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Well, I was just reading a blog where a Resi was predicting, with a great sense of certainty, that not only was text chat going to shrivel up and die on Second Life, but that avi anonymity would be shriveling up and dying with it. I won’t go into more details about her predictions or even link to her blog, because as far as I could tell she wasn’t going on anything but her own sense of the possible. What I realized, though, is that I need to make my own predictions now. Then in six months, when we’ve seen how things will be with integrated voice in Second Life, you all will understand that I am gifted with the Sight and will heed all of my stock tips. (Cue evil laugh.)

Here’s my prediction in a nutshell: voice will be important. Lots of people will use it. But there will continue to be large numbers of people who don’t use it and large numbers of things you can’t do unless you use text chat. Why? This is why. And as if those weren’t enough reasons, read Caliburn Susanto’s vivid account of actually using voice on the beta grid and it being horrible. (Great post, Caliburn! And not just because some of it illustrates my points!)

Voice means loss of anonymity, not just for avibenders, but for anyone who doesn’t want to mix their Second Life with their first life. It also means sound pollution and lack of Second Life privacy at home and all kinds of other things. Will some people still use it? Sure, lots! Is it neat? Yes! Will it replace text chat as the only major form of communication in Second Life? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

No.

Changes in Second Life are driven ultimately by three things. The first one is, of course, the Lindens: they come up with ideas, they do their best to add cool new things, they try to grow the company. The second one is First Life: danger of lawsuits over kiddie porn, economic pressures, media coverage, and so on.

The third one is us, the Resis, along with all the future Resis. What is it we want? What will we actually use? We’re not a particularly powerful force for resisting change, but we are a pretty powerful force for the change making any difference or not. If a lot of Resis don’t use voice because the noise pollution is annoying or because they’re avibending or because they don’t want to wake up the kids, that means that whole population of Resis will continue to contribute to a virtual world based on text chat.

Will a frumious gestalt appear and gobble us up? I think not. Will Second Life split into voice areas and text areas? Yes, some of Second Life probably will. But lots of places will allow people to mix voice and text easily, and it won’t matter which you use. If you go to a club to dance with friends or go shopping, who cares if half the people in the room are using voice and half are using chat? Nobody, that’s who.

As for anonymity disappearing, you can have my anonymity when you pry it from my cold, dead inventory. Talking about virtual sex all the time in public is fun and interesting. Talking about virtual sex all the time in public with your First Life identity linked to that talk makes for trouble with your clients and family members and exes. I’m not interested in going that route. A lot of other people aren’t either. And you can’t drag us there kicking and screaming, because we don’t have kick animations and we can’t scream if we’re not using voice. 😉

There’s a caveat, though. Sooner or later, voice morphing technology will get good. Since my last post on voice I’ve had a chance to try some of the voice changing software out there now, and it’s not pretty. The results don’t sound like a real person; they sound more like cartoons–and there’s not much there to change your voice without sounding like a man or a robot or something. But if voice morphing technology gets much better and reliable and widely available and it sounds nice and I can just pick it up and have it disguise my voice to the point where voice printing will be useless, I’ll probably give it a try, and even use voice in Second Life every once in a while. Will it completely wipe out text then? Nope. All the other problems with voice still remain. But it will swing the pendulum further in that direction.

And years in the future, who knows? Maybe the Lindens will come up with such startlingly useful ways to deal with noise pollution and sound leaking into First Life and all the problems will disappear. I’ll be sure to post again if that ever happens. In the mean time, don’t throw away your keyboard: you’ll need it.

^^^\ Kate /^^^

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