Obviously, people have been using Skype and other VoIP software with Second Life for years. In a certain sense, you could say that we haven’t changed anything. Sure, it’s integrated, or the voice quality is incrementally better, or there is a 3D spatial voice effect. But so what?
I want to describe something I’ve been thinking about for a while. What’s the difference between being on the phone with a group of people vs. being in a room with them?
Cisco and Polycom (and others) are now promoting telepresence. These applications promise–with high-definition video and audio–to make it feel like being in a room with people. If they succeed at this, then they’re probably worth every penny of their six-figure price tags to the companies who buy them. Why?
Being in a room with people is natural. Fidelity of sight and sound is part of it. But I think the single biggest reason is that it’s full-duplex. You talk when you think it’s appropriate, and you can listen to whomever you want. It doesn’t mean everyone should talk at once, but it does allow interruptions, debates between a small group off to one side, and freeform dialogue.
If full-duplex multi-person conversation was fatiguing, people would not go to parties.
Now, imagine that someone puts up soundproof glass walls. You can still see everyone, but the only way to talk is by walkie-talkie. This is the experience of a conference bridge with high-definition video! You can see everyone clearly, but talking feels unnatural and uncomfortable because it’s one-at-a-time. It would be fatiguing.
Monaural conference bridges may as well be walkie-talkies. Sure, electrically they can mix multiple voice streams. But if you can’t understand it, it’s useless!
Prior to the voice beta, this was the Second Life experience. People had a rich visual environment, avatars that expressed who they are and how they feel at the moment. And half-duplex voice.
In a certain sense, we’ve just added air. People can still use walkie-talkies if they wish, but now they can talk naturally as well. Friday, I will post about my experience in a how-to class that was like a cross between Norm Abrams (of This Old House / New Yankee Workshop) and Wolfgang Puck.