The results to my survey question, "What is the most effective and engaging way to hold an SL event featuring the avatar of a real world celebrity?", are in, and frankly, they're about what I hoped. A plurarity chose "Depends on the celebrity", and that's pretty much where I stand. If it's a singer who plans on performing during her SL appearance, a la Suzanne Vega, then of course you should use VOIP; if it's a writer like Julian Dibbell or a public figure known for his writing, as with Judge Posner, then just as surely you want them communicating via text, through which they can shine best. (Actually, I personally lean slightly toward the "unplugged" route of standard chat.)
What does it mean for a famous real world figure to enter Second Life as an avatar, and what value does it bring to either world? Those are still contentious questions, and after covering several such appearances this year, along with helping host several others, I have to say it varies from person to person. The logistics of making the event happen at all are nightmarish, especially if it requires step-by-step, in-person handholding for someone who has little prior experience with computer games. (And how many major personalities in arts and letters, let alone academia, politics, or business, will cop to being a gamer?)
At its most ideal, you have someone like Lawrence Lessig, who was instrumental in the development of Second Life itself, and whose appearance led to a lasting presence in the community-- in his case, through the creation of a Creative Commons headquarters in Second Life, with regular events and even more in-world appearances. (Which, full disclosure, I subsequently became a regular consultant to.)
Things don't usually work out that way, however. When the staff of Governor Mark Warner first contacted me last summer, their intent was to make his first appearance in Second Life a warm-up for a series of regular events, both by him and his political action committee, creating a kind of virtual world meet-up which could potentially become a small but passionate base of supporters throughout the country. The appearance itself provoked a slew of outside media coverage, and for a few surreal weeks, it seemed like the press was more interested in talking about the Governor's avatar, then his, you know, potential bid for the US Presidency.
If you want to gain a deeper sense of an influential thinker, bring him into an alien environment where he's beset on all sides by humanoid animals, supermodels, and intermittent fireballs, and see how he engages the unpredictable world around him-- my personal conclusion for what follows after the break: The lightly edited transcript of December 7th's evening in Second Life with Judge Richard A. Posner's avatar.
The conversation ranged from coercive interrogation of terror suspects to intellectual property in online worlds; the audience included several aliens, mutants, babes in 6 inch stilleto heels, and Judge Richard Posner's favorite audience member of all, a human-sized raccoon. And despite a couple griefer attacks with fireballs and a giant flying block of wood, the Judge pressed on unfazed with agile wit, as if he always gave lectures in the metaverse.
Next Monday, I'll post the transcript of what must be Judge Posner's strangest public conversation on law in the 21st century. I also hope it's about as enlightening, too. Meantime, here's his avatar in an after-talk photo op with what must be the strangest member of the ACLU.
He's upheld the First Amendment protections of video games and contemplated the future of law in online worlds, and early December, in an apt progression, Judge Richard A. Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit will take on avatar form, to discuss the US Constitution in the era of apocalyptic terrorism. Ranked among the top twenty legal professionals in America, Judge Posner is also one of the world's most influential and wide-ranging thinkers. I'll be interviewing the Judge about his latest book, Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency, a provocative case for balancing our freedoms with security in the post-9/11 world. As with previous NWN Book Club events, the Judge will answer questions from the audience, and autograph copies of his book's virtual edition. Here's the details:
“I am very excited to have been asked to give a talk, via an avatar, in Second Life," Judge Posner tells me, via e-mail. "Virtual communities are an important social phenomenon with transformative potential, and I know that Second Life is in the forefront of this latest stage of the digital revolution." And I'm very excited to welcome such an august figure in-world, joining Lawrence Lessig, Thomas Barnett, and other great public intellectuals who're among the first to transmit their crucial ideas into the metaverse.
Update, 10:07pm: In Comments, event co-host Genevieve Junot/Jennifer Yip adds some important points on reservations: "When you are sending me an RSVP message, please be sure to include your SL avatar name to add to my list. If the sim fills up, event entry will revert to a reservation basis. If you have made a reservation, but cannot make it-- please try to send me a cancellation email/IM!"
Last Friday, Wired magazine editor-in-chief Chris Anderson appeared in avatar form to sit down with me and an audience of Residents to discuss his groundbreaking book, The Long Tail: The New Economics of Culture and Commerce, and autograph copies of the virtual edition. After the break, a lightly-edited transcript of our conversation with Chris (known in SL as "LongtailChris Anderson"), touching on numerous related topics, including Google's recent purchase of YouTube, Second Life and 3D printing, and the Long Tail's impact on social fragmentation, media distribution, corporate profit, developing nations, independent artists, the metaverse-- and beer.
An evening with Julian Dibbell, author of Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot, as interviewed through his avatar, "Julian Dibbell", in a conversation about MMOs and online worlds, gold farming and virtual sweatshops, the future of work when it becomes play, advising Linden Lab-- and sales of the Second Life edition of Play Money, which has earned Dibbell, as of last Friday, nearly $350 worth of Linden Dollars.
The lightly edited transcript of last Thursday's event after the break.
Julian Dibbell's appearance sponsored and produced by Millions of Us