voice chat in SL / by Chel Wolverton

Soon, voice chat will be available to users on the main grid. This has been heralded as a wonderful change to the Second Life experience and indeed even said to be making history. I know you've probably read blog posts and speculation about how this is going to affect the users in Second Life. I'm going give you one more.

Several times over the last couple of months I've been invited into Skype chats. My initial reaction to joining a group chat with Daphne, Tamara, BucketJen, and Crap was "I'm going to suck at this so bad they'll never want to talk to me again". It's not about my voice, what? I'm going worry about a sweet honey-dripping Southern accent coming across the line? Um, no.

(Though I'm not that thrilled with Chel Pixie sounding that way...hmmm...another point there to explore.)

No, this cuts into communication in SL and the cut could run pretty deep. Making a choice to voice chat or text chat will cut some people that you're communicating out of the loop when they make a decision which to use. Let's face it, no one is going through the trouble of typing what they are speaking.

Another thing working against voice is that it does not take into consideration those who wouldn't be able to hear the voice chat. I'm sure there are several people in SL who are deaf and hard of hearing. Voice chat at events won't help them feel comfortable because they'll be left in the text only conversation.

What is the solution to this? How do we make up for the inevitable disconnect that some will feel? Make events non-voice? Specify which they'll be....? I'm curious to find out the damage that it'll do to communications and how people who choose (or can't) make out in text chat while voice in going on around them. Some are going to feel left out and discouraged.

On the plus side, conveying emotions and thoughts are so much easier being spoken and there is no worry about the context because your voice can be heard. I learned from Howard Rheingold's Brainstorms community, as a host and a member, that it is very important in text based communication to be specific about what it is that you need to say and how you convey it. That burden will be eased by voice.

Looks for now, like LL has decided to make us wait a little longer to find out what the consequences will be.