Sunday, February 28, 2010

Video bubbles in Second Life 2.0

After the launch of the Second Life 2.0 viewer, many users have immediately realized that it is now possible to paste a realtime webcam video texture on the head of an avatar. In Second Life 2.0 Awesomeness: Stream Live Webcam Video of Your Real Head on Your Second Life Avatar! New World Notes says: "Put your live webcam stream on a prim, and put that prim on your avatar's head. Now you have live video of your facial reactions as you interact in Second Life, broadcast into Second Life where your virtual head should be. Can you think of an even more ninja application of the shared media function than that?".

I have refined my first demo and made the video bubble avatar described a few months ago by Deep Semaphore in Some thoughts about identities, avatars, surrogates and video conferencing leading to video bubbles. I have undressed my avatar, erased him with a transparent alpha texture, and attached a video bubble with a ustream video stream to the now invisible avatar's head. The result is in the picture above. It is very comfortable avatar with underlying standard animations for walking, sitting etc.

From the original post on video bubbles: "One seemingly natural integration with video conferencing that comes to mind is to have chat bubbles replaced by a video stream about the user, a video bubble. The user can choose to point his/her camera to whatever he or she wants. In a show and tell session, the user may choose to point his camera to what s/he is doing. At other times, he may point the camera to his or her face.".

I agree. Also, my experience trying to sell SL projects to corporate and educational clients tells me that an alternative form of user representation, a bubble with a live webcam video feed, would be a useful option. What many users really want is a collaboration space where one can see others and co-work on documents.

Video bubbles permit retaining all the advantages of a shared 3D environment while offering a representation that would be perceived as more “serious” or “businesslike” (you know what I mean) by many. Also, at this moment we cannot precisely control avatars but we can and do control our faces and hands.

Note: I am not proposing, by any means, abandoning avatars for video bubbles. I am proposing introducing video bubbles as an alternative option. Geometrically simple avatars would also reduce lag, which is one of the most important technical issues in SL. Reduced lag would improve the user experience a lot. I really wish to wear an avatar without gender or age related cues. These are important for some users, but irrelevant and distracting for others.


  1. Haha I find this idea hilarious :) But then again, that's the ultimate self-expression as an avatar: getting rid of the avatar itself, replacing it by one's self. Very post-modernist :)

  2. I was thinking about freedom in SL. The current developments have unleashed a mega dose of freedom, so much freedom that a lot of traditional centric peers are feeling that their 'freedom' is being constrained and hence their annoyance at this wider range of choices. Which brings me to my private and now public thoughts about freedom: "we actually hate freedom. We love constraints and mental cages especially if we build them. We love our conditionings... they provide our comfort zone in which we can sleep peacefully." Almost every freedom expanding feature in SL was met with vociferous opposition 1. Voice, and I see a lot of criticisms against SL viewer 2.0 following the same trend. Am thinking the next evolution for SL is 3D cam tracking and realtime morphing of mesh to represent realistic faces and all micro facial gestures and all... and lo behold...a lot of folks would hate to see that OPTION to happen.

  3. @Gwyn: this (getting rid of the avatar itself, replacing it by one's self) is one option, appropriate to my own current usage patterns in Second Life.

    I look forward to having also another option (post-post-modernist?): getting rid of my physical self, and replacing it by a young, handsome and sentient Second Life avatar with my own memories and thoughts. This will require some better technology, but I think we will achieve it someday.

    @deepsemaphore. Yes, I also see a lot of criticisms against SL viewer 2.0, similar to the criticism after the introduction of voice in 2007. You must be right, some people just don't like others' freedom beyond their own comfort zone. Today I have been reading again the comments to my 2007 article Life 2.0: Augmentationists in Second Life and beyond

    The ability to choose among a very wide range of options, as wide as possible, is always good. Then it is up to each of us to choose, and individual choices must be respected as long as they don't concretely damage others.
    I will choose to wear my webcam video stream when appropriate. Of course I will never criticize or discriminate against those who don't do the same, provided they don't complain against those who do.

  4. So I've used ustream to put a video webstream PAGE onto a prim, but I don't know how to just make the prim only show the video stream, rather than the whole ustream page that contains the video.

  5. Hi Topeka. Use the url for the ustream popup page, and adjust the texture size to something less than 1 (0.9, 0.8...) to remove the ad.