Voice over *Anything*

by Imran Ali

A couple days ago, Steve Ballmer announced that Microsoft would stripe voice capability across its operating systems, desktop applications, servers and services such as Windows Live (news here and here). Also, yesterday, Niklas Zennström spoke of the imminent release of 'Skypecasts for blogs'.

Both of these developments underline the future of 'voice as a feature'; standalone voice services being displaced and commoditised by wider applications that embed voice capabilities.

Microsoft is in an interesting position here - with Live Messenger enabled phones, Xbox Live Vision and Xbox Live Messaging, the company can already project its voice capabilities across numerous platforms and devices.

Where Skype currently dominates with sheer numbers and an emerging handset ecosphere, Microsoft is in a position to embed voice across the full spectrum of computing experiences - scared yet?

There are counterposing forces of course, as a paper from researchers at the University of Melbourne illustrates, embedding voice everywhere doesn't always make for great user experiences. Social Translucence of the Xbox Live Voice Channel studies user's reaction to and use of voice in the Xbox Live service and concludes that there's a dissonance between perception and practice as user's are often disspointed with poor usability and sociability.

Voice outside the telephone is relatively new and demands a new set of conventions for best practice - can the ETel community help shape this future?