Basic information: https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2009/05/20/over-15-billion-voice-minutes-served and http://lindenlab.com/pressroom/releases/19_05_09
I sat in on a conference in-world today with Joel Savard (Metanomics) and about 20 SL users (several pretty expert). The topic was the new voice services that Linden Labs announced Tuesday.
These services are still in beta, estimated release is Q3. Some will be of no interest for business or for e-Learning, some have potential, some seem to be just the beginning of probable future developments. All are currently free, this will probably change. Definitely worth keeping an eye on. Of the ones in the press release, we really talked mostly about four:
Voice fonts, aka voice morphing: This is not new technology (screaming bee is an app that has been out for a while). It enables the user to change his/her voice — trans-gender, foreign accents, “AM Radio”, elf, etc. Probably mostly for use in role play environment and machinama. It may be the first step to building voice plug-ins (voice fonts), possibly may lead to text2voice/voice2text apps (interesting for vision-impaired and hearing-impaired). Potential for criminal misuse. Of course, as it is now, when the other person is typing, you don’t know whether their gender in RL matches their avatar’s gender (and with Furries, who the hell knows?), so normal cautious behavior with people you don’t know is still called for.
Avaline: Most of the discussion was about this. Avaline is basically a phone number and voicemail for your avatar. The system gives you an avaline token, which provides a phone number that is good for a specified period of time — hour, day, week. The phone number is good for inbound (to SL) calls only. Calls go to you in-world, and may be made from any phone (landline or mobile), and (I’m not clear on this) from Skype. An IM window will pop up where you are, looks much like text chat (or voice chat request) box now, with a button to hit to accept the call. From that point, it works just like voice chat does now. You can record the call. If you are not in-world when the call comes in, it will go to a voice mailbox in-world, and you also have the option of having the voicemail sent as an MP3 to your email. (Joel has experimented with this — he says the MP3 feature is pretty sucky at this point — the MP3s seem to play back at higher speed than normal.) Apparently the calls into SL can be heard by others in the area (this is just like voice chat — not private), and the tricky thing is that if 10 people are listening to the call, the minutes used (remember that the token is only valid for a limited time) count individually. In other words, 10 listeners for 1 minute = 10 minutes deducted from the value of the token. Not so bad while this service is free, but when you’re paying for the minutes ... Some concerns expressed about the legal implications and possible abuses of the ability to record conversations — will it be obvious that the call is being recorded, does the law require you to notify the other person, etc. Considering this will go on across jurisdictional boundaries, everyone agreed that caution will be required. And maybe an attorney on retainer. This one is available to Linden’s beta testers, including some who were in the meeting who said it does work well.
SLim: One-to-one text and voice app that enables Residents to interact with other Second Life users without needing to have the viewer open. Essentially, this sits on your desktop like any other IM client. Several people in the meeting had tried this out in beta, and they all agreed that it doesn’t work very well yet. Still, something to keep an eye on for folks who live as much in-world as in RL.
Client-side Recording: This is, at the same time, the most potentially useful and the most potentially scary one. It enables Residents to record voice conversations for playback later. It is all client-side. Which means if you are having a voice chat with someone, ANYONE in hearing range can record your conversation — for their own (not necessarily ethical) purposes. YOU WILL NOT KNOW THE CONVERSATION IS BEING RECORDED UNLESS THE PERSON RECORDING IT TELLS YOU. There would be plenty of uses for this in e-Learning and business. Same legal questions, but since the recording is client-side, jurisdiction is potentially a minefield. The app has not been made available to beta testers, so nobody really knows how well it works.
SMS Out: This was in the press release, but nobody has used it and there aren’t many details. It will allow Residents to send SMS messages from SLim to any phone in RL.
The press release notes that in 2010 Linden plans to add conference calls, group chats, and browser-based voice applets on the SL Web site. Will have to wait and see.
ADDED 5/22/09: Dusan Writer has additional details: http://dusanwriter.com/index.php/2009/05/20/second-life-to-add-voice-morphing-controls-voice-mail-and-avatar-phone-numbers/