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5/7/2007
09:38 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Voice Coming To Second Life May 23, Maybe, According To Somewhat-Unclear Statement From Linden Lab

Linden Lab released a statement on its blog which, if I'm reading it correctly, makes me very happy: They're planning to activate voice on the mainstream Second Life service May 23, after a couple of months of pounding on it in the service's beta area. I was ambivalent about voice when it was

Linden Lab released a statement on its blog which, if I'm reading it correctly, makes me very happy: They're planning to activate voice on the mainstream Second Life service May 23, after a couple of months of pounding on it in the service's beta area. I was ambivalent about voice when it was first announced, but, having spent more and more time in Second Life -- more and more time doing business in Second Life -- I can see where it's essential, and I'm extremely jazzed about it.

Linden Lab is describing the service as 3-D voice. Here's what that means, according to my favorite Second Life journalist:

The voice chat will be designed to simulate real-life speaking, with voices getting fainter as the speakers' avatars get more distant. Residents will be able to perceive the direction that voices are coming from.

"You'll be able to walk into a group of people and, if all those people are in conversation, you'll hear voices emanating from their locations relative to you," said Joe Miller, VP of platform and technology development for Linden Lab.

The technical implementation of that is complex, he said. It's not like ordinary streaming audio -- which is already available in Second Life -- where every listener hears the exact same audio. With the new voice feature, "every avatar receives a custom audio stream relative to their position relative to the speakers," Miller said.

There'll also be capabilities for streaming voice from one part of Second Life to another. This is especially important because Second Life has a limit on the number of avatars that can be in a single area -- about 50-60 -- and streaming voice to another location would allow for events to span multiple locations.

Of course, you can already use voice in Second Life. Skype is very popular with Second Life users. I implement voice using a little box called a "phone." I keep it next to the computer and I can pick it up and make "phone calls."

But having audio integrated into the SL experience is better, not just because the 3-D experience sounds wicked nifty, but also to avoid the inconvenience of "OK if I call you? What's your number?" (Although it will require me to blow the dust off my PC headset -- hey, maybe I can get one of those fancy-lad ridiculously expensive headsets that works with both a phone and PC?)

I've found that voice is best for business discussions, and text chat is better for casual conversation, especially in environments, like dance clubs and live music events, where there's a soundtrack you don't want to interrupt.

I know many great people in SL who hate the idea of voice. Many people just hate to talk on the phone, and see SL voice as an extension of that. I hope integration of voice into Second Life doesn't drive those people off.

But, still, on the balance, I'd say voice in SL is a great development.

InformationWeek wants to do some events in Second Life, including public interviews with notables in both the Second Life community and the larger tech community. We could do it in text chat, but voice is ever so much better. There are currently third-party tools for integrating streaming audio into Second Life, which (I'm told) are very inexpensive and easy to set up, if you know what you're doing, which I don't.

Another development coming May 23: "Sculptured prims," or "sculpties." This is a new component for building objects in Second Life that will allow for much more complex objects that use less server resources, and also make it easier to import objects into Second Life that are made with other design software. Beyond that, I don't really understand it myself.

I've asked Linden Lab for clarification on these issues but I haven't heard back from them yet.

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