Wednesday, August 30, 2006




UPDATE, 8/31, 3:07PM:  The transcript is now available here.

UPDATE, 9/4: Post-Event wrap-up with media links here.

The first I learned anything about Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia, it was in “The Fallback”, Matt Bai’s much-discussed New York Times Magazine cover story published earlier this year. By “fallback”, Bai meant the national figure that Democratic insiders seemed to be considering, should Senator Hillary Clinton’s presumptive ascension as the party’s choice for President in 2008 ever fall through. And though he hasn’t declared his entrance in that race, I’ve often heard about Governor Warner’s exploratory political action committee, Forward Together, since it's been reaching out to members of the high-tech industry and the political blogosphere at large.

So it wasn’t totally shocking when a few weeks ago, out of the electric blue, members of Forward Together’s staff e-mailed me, asking me if I’d be interested in interviewing Governor Warner in Second Life. But it’s still a bit vertiginous to be in-world standing there in front of the avatar of a man that leading Democratic Party financier Chris Korge (speaking to Bai) pronounced as, “[T]he one to watch as an outsider in this race. He seems presidential.”


Mark Warner’s avatar seems presidential, too—tall, stern, and statesman-like. And tomorrow at 12:30pm Second Life Time (i.e., PDT), in a public event sponsored by Forward Together and produced by Millions of Us, I’ll be interviewing him, in a brief conversation that’ll touch on national security, foreign policy, the Democratic Party-- and, of course, future plans for the Governor and his team in Second Life.

Forward Together’s official announcement of the event here.  Details on attending and a brief interview with Forward Together staffer Nancy Mandelbrot after the break.

UPDATE, 8/31, 1:34PM:  The transcript of the event will be posted on New World Notes very shortly.


“Well,” Nancy Mandelbrot (RL info here) explains, “we were sitting in our offices one day and kind of goofing around, just geeking out about social technologies, gaming, that sort of thing, as we're wont to do. Someone made a joke about how great it would be if we brought an avatar of Governor Warner into Second Life.

“When we all quit laughing, we kind of looked around and said, ‘Hey, that's not a bad idea.’

“One of Governor Warner's operating principles is to go where the voters are,” she continues, “not make them come to you. We saw how rich an environment [SL] was. I mean, you can sit next to someone's avatar, strike up a conversation, and forget that you're not in the same room. We started to see that in Second Life, people can get together and talk politics with other folks without the obstacles of real life.”

I ask her if she’s concerned about skeptics who may wonder why Governor Warner would spend his time in something that seems like an online game.

Ms. Mandelbrot is undeterred. “The Governor likes to tell how when he decided to get into the cell phone business-- he co-founded the company that became Nextel-- his friends said he was crazy. ‘No one’s going to want a phone in their car!’ So he doesn't have a lot of time for people who will write off new technology without trying it. There's nothing trivial about social technologies. They connect people together, we need more of that. Why waste time trying to second guess innovation? Let's try it out, see if it works… He's used to giving speeches, answering questions, in the physical space. This will be a new experience for him.”

“I know he's planning to make some important foreign policy speeches soon," I ask. "Will he have time to offer some hints on those on Thursday?"

“Yeah, absolutely. And he has a big national security speech coming up on September 5.”

While this Thursday's event will be brief, Mandelbrot and her team have created a Second Life group affiliated with the political action committee, open to all SL residents, a group also called Forward Together.

“[W]e're encouraging folks to join up with that,” she says. “We're working on figuring out ways to engage our Second Life group in what Forward Together and Governor Warner are doing ‘out of world.’ Get in touch with the group's officers and tell us what we should be doing in Second Life. How do we connect with folks? What should we avoid doing in SL?  And, of course, they can engage with the PAC and Gov. Warner at”

In effect, then, SL’s Forward Together group may become a virtual world version of the Meet Up, the Web-driven operation that was so instrumental in driving Howard Dean’s 2004 campaign in a short time from obscurity to the very front of the Democratic primary.

With the SL group, Nancy Mandelbrot says, “We'll let you know when Governor Warner will be back [in Second Life] for… a town hall-style meeting in late September or early October. That will be open Q&A. We'll be doing that event in the New Globe Theater again."  (New Globe is a Millions of Us project on an island of the same name.) "He'll talk a bit and then take questions from the audience.”

