Oct. 19 1996 3:30 AM

Memo to: Bill Gates, chairman, Microsoft Corp.

From: Jodie Allen and Bill Barnes, Slate magazine

Subject: Serving Democracy--and the Bottom Line

Out there in voter land lies an enormous target of opportunity, the chance to add real value to the political debate. If we don't take aim at it fast, Netscape, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle will. Here's a fast cut at what we have in mind:


Project Premise: The U.S. presidential campaign is putting voters to sleep coast-to-coast. With tactical deployment of Microsoft software, the public can be dramatically re-energized, our sales will skyrocket, and the blessings of liberty will be secured for ourselves and our posterity.

Project name: WinVotes 96TM

Code Name: Snooze

Major Features:


DebateSpaceTM Compression

Normally, data compression removes repetitive patterns in images or sounds to reduce them to a manageable size for storage or transmission purposes. Why not apply it to--the vice-presidential debates, for example? Remove the redundancy from 90 minutes of back-and-forth political yammering, and you get:

Gore: "I won't talk about chlorofluorocarbon abatement if you won't tell any football stories."

Kemp: "Cut taxes for growth and never bomb before breakfast."


Gore: "That would blow a hole in the deficit, put the economy in a barrel, and send it over Niagara falls. We'll give you targeted tax cuts that will balance the budget while protecting Medicare, Medicaid, and the environment."

Well, even compression can only do so much for Al Gore.

But shorter debates are only the beginning--they also need to be more satisfying for viewers. For instance, nothing irritates or agitates a debate watcher more than realizing that his or her candidate has stupidly missed an opening:

Gore: "We have empowerment zones and enterprise communities, 105 of them, all across the United States of America. Let me tell you a story about Joann Crowder in Detroit ..."


Kemp: "We will greenline every city in the United States where there's unemployment and welfare."

Kemp's fans expected better. A lost opportunity like this will be a thing of the past with:

AutoAnswerTM Reponse Augmentation

A quick query using ActiveX Search's full-text relevance-ranked keyword-in-context information retrieval would have given Kemp the information he needed to quickly turn the tables:


Kemp: "Enterprise zones? You're bragging about enterprise zones? Why, I practically invented the idea. If you don't believe that, I've been quoted by major papers 1,496 times on the subject of enterprise zones--with 832 references in the New York Times alone."

On the tricky question of "character," a candidate should be above slinging mud, but still manage to float broad accusations. We follow the lead of Bob "URL" Dole by introducing:

Virtual Character AssassinationTM

Moderator: "What about this character thing?"

Dole: "Well, all Bob Dole can say to that is and and"

Clinton: "Well, pointing fingers isn't going to put shoes on kids, but, in rebuttal, let me point out and and"

Better yet, we can let the users decide what they want to hear. No candidate can please everyone--until now! Microsoft technology can ensure that all their promises hit home with:

ActiveX ChoiceTM

Gore: And President Clinton proposes to enact tax credits for:


brushing your teeth

getting out of bed in the morning

taking your kids to soccer

having another beer

doing 10 extra push-ups

curbing your dog

other (specify)

Then, using PCT encryption technology, we could transmit those choices directly to the IRS's SQL Server database, so that come next April, their accounts would be automatically credited using Microsoft Merchant Server.

Of course, this opens the door for:

Kemp: "As president, Bob Dole will relieve you of burdensome federal regulations on:


stopping at red lights

toxic dumping

kissing classmates

discriminating in hiring

having your car inspected

peddling untested drugs

bringing Midol to school

packing a handgun

parking in handicapped spaces

But this degree of interactivity may be too much for the couch-potato American voter, who just wants to see what he wants to see when he wants to see it. And so, we provide:

Personalized Campaign DeliveryTM

Finally, a voter can see the campaign they want to see, without lifting a finger. Hot buttons? Register yours, and we'll press them. Like a good sound bite? RealAudio clips coming your way. Candidates toppling off stages? Video segments direct to your mailbox. Select the issues you care about, and the rest get filtered out. Locality-awareness means you can hear about military-base closures in your area without being troubled by larger issues such as foreign policy and the defense budget. Already made up your mind about a candidate? Let us know, and you'll never hear anything to contradict your fine choice.

Using this innovative customer-driven technology, MSNBC and Slate will team up to finally give people what they want.

Version 2.0

Of course, these are just Phase One ideas, things we can beta right away. With the Microsoft Internet Explorer Starter Kit signing up even the most technophobic, our market is limitless. Our R&D labs are already hard at work on Winvote2000TM. Voting from your browser, custom stump speeches from virtual candidates, wonk-in-a-box policy-analysis wizards, and more, are all in the works.

Why build a bridge to the 21st century, when you can surf there on the Net!