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The Obama White House's First Try At Second Life

Since entering the White House in January, the Obama administration has made use of a myriad of social networking and Internet communications tools, such as blogs, the YouTube video service and Twitter, to interact with the public.

Come Saturday, you can add a virtual world appearance to the list.

When President Obama, who is visiting Ghana, speaks to a live audience tomorrow morning, his speech will be streamed on Second Life and Metaplace. These computer-simulated worlds offer 3D avatar-driven environments where participants can use voice or text chat to communicate. In this instance, however, there will be no Obama avatar.

But the Obama speech will be accompanied by a virtual event discussion, which will feature musician and activist, D.N.A.,, Ambassador Kenton Keith, and African historian Professor Tim Burke. The guest speakers will be talking about the speech and its broader implications.

Although Barack Obama is arguably running the most Web-savvy Presidency since the emergence of the commercial Internet, the use of virtual worlds by the U.S. government predates his arrival in the White House. In fact, the United States State Department has been hosting virtual events for the last three years as part of its own public diplomacy push.

People involved in earlier State Department projects with virtual worlds say they were attracted to that kind of online venue because they viewed its attributes as a collaborative medium more favorably than alternatives, such as video conferencing or online chat.

At the same time, cyber historians will be taking notes. With the prospect of a large audience comprised of people from many countries, some watching, some also particpating, during the speech, the event holds the potential for being a ground-breaker-if all goes well, that is. (The White House is cyberspace. In 2006, a Second Life interview conducted with Chinese businesseswoman, Ailin Graef, was interrupted when the virtual theatre where the conversation was taking place, got interrupted temporarily by an attack of flying penises. Looking forward to the president's speech, Second Life's CEO, Mark Kingdon, said the service has alerted its global support teams in advance of the event to help in case there are problems.

Separately, the White House said that it has been soliciting questions and comments for the president though SMS, Twitter, Facebook and African newspapers in the run up to his Ghana visit. On Monday, it will post video and audio recordings of the president's answers.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.