By way of full disclosure, while the event and my interview is sponsored by Forward Together, New World Notes is a non-partisan blog. I’m not endorsing the Governor’s political aspirations with this event, and have every intent of interviewing him with all the rigor and skepticism any serious potential candidate in this most fractious and mortally serious periods of American history must be.

That said, I have to admit this strikes me as an incredibly rapid culmination. Earlier this year, I interviewed Lawrence Lessig’s avatar in Second Life, and he told me about his experience pleading a case before the Supreme Court; last October, the avatar of Pentagon’s New Map author Thomas P.M. Barnett told me about advising John Kerry on Iraq. In an essay published last January, I even speculated there’d come a time-- eventually-- when major political parties would incorporate online world headquarters into their campaigns. Which is my way of saying how, well, forward-thinking it is for Governor Warner to be the first major political figure to do something like that now.


“I've worked for a couple political types,” Ms. Mandelbrot tells me with a touch of wonder, “And it's amazing for me to go into my boss's office and suggest bringing him into a virtual world, and having him say, ‘Fantastic. Let's do it.’ He's a different sort of guy.”

Then again, he’s still competing in the fiercely competitive arena of American politics, so some traditional prudence kicks in when I ask the question that’s most on my mind.

“The Governor has not officially announced his candidacy for the Democratic primary for the 2008 Presidential election,” I tell Ms. Mandelbrot, “but it's largely assumed he is one of the front runners after Senator Clinton. Any chance there'll be an announcement related to this on Thursday?”

“Nope,” Nancy Mandelbrot answers firmly, “not a chance.” 


Direct portal to the 12:30pm SLT event here.

To reserve a seat at the Thursday event, send an Instant Message to Millions of Us’ staffer Green Fate. Seating is extremely limited, but text repeaters which will broadcast the interview throughout Second Life are also available: contact Green Fate for a copy.

Governor Warner’s Thursday appearance sponsored by Forward Together.


Produced and hosted by Millions of Us, a sponsor of this blog.


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Bryan Campen

It would be even better than Edwards announcing on the Daily Show.

Gydew Goff

I am all for our political leaders using new technology but with the issue of avatars, how do you determine if it's really them or one of their handlers?


Alright, I'm all for technological innovation but this is really lame. The leader of the free world is a character in what looks like a video game???

I think that the campaign will look back on this as their Dukakis in a tank moment.


Break out the digital *Three Stooges* cream pies.

What a digital shithead.


Wow, that's some serious political discourse. Such is the problem of anonymity on the 'net.

Good luck with the interview, Ham! I have no strong opinions on him as a potential candidate. But I applaud his exploration of various technologies to promote democracy and transparency and participation, from blogs to bringing computers to poor communities to e-health initiatives.

I don't know if we need such a geeky president. But we certainly need more people like him to revitalize our conception of participatory democracy.

Bryan Campen

Really enjoying this discussion.
The power of SL is more and more undeniable as a way for individuals to organize, and will become more so with politics. In the meantime the argument that certain politicians are "geeks" (or "savvy" considering his staff floated the idea) will have to go up against the fear that their opponents are incompetent. Is that a bad trade?
I don't see how this would be anything like Dukakis in a tank. Just to make sure, I think you mean Kerry in the shuttle and blue scientists suit-thing last presidential election.
But even that analogy has a very poor fit.
This is a new medium being used in new ways, and people who put aside their fears and adapt early will reap the benefit. Surely we all remember there was a guy named Kennedy, and he learned how to bend the medium of television for politics rather well: just ask Richard Nixon. He thought he had won the debates with Kennedy, and so did everyone else listening to the radio. Television told a different story. Who knows what will happen here?

Eric Almendral

I met Gov. Warner at E3 over a year ago at a mini-symposium of educators and game developers on, of all things, utilizing gaming technologies for educational purposes. Unlike other politicos who have jumped on various tech bandwagons, Warner really seemed to know his stuff: He was familiar with the relevant technologies and terminology, but open and inquisitive when presented with new concepts and information.

Warner sincerely believes in technology. Given that this type of event might seem politically risky from a p.r. standpoint, I think this is evidence of his willingness to "walk the walk."

It's not enough (on its own) to earn him my vote, but it certainly has me wondering about his stances on other issues.

Papa Doctorow

I think its a great idea. I would have checked it out, but which PR genius scheduled this at 12:30 SLT on a weekday? Hope the interview went well Hammy. Looking forward to the transcript.

Hamlet Au

Transcript is up now:


Ron Paul needs an avatar!

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