I have to admit I'm not 100% looking forward to the addition of voice into Second Life. I agree that it's inevitable and will make the service easier to use. But the text-based chat currently in use in Second Life adds to its charm, and, paradoxically, makes the service seem more real.
Linden Lab, the developers of Second Life set a timetable and provided interesting details of how voice in Second Life will work.
The preceding link goes to an article we posted this morning, based mainly on an interview with Joe Miller, Linden Lab's, VP of platform and technology development. It's longer, and has much greater depth, than the brief we posted yesterday morning.
When you're immersed in Second Life, you'll hear the voices of other users (they're called "residents" in Second Life) as if you and they were really sharing a three-dimensional space. Residents located further away will sound fainter, and sound will be directional, based on your relative position compared with the resident speaking to you.
Throughout its four-year history, residents have communicated with each other using text-based chat. It's crude, but it is part of Second Life's charm and contributes to the creation of a sort of hypnotic effect that allows you to imagine that the events happening in the virtual world are real.
But, pretty soon, residents of Second Life will be able to communicate with each other by squawking through our pie-holes, just like we do in real life.
In a very small way, the change is reminiscent of the change from silent movies to talkies 80 years ago. Silent movies were an art form and business that was born, matured, flourished and died in a brief, 25-year-period.
Great artists like Charles Chaplin and Mary Pickford never completely made the transition to talkies. They considered silent movies to be an art form related to ballet and thought talking movies were inferior (and they were right, too, at least for the first decade or so of talkies).
Similarly, Second Life without voice isn't necessarily inferior to Second Life with voice. It is, however, different. Even though I'm looking forward to voice in Second Life, and I plan to be one of the first to try it out, I'll miss the text-chat-based Second Life a little when it's gone.