Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.
When journalists and politicians converge in Los Angeles for the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 14, they'll encounter 90 kiosks scattered through hotels and the Staples Center that detail the latest platform votes, city information, and other tidbits.
The kiosks come courtesy of a 10-month-old company called Voter.com, which is mounting a similar, if smaller, effort for the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. The startup is one of a handful of politics-specific Web sites, including Grassroots.com, SpeakOut.com, and Politics.com, that is gearing up to cover the conventions.
As both traditional and new media grapple with the question of how to make the heavily scripted conventions interesting, these politics-only sites hope to set themselves apart by taking the convention directly to the people.
They'll let Web viewers from around the country share their gripes online about a candidate's speech, register their opinions in polls, and even interrupt an online video interview when they think a politician has pontificated too long.
Watching how these political Web sites perform might prove more interesting than the conventions themselves. And more telling. That's because for some political sites a good showing at the conventions could be the difference between staying in business or joining the expanding dot-com graveyard.
Politics.com, the only publicly traded political Web site, seemed in particular trouble. In its most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the site reported "a severe working capital deficiency"—only $134,499 in cash—and "significant losses"—a $6.68 million deficit.
Politics.com had been relying on advertising revenues, but last week, the company announced a stock deal with Votenet, a division of Netivation.com. In its second acquisition in the online politics arena this year, Netivation will receive 80 percent ownership in Politics.com, while Politics.com will gain a much needed revenue base. Votenet develops Web sites, sells political supplies and provides online fund raising and other services. Votenet's customers have included U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, the Democratic Party of Arkansas, and the California Republican Veterans of America.
Some of Politics.com's competitors say they're surviving by selling online pollster services and other political tools that they'll be putting to work during the conventions.
SpeakOut.com has a partnership with MSNBC to debut its patent-pending "Ntercept" technology at the convention. Ntercept is an online political mood meter that will enable surfers, for example, to rank a speech on a scale of 0 to100 by moving a bar up and down the meter with their mouse.
"In the past, we were all couch potatoes sitting back basically having to absorb the [television] convention coverage as dogma," says Joshua King, SpeakOut's vice president of national affairs and a White House "image meister" from 1993-97. "It shouldn't be left only to the pundits to analyze and give feedback to how these politicians are speaking."
That's not to say SpeakOut is spin-free. King plans to write a cybercolumn for the site from the Democratic point of view until the November election. Richard Galen, a former press secretary to Newt Gingrich and Dan Quayle, will do the same for the Republican side.
Clearly, the conventions give sites such as SpeakOut and Voter.com the opportunity to test new interactive technology and experiment with new ways to capture viewer attention. In the process, says Politics.com managing editor Kurt Ehrenberg, even if the conventions are boring, the Web coverage of them might pique more people's interest in politics.
Politics.com, along with the rest of the pundit competition, is hoping that it'll still be around the take advantage of any national political awakening.