Vivox, Bringing Integrated Voice to Virtual Worlds
SecondLife has never been good at making its own innovations, usually content to buy up and integrate the work of other companies. Voice access whilst a mixed blessing at best, was something they never considered. Not everyone can use voice, not everyone wants to use voice, but for those who can and do, it adds a whole new level to the experience.
What is best is of course a voice module that can take a virtual voice as input just as well as a microphone - giving those without voices the same level of interaction as those with.
Two years ago, Vivox, a voice specialist firm was hired by Linden Lab, the company behind SecondLife, to look into a voice processing module that could be attached to the VR environment as part of the core unit. It has taken two years for the result to be available, but available it is. Throughout 2009, voice communication has continually increased, to the point where 80% of SL users utilise it. 20% don't, but that is understandable, as this fifth of the population correlates with those who require virtual voice technologies. Still, the capability to integrate those technologies is in place, just currently unused.
The 80% that do, have been steadily increasing in usage. Because the voice system is integrated, Linden Lab have been able to track usage, and it is in excess of a billion minutes a month across the system. Based on that success, and with the skills gained from totally integrating their product into one virtual environment, Vivox now have two more VRs and a games company in their sights.
They are working with Electronic Arts to add its voice services to several online EA games. With regards to VRs, the first two Vivox Labs experiments are aimed at big targets: Facebook, where the lab's "Vivox Web Voice for Facebook" application will allow members to invite their friends to instant Web voice conferences; and World of Warcraft subscribers, who will be able to use a new Vivox-powered website called Puggable to assemble teams of players for in-world campaigns. Both the Facebook and Puggable applications are in private beta testing and are expected to go public by January 2010.
"We started the company about four years ago with the goal of making voice a seamless, natural part of every online experience," Vivox co-founder and CEO Rob Seaver stated. "Our view at the time was that more and more human interaction would take place online, and the richest form of communication we have is talking to each other. So we thought there would be an opportunity to turn the Web from this silent, barren place into one filled with the warm sounds of human voices."
Not bad for a company that started out as a wacky idea from Jeff Pulver, the founder of the company that became Internet phone service provider Vonage. Pulver's idea was to build an Internet voice service that would interface with existing software environments and online communities.
All that remains is to see if they continue to uphold the commitment to virtual voice technologies as well.