See Copyright and Usage Notice

NOTE: this chapter was written in 1997 and some items may be out of date (technical and user interface descriptions). We encourage you to visit the Digital Space Traveler Home Page at the following address to get the latest version of Traveler and the latest documentation on how to use Traveler:

Let's Talk!

Figure 9.10: on5.gif
Jammin' with the fox and friends

As you can see, the other members look pretty strange (don't forget that you probably look just as strange to them!). "Hey fish! What is going on here?" you might want to say, and guess what, you can say it. Just bend over to your microphone (make sure it is on), press the space bar on your keyboard, and speak!

How it works

The story of how Traveler works is fascinating. When you lean over, press the space bar, and begin to speak into your microphone, the following complex set of steps happens:

And all this is done so that you can jabber away with strangers!

Why some voices sound better than others

Any message traveling through the Internet between two Traveler users passes along a daisy chain of lines, which go from one server to the next. The more steps, the more the chance that pieces of voice will be delayed, come in out of order, or even be lost. Talking with people who are many steps away or in an area serviced by slow Internet connections can be difficult. I have found that talking with people in Europe from here in California can be difficult at times. In addition, during working hours or early evening in time zones where Internet use is heaviest (United States time zones), congested packet traffic on the Internet can interfere with clear, consistent Traveler voice delivery.

Improving your reception and voice quality with better microphones or a headset

Selecting a reasonably good microphone will affect how others hear you. I use the microphone that came with my SoundBlaster 16 card and it is just fine. Other avid Traveler users have purchased headset microphones, known as boom mikes. These are telephone headsets with a mike that swings out in front of your mouth. Note that some headsets only have one ear piece. As Traveler delivers stereo sound (different sound to your right or left speakers) it is important that if you want to use a headset instead of speakers that you get one with two ear pieces. The main advantage of a boom mike and headset is that the mike will be very directional, that is, only pick up your voice instead of sound in the room.

You can improve how you are heard in Traveler by keeping your room noise or ambient sound down. You may not want to listen to the stereo while using Traveler as this will be piped directly to the other members. Another tip is to turn down your ambient background sound in Traveler itself (see ìPump up the volumeî below) to keep the room noise and voice echo to a minimum.

Pump up the volume (or turn it down a little)!

Figure 9:11: on27.gif
Use the Options dialogue to set Traveler volume.

The preceding figure shows the options for setting Traveler's volume controls. These are important settings to know, so I'll give you a bit more information about them:

Back to the Party!

Hopefully Mr. Fish will be considerate enough to answer you (if he got your drift). It is best to be quite close to another Traveler member and to be facing them before you talk. You should take a moment to determine if that avatar is in conversation with someone else. Butting into these conversations would be considered no less rude than doing it in a face-to-face situation.

Figure 9.12: on13.gif
Sunset Dawn, Traveler Host talking with a new guest.

In the figure above we can see two members talking intensely. The printed page does not convey how exciting this looks and sounds on the screen. The mouths and facial expressions of both avatars actually move in tune to their voices. This is accomplished by a small miracle of sound processing inside the Traveler software. Note that another miracle provides you with three-dimensional sound which means that the volume level changes depending on your distance from talking members. In addition, the stereo effects provide different sound out of your left and right PC speakers. This helps you figure out the direction from which someone is addressing you and to even tell when someone is talking from behind you!

Help, I need a host!

The members talking in the preceding figure are actually formal hosts in Traveler worlds. Hosts are often dedicated users who just spend a lot of time in Traveler worlds helping people. Hosts may not be working directly with Digital Space, the company that supplies Traveler, but they are often encouraged and supported by Digital Space. Hosts are often your best source of help and tips on Traveler etiquette. Often Digital Space engineers will show up inside a world to give direct technical support. This is quite an improvement over going to the old dusty manual or struggling with the help system; your tech support lives inside your software!

Digital Space says technical support engineers are available Monday through Friday from 12 noon to 9:00 p.m. and on weekends from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Hours are subject to change and are given in Pacific Standard Time.

Just who am I talking to?

Traveler seems to suit a particularly American skill or sensibility of just being able to walk up to a stranger and start talking. In nearly every other culture, people want more of an introduction. Unless you are meeting someone you know in a Traveler world, and that person can introduce you, this is not an option. That is why the designers of Traveler built in a Visit card feature (as it is known in Europe). This is like a personal business card. Before you even approach another avatar, you can read their visit card, called a profile. As shown in the following figure, to read someone's profile, just right-click with the mouse on top of their avatar and select Show Profile.

Figure 9.13: on34.gif
Who ARE you? Right-click on a member to find out.

The profile you see might look like the one that follows.

Figure 9.14: on45.gif
A typical member profile… this person is Japanese! This might be an interesting cross-cultural conversation.

When you think about it, this is pretty exciting stuff! You can talk with people of so many different cultures, and it is all on a level playing field. Race, handicaps, and physical appearance do not enter into the picture. Gender can, however, unless you choose voice disguising (see the section on ìFine Tuning Your Worldî later in the chapter). Try to be conscious that the person with whom you are speaking may not understand your culture and may have a very different world view than you. The Japanese person above probably has plenty of the politeness his (or her) culture teaches. If you are a gregarious Tennesseean, you might want to hold back on the Southern hospitality in the beginning (on the other hand, the Japanese love Tennessee, and build plenty of automobile factories there, so maybe Southern hospitality is not such a bad thing).

The pop-up menu you get by right-clicking on another avatar also allows you to:

Postcards from the cyberedge

Perhaps an environment like Traveler is not that far from enabling real business meetings. For example, by dragging and dropping a shortcut from your desktop (a bookmark for a Web site, a document, etc.) onto someone's avatar, you can e-mail that shortcut reference or even the document to that person. This will require setting up your default mail client (Eudora or Netscape, for example) for Digital Space. To do this, please see Appendix E: Digital Space Traveler FAQ.

This kind of passing of practical information could mark the beginning of serious collaborative uses of virtual worlds in business and education. Why take that red-eye flight to Milwaukee when you could carry out your project review in a digital work space? (Stand by, folks!)