Voice in Second Life

I was invited to beta test the new Voice feature in Second Life. Instead of just tapping away on your keyboard and hearing, um, tappity sounds, you can actually hear the voices of the people you’re chatting with.
I took screen shots of other members of the New Media Consortium group. Voice chat was working, but buggy. The more Avatars joined the group, the more often we got disconnected – or so I suspect.
preferences - how to activate voiceWe had all downloaded a new version of Second Life software with this additional voice chat feature. Then we went to to Preferences and clicked on the ‘Voice Chat’ tab. I was told to first disable voice chat, apply changes, then enable it and apply changes. Whenever we got disconnected from voice chat, we had to go back to Preferences and do it all over again. It worked but I kept getting cut off after a couple of minutes.
On the seven occasions that I did hear voice chats, though, it was clear. The Avatars who are talking at the moment have an ‘audio’ graphic above their heads. I managed to speak five times. Each time, that green audio squiggle would appear above my Avatar’s head. Other Avatars replied that they could hear me. Cool!
You have the option of selecting different buttons like SHIFT, ALT, middle mouse button to activate your voice chat. The selected button can also be used, walkie-talkie style so you only push it when you wish to speak. Most Avatars in my group chose to leave their microphones on perpetually, so you could hear their computer whirring away.
One problem with voice chat is that it doesn’t always give a clear indication as to who’s talking, when in a large group where several Avatars are speaking at the same time. At least when you chat via typing, your Avatar name is displayed next to your chat.
The other problem with voice chat is … we’re not used to it, so after the triumphant cries of “I can hear you now!” we often had long period of silence. A few Avatars noted this awkward situation. We had voice chat – now what do we say?
We had a more ‘human’ moment involving group laughter, when several Avatars were laughing out loud the same time. That was nice. We need more of those moments.
Some Avatars noted that proximity seemed to affect the audibility of voice chat. So we huddled together to hear each other more clearly.
In the end, most of us reverted to “type-chatting” (for want of a better phrase) because it was more stable. One Avatar got his/her kid to talk to us instead, which was cute.
In time, with improved software stability and bandwidth, which areas in Second Life could voice chat overtake type-chat? I’d say karaoke lounges and any other area where people are required to sing or make speeches. But I think it would suck if you had to take transcripts of meetings where everyone was using voice chat at the same time.
Towards the end of our gathering, I met someone who’s organising the State of Play conference. The new working date is 18 Aug 2007. I showed him the SL Singapore blog, so maybe he’ll drop us a line there when things are more firmed up.
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