When we first formed Flying Island we would hold regular skype conference calls.  It was useful (and free) but frustratingly clunky to use.  If one party dropped out, as they regularly did, more often than not we'd have to restart the entire call.  Sometimes I'd try to reconnect, only to end up in a one to one conversation.  If some colleagues were already in a group call, I couldn't just join in. If we'd been in the same physical space it would have been so much simpler - just walk up to the group of people you need to talk with, and start talking... shouldn't a conference call be as easy?

The voice chat integration in SL gets slated but my experience has been overwhelmingy positive. The niggles that are there should hopefully be removed with the auto-level adjustment and echo cancellation that are due to be part of the Viewer 2.0 release in March.  The huge 'aha' moment for me happened after a Show and Tell gathering at the Beta Business Park in SL - around 10 of us had been voice chatting, swapping our best discoveries of the previous week.  When the meeting broke up, I noticed that some of the Flying Island founders were online in the office on the park.  I walked my AV across the park and into the office, as I entered I could hear them talking, and I simply sat down and joined the meeting. Effectively I'd gone from one 'conference chat' with 10 people to another with 3 other people in exactly the same way I would have done in a physical space - by walking from one group to the other. No menus, commands, connections to negotiate, it just worked.  The voice integration has other nice features too. Working out who is talking is quite natural, helped by many mechanisms built into the environment - spatial cues with the sound appearing to come from the correct place relative to your field of view, glowing 'vu-meter' above the speaking avatar and various animations during speech.  Also, if you need privacy then lock the parcel of land you are on to prevent unauthorised access, and restrict voice to the parcel.  

I should say that the VoIP in SL is provided by Vivox and it will be interesting to see what innovations the recent announcement of another $6.8m of funding for Vivox might bring. The transparent metaphor of forming chat groups by proximity of avatars within the virtual environment isn't confined to SL, it is true of many platforms and games based on Vivox or similar spatial voice servers. But it is a perfect reminder of how the use of 3D immersive spaces populated by avatars can make collaboration much more natural.