat. That’s because text chat in SL, especially when sending private messages, does not require the immediate attention or response of the recipient — just as with SMS.

And of course, voice chat doesn’t leave you with a text log of what was said… so you have to take notes, just like in the real world. But voice-based conferencing of the type that will now be possible in Second Life will be so compelling in terms of ease of use and that I think it will turn an experimental use of Second Life into a mainstream one.

2 responses to “The implications of voice in Second Life

  1. I have been at the sims ”Swedish”… and no voice are on.. anyway I dident find any to speak to…

    The good thing with voice are for the companys that want to have a world wide meetings that cant afford an IRL Budget to pay ticket hotel rooms for. BUT you will miss the body language that are so vital for a real serious meeting…

    We have huge television sets at the company I work for.,, then we dont need avatars,, and we see each other well and the body to… the real bodys..and the body langiage to!

    … the bad thing are al nice clever furrys that suddenly maybe feel forced to speak and how do a snake or a fox sound when you communicate by sound in SL?

    BTW I dont mind that people are different and love to be that in SL.. I am not as narrow minded as some are.. I dont fancy a gender I fancy a real person with a hearth and a brain… I love SL as it mix a lot of different people.. and from different cultures.. from the furrys to our Carl Bildt (how many minutes was he in SL?) to the people that want to open a store.. to the ones that Role Play.. thats why i love SL.. some of them will be very hurted by the use of sound.. as Mr Geens write will become a different class.. Do we need a class society in SL? Do you need it Mr Geens? Do you need that? I dont.

    I have been using sound now since it was sent out as a test and I must say its hard to understand a texas citizen or a real Scottish guy but the text i clearly understand.. or a swede with a terrible accent (as mine) can be hard to understand for a texas citizen? BUT of course as most in SL its fun when its new.. BUT on the other hand I am flattered when a girl tell me I have a sexy voice.. and look good. How I look in SL? – I am the girl in a yellow builders helmet and the original Swedish Nationaldress in the you tube movie from the offcial opening..

    I also love the babelfish translation machines in SL BTW.. have you tried one of those Mr Geens? No one are using Swedish but English are of course OK.

    Soon we avas will be forced to look as a copy of the IRL us.. Then my hair in SL must be blond and longer than my now short and brown one.. but the most terrible will be when I am forced to look like my PassPort Picture.. I understand that Bildt was chocked by his ava:-)).

    Have a great day.


  2. Jago Constantine

    This will be a transitional phase between text-only and text-to-speech software that lets you simulate the natural voice of your choosing.

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