Voice Integration in Second Life.

Listen to the podcast here. Alternatively listen to the under 2.5 minutes version here.
Second life is virtual world software where individuals can create characters called avatars. The avatars can participate in modes of economic development, live music; create independent films and a variety of other fantastic features. The newest feature in Second Life is going to be speech recognition that will allow users to communicate by voice only instead of the traditional chat via typing. This new feature is another example of how Second life keeps a leading edge over its competitors and continues to be a leader amongst virtual software producers.

Second life is such a leader in the virtual world that Harvard Law School and Harvard Extension School have created a joint venture virtual reality learning experience using Second Life. Second Life has also allowed those who could not do otherwise things that were too costly or bound by society to allow them to be truly free. Some call Second Life liberation from the norm. The best example, an avatar named Wilde Cunningham who is actually a group of people acting as one. “Wilde is not the avatar of one, but nine people, all suffering from cerebral palsy and communicating/interacting with Second Life through the assistance of a “mascot” — a person who interprets what they say, types it for them into the Second Life chat box, and builds whatever the people behind Wilde dream up.”

It is the absolute buzz around this product which makes it difficult to see the discrimination and lack of choice brought forth by Second Life with the new voice integration. The new voice integration does not allow the avatar the choice to turn off the voice option and rely on simple text.

This buzz does not allow linden labs to stop and think what about the people who came to second life to experience another world. Second Life is another world where text was the preferred form of communication, and not voice. What about the people who are shy, or cannot talk, who have throat cancer and cannot speak. These people flocked to second life and supported it from day one. These are the people who are being ignored and their choice to experience life in another way is just be taken from them.

Could you imagine a class at Harvard taught in Second Life with people who cannot be quiet or have music playing in the background, like most do, when in a virtual world. What happens when you cannot turn the voice off?

So I ask you to give users the choice to simply turn on, or turn off the voice feature and not force them to do your bidding.

1 Comment

  1. rebeccanesson

    November 16, 2006 @ 10:05 am

    1

    Very nice work William. Your podcast lets people who have not taken the time to consider the drawbacks of adding voice take a step back and do this without making them feel like they are being talked down to or that they “should have known”. You make a clear case for why it is important for avatars to be able to type instead of using voice. I am not sure that you are correct on the facts about Linden Labs making SL a voice-only environment. I haven’t seen anything to indicate that and it seems like such an obviously bad decision that it is hard for me to believe that is what they are doing. But if that were the case, I think you have given good reasons to be opposed to it.

    You could do more in terms of empathizing with those who would like to add voice to Second Life. There are lots of advantages to adding voice and also lots of people who are equally deserving as those who can’t use voice who happen to be unable to use typing. And Linden Labs, I assume, thinks that they can get many more people into SL if they integrate voice.

    I also think there are more arguments for keeping the chat environment. It is not just people who have physical disabilities that prevent expressing themselves vocally who have an interest in maintaining chat. There are also those who use SL in a library where they can’t talk, or perhaps at work, or even at home but who want to keep what they are saying private from the others in the room with them. There are advantages to the chat medium in terms of letting lots of people talk at once without disrupting audio that everyone is listening to, such as a lecture or music.

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