It may not be official -- yet -- but thanks to a grass-roots effort, John Edwards has become the first presidential candidate to set-up-shop in Second Life. Jerimee Richir, whose avatar is called Jose Rote, paid-for and developed Edwards' virtual headquarters, and, on a voluntary basis, is managing the in-world campaign.
Last night, I teleported over to Edwards' Second Life base, where I caught up with Rote to find out more.
I started by asking what relationship, if any, he had with the official Edwards campaign. Rote explained that while he was doing this as a volunteer, he's in regular contact with Edwards' team and has their full support:
... think of this as a scouting mission... it is unofficial in that the campaign is not spending money, and I am not paid, however the campaign is aware that we are organizing in Second Life, and cooperating as much as they can. I keep them updated on what I have learned, and they let me know things that will be helpful.
Rote says he expects his efforts to be incorporated into the official campaign within a month.
Next up I asked Rote why he thinks a Second Life presence can make a difference to the campaign.
... the short answer is that, Second Life is a place where people come to be social, so of course this is a fertile ground for social discourse.
Second Life is fun, social, and gives it's residents a unique set of tools to coordinate. Groups, inventory, the ability to code, program, and script an environment... all of these things contribute to an interactive environment, and this give people more power.
Like our world [Second Life] is increasingly becoming global. Soldiers in Iraq, largely disenfranchised citizens in Puerto Rico, business men working in China, and rural families in Montana, can all come to Second Life, and participate on the same footing... Each of the 4 groups I described can vote absentee.
Considering that Second Life's user numbers are much smaller than other social networks, such as MySpace and Facebook, I suggested to Rote that -- aside from generating press coverage -- campaigning in Second Life might be inefficient, in terms of actually winning over voters.
Second Life users are a unique audience, in that, they are first adopters. This means that they are extremely adept at creating User-Generated Content (UGC).
While SL users do not have the same numbers as, say, MySpace, they have communication skills, and a desire to communicate, that, I humbly say, exceeds that of MySpace users. For example, and this is just a guess, but I bet that half of Second Life users regularly contribute to multiple blogs. So it is a smaller community, but I would argue it is a more influential community.
So SL campaigns generate more buzz, not because, "the media is stupid" but because Second Life users do more talking.
Just as my chat with Rote was coming to an end, we were joined by 'Redaktisto Noble' an editor at Second Life News Network, the publication that first broke the story of Edwards' virtual world presence.
Continuing the debate, I asked Noble whether he thought Second Life's value as a campaigning tool was in creating buzz or actually winning votes in-world?
Both, but IMHO it's more the community building aspect. Will someone in RL with no connection to SL vote for him [Edwards] because he's tech-savvy? Maybe, but it's more likely that fence-sitters will choose among the candidates they already like by who they have connected with the most.I think that with the campaign season starting so early, it's more important to win volunteers and supporters than votes at this point. An SL presence encourages that as well as any other initiative I can think of.