'Second Life' to strengthen its voice

Linden Lab chief plans to take voice beyond beta, with a full launch in the virtual world in the next several months. Photos: Second Life looks ahead

SAN FRANCISCO--In the next several months, Second Life avatars may find their long-awaited voice, said Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab, publisher of the virtual world.

Many Second Life members have long desired to bring voice to their text-based avatars. And last month, Second Lifelaunched a small beta trial with integrated voice.

Rosedale said during a keynote speech at Gartner Symposium ITxpo here that he hopes to see voice officially launched in Second Life within the next several months.

"There are a lot of problems with telephony when doing conference calls. You can't tell who's talking if there's more than one person. But in the virtual world, voice solves it," said Rosedale, noting that avatars with three-dimensional voice integration will likely accelerate using Second Life for holding virtual conference meetings.

Other plans in the works for Second Life include adding the ability to scan users' photos onto their avatars and bringing more realism into the virtual world through detail-oriented design, such as the way a butterfly flitters across a computer screen, Rosedale said.

"The graphics in Second Life are good, but not perfect," he said. He estimated that in five years the interface will reflect a greater degree of realism. "When you look through a computer screen, everything will look real, like you're looking through window glass."

In another move to mimic real life, Second Life is gearing up to keep its grid constantly operating, Rosedale said. The goal is to prevent downtime in the virtual world. Time, after all, is money--even in a virtual world.

The site currently comes down every two weeks for approximately five to six hours, allowing Linden Lab to make updates to simulators, as well as additions and improvements to its network. Over the next several months, a new "simulator" code will be rolled out to the grid without requiring extended downtime. Second Life residents will be offered the choice to bypass certain updates of the viewer software, whereas they currently are required to download the software before logging on to the grid.

Despite some recent speculation on the matter, Rosedale said he's not worried about taxation entering Second Life. He compared Second Life to other developments on the Internet, such as online auctions. Tax authorities, for example, have left eBay transactions alone, he noted.

The aim is for Second Life to have minimal interference from outside authorities, including Linden Lab, Rosedale said. But that has been more challenging to maintain in recent quarters as the size of the virtual world has grown, he added.

"We have been tested in our ability to not govern," Rosedale said. "We like to step in if needed, then take our hands off the wheel and let the community self-govern."

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