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This fact is obvious enough, and yet relatively few site creators truly exploit it. Media visionary that he is, Tesh does. Except for Jon Katz' Media Rant column at HotWired--where you can watch a pretty good journalist/critic flirt daily with the idea of turning himself into Rush Limbaugh--Tesh's TeshTalk feature is the most interesting thing on the Web right now.

It's a simple premise, and it's simply executed: you post a message to Tesh, and if you're one of the lucky ones, he answers you. Fans and celebrities have been conducting such exchanges for years via the postal system, and yet somehow on the Web it seems so much more compelling. Maybe it's the informality of email, the dashed-off quality of Tesh's responses. He had a few spare moments backstage before a big show, his Powerbook was handy, and he wrote me...

Maybe it's the presence of an audience to witness this triumph. Tesh answered me, my question. Not your boring question about whether he knows your cousin's music teacher. My question. Me. Tesh knows I'm special. Of course, this is just conjecture on my part; Tesh didn't actually answer the question I posted. Still, I have to believe that any technology that helps promote baseless gloating can't help but catch on.

Tesh himself must consider the general setup a godsend. TeshTalk is a great promotional device; it allows him to be accessible without actually being accessible. The email messages he composes--in an exuberant all-caps style that is the perfect typographic embodiment of Tesh's extra-large Vanilla Volcano style--offer spontaneous, intimate glimpses into his life, but the process affords him more control than he likely has in real life encounters with his fans. He decides who to answer, he decides how long that answer will be. And best of all, an answer to one can serve as an answer to many. If you approached Tesh in a restaurant, say, and he completely ignored you, he'd soon develop a reputation for surly, Sinatra-like selfishness. On the Web, such non-responses are just a matter of course.

But while the physical remove that TeshTalk affords Tesh might prompt the cynical to exclaim that it's all a sham, that TeshTalk is simply a way for the Human Screensaver to feign intimacy with and interest in his fans, this is clearly not the case. Anyone who's been online for very long knows the candor that virtual communication promotes. And at TeshTalk it is no different: people reveal their improbable adoration of Tesh, their guileless ambition, and even their marital problems with uniform unselfconsciousness. In return, Tesh must be equally candid. Because while he doesn't have to answer every question posed to him, if he makes a habit of dodging all the hard ones, the whole TeshTalk exercise will ultimately seem insincere. Thus, Tesh finds himself having to at least occasionally respond to the preposterous advice of know-it-alls, the outlandish requests for time and information, the put-downs from cranks and smart-asses.

Like other new Internet technologies, TeshTalk is not without bugs. Tesh isn't yet participating as much as he probably should, and from an interface standpoint, the bulletin board software that TeshTalk uses is perhaps the worst I've seen--you can't create specific topics, and there's no index view of posts and replies to posts. But still, TeshTalk is interesting in a way that RealAudio and Shockwave aren't--the ongoing public discourse between celebrity and fan that occurs there truly seems like something new. Over time, such endeavours will undoubtedly become more popular; the coming months are sure to bring us ShaqTalk and MadonnaTalk, and maybe even O.J.Talk.

But once again, media pioneer Tesh is leading the way.