What Is Virtual Communication Technology?

By Cheryl A. Frost

Virtual communication technology refers to any technology people use to communicate with each other when they can’t be face to face. It favors the ability to see and hear one another in real time, simulating the experience of a physical visit. Such technology has been around for quite a few years, with the introduction of webcams in the 1990s. But what was once a poor-quality, non-secure, burdensome social experiment has developed into a productive technology that benefits families, friends and businesses alike.

Virtual Worlds and Gaming

Between the advent of text chats and the perfection of video messaging, massively multiplayer online RPG platforms like World of Warcraft, EverQuest and Gaia Online developed a fun method of in-game virtual communication between friends. In between dungeons, players could hang out in a common area and chat. Instead of a boring text chat, players engaged in conversations using animated avatars. The technology was further developed so the avatars could produce speech bubble text, or the players could use headsets for real-time audio.

Video Chats and Conferencing

While avatars and headsets are useful for casual conversation, they don’t very well satisfy the desire to communicate more intimately. If you want to visit with your favorite aunt who lives in another country, for example, typing out text through a two-dimensional spike-haired cartoon character is not nearly as nice as seeing her warm smile. Instant messaging providers like Yahoo, MSN and Skype have worked for years to perfect communication technology that integrates video and audio using PC webcams and microphones. Users soon realized that voice-over-IP technology allowed them to make inexpensive long-distance calls with just an Internet connection. This meant that people could communicate more readily from across the globe.Meanwhile, the same technology was developed for business use. Video conferencing uses a similar VoIP protocol with audio and video applications to allow companies to conduct virtual meetings. With video conferencing, employees from anywhere in the world can sit in on a single meeting and interact visually and verbally with their coworkers. This technology can save companies millions of dollars in travel and productivity costs.

Virtual Classrooms

Virtual classrooms are now popping up all over the place. Students who could not attend a physical classroom were once forced to hire tutors or submit their lessons by mail. Using the same VoIP, video and audio technology, students can now participate in live classroom environments, interacting with teachers and classmates, without ever leaving their homes. Students can virtually display classwork using a webcam or scanner, and teachers can use screen-sharing features to individually help remote students.

Portability

Virtual communication would not be very life-like if you were anchored to your computer all the time. Software developers and mobile device providers figured this out very quickly and started working together to make virtual communication portable. Cell phones, of course, made mobile verbal communication mainstream. But with the rapid development of video conferencing and instant communication, the option for “face talk” on mobile devices has introduced a truly realistic communication experience.