Linden Lab is working on upgrades for voice communications in Second Life, including the ability for avatars in-world to receive phone calls from people in the real world, as well as Linux support and moderator controls. Linden Lab is also working on a standalone desktop client for chat. In the first quarter of 2008, users in Second Life will be able to get real-world phone numbers assigned to their avatars, and receive calls from real-world phones, said Joe Miller, vice president, platform & technology development for Linden Lab. Users will be able to get voicemail, which can be e-mailed to the user or listened to when in-world.



Miller, in the form of his avatar, “Joe Linden,” spoke Tuesday at GridTalk, a public Q&A on technology issues hosted by InformationWeek and Dr. Dobb’s Journal.



New voice controls and support for voice on Linux will be available in Version 1.19 of the Second Life client, due this month.



New controls for group chat will let the moderator for a group decide whether a group chat should be open mike, or whether users’ microphones should be selectively muted. “Or they can pass the mike around as a moderator in a classic Q&A,” Miller said.



In mid-year, Linden Lab plans to release “voice fonts,” which will enable users to transform the sounds of their voices in-world — not just muddying their voices or making them sound orc-like, but rather creating voices that sound realistic and intelligible, Miller said. (Men in Second Life who are presenting as women, and vice-versa, will appreciate that feature.)



Property owners in Second Life will be able to change the way sound carries on their land. Right now, by default, sound grows fainter as your avatar moves away from another avatar who is speaking, as if you were actually moving away from a speaker in physical space. Property owners will have the option of changing that setting so that the sound is flat — audible at the same volume everywhere, until the sound abruptly cuts off when the listener is out of earshot (which, in Second Life, is designated as a distance of 60 meters.)



“You’ll be able to have a flat, non-attenuated text stream so that someone at one end of the estate can hear someone whispering at the other end of the estate,” Miller said.



The new client will also address complaints about the Communicate box in the Second Life client using up too much screen real estate. The communicate box contains chat and IM windows. It’ll be smaller and more manageable in the new client, Miller said.



Linden Lab introduced voice to Second Life in August,, after several months of testing. The technology is provided by Vivox. Miller said about third of the users logged into Second Life at any given time are using voice.



Also in Second Life: Linden Lab introduced release candidate software for the Second Life viewer to allow residents to participate in an age verification program. Residents will be required to prove their age using government-issued documents, which will vary from nation to nation but will include passport, driver’s license number, national ID number, or Social Security number. Landowners with adult content on their land will be required to ban residents who’ve not used age verification to prove they are adults.



The age verification scheme has proven controversial in the Second Life community, with critics saying the definition of adult content is unclear, and that the scheme proposed by Linden Lab won’t work, since it can be gotten around by an account owner simply using someone else’s proof-of-age documents.



Much of the content in Second Life is sexual in nature.. In the spring, German authorities launched an investigation into simulated child molestation and real-world child pornography in Second Life.