Julia Ioffe is a writer living in New York.
Today, Obama revolutionizes the way the country communicates with its leadership and conducts town hall meetings. It's worth remembering, however, that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin beat him to the format nearly three years ago.
On July 6, 2006, back when Putin was still president, he agreed to participate in a Q&A session with Russian web users, which aired live on BBC Russia. The Kremlin had originally demanded a standard, scripted event, with both questions and answers prepared and vetted in advance. But Yandex, the Russian search engine that proposed and hosted the event, insisted that Putin play fair and answer real questions that users had submitted and voted on. (Over 150,000 questions were submitted, with 1.2 million votes cast.)
When he went on the air, Putin fielded questions on Iran, terrorism, bird flu, and some public gaffes (kissing a little boy's tummy). And then he had to answer another, more personal question because 5,640 people wanted him to: "When did you first have sex?" Without hesitating, Putin replied: "I don't remember, but I certainly remember the last," he said. "I can pinpoint it down to the minute." It's worth imagining the look on Michelle's face should that question come up today.