3-D World Goes Interactive With Voice

Linden Lab, publishers of the online simulated 3-D world called Second Life, plans to start beta testing a voice application March 6 to allow subscriber-created avatars, called residents, to chat with one another. Until now, the estimated 2 million Second Life residents from about 100 countries could only communicate with one another via text messaging or over a third-party application.

The company will beta test the voice component, which uses technologies from Vivox and DiamondWare, with a small group of 1,000 users for several weeks before expanding the beta test to all users later this month. Full roll-out of the voice component is expected by early summer.

By incorporating voice services directly into the fabric of the virtual world, Second Life subscribers will be able to speak with one another simply by walking up to other residents and talking. There will be no need for a separate application, download, or login. The solution is designed to simplify and enhance interaction among the residents and to mirror real-life communication, including spatial audio, which will allow residents to hear each other based on their positions — on their left, right, far away or nearby.

In addition, residents will have friends lists, presence, speaking indicators and tools that will allow them to stay connected with one another outside of the online community.

"The addition of voice marks a natural progression in the ongoing evolution of Second Life," says Joe Miller, vice president of platform and technology development at Linden Lab. "We believe voice is a transformative technology that will change the way residents communicate, and will lend more immediacy and dynamism to their interaction with others. For example, academic institutions could use the voice feature of Second Life to carry out lectures, corporations could use it for customer training and friends can simply catch up with each other."

"Voice has always been part of the long-term plan for the Second Life Grid, as we feel it will help residents become more immersed in their virtual lives," added Philip Rosedale, CEO at Linden Lab, in a statement. "Our approach is to give residents the tools to create their own unique experience, and we're hoping that many of them will develop new ways to use voice which will ultimately enrich the collective evolution of Second Life."

To use the voice option, residents must have a computer headset connected to their PC or Mac. Property owners will have the option to allow or disallow the voice option on their land at their discretion, depending on the terms of their subscriptions. 

There will be several usage scenarios available for group and private one-to-one conversations:

Scenario 1 - Residents can teleport to voice-enabled land, and automatically start speaking. Up to 100 users can be present in the same audio channel at once

Scenario 2 - Group conference calls for two or more residents.

Scenario 3 - One-to-one personal communication, allowing residents to privately share a conversation, which can be initiated by an instant message. Residents don't have to be on voice-enabled land to do this.

"The Second Life Grid, with its resident-created world and highly immersive structure, is an ideal platform for business and social interaction," says Rob Seaver, CEO of Vivox. "Live voice is essential to realizing the full potential of this environment, particularly for collaborative, academic, and economic purposes."

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