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.