Political conventions get wired, too

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The new soap box

Forget about watching a recap of this year's political conventions on the

11 p.m. news.

This year, you can watch the gatherings of delegates to select a presidential

candidate for the Democratic and Republican tickets in real time on your

computer.

Want to talk to a delegate? Easy — send them an e-mail message. Want

to see an event not carried by the television networks? No problem — watch

a Webcast.

The Democratic and Republican parties plan to put on a political show

like no other. For the first time, both parties will be spreading their

messages using technology, providing online chats, an online process for

committees to build party platforms and other interactive means.

"During the convention, the Internet will allow us to highlight the

spirit, unity and principles of the Democratic Party to more Americans and

the entire world," said Lydia Camarillo, chief executive officer of the

Democratic National Convention Committee.

Every four years, Republican and Democratic delegates gather to pick

their presidential candidates, an event chronicled by the TV networks. But

the political ritual has become increasingly sophisticated since television

first broadcast the GOP convention live in 1948 — ironically from Philadelphia,

where the party will meet again this year, July 31 to Aug. 4. The Democrats

meet in Los Angeles Aug. 14 to Aug. 17.

In 1996, the GOP convention in San Diego featured "Internet Row" — a

single line of computers with access to the Internet. The Democratic Party — in Chicago that year — Webcast the entire convention, but few Americans

had the technology to capture the broadcasts.

This year, technology has leapt into people's homes. Although the outcomes

of the conventions tend to be predictable, the political dramas of the week

have yet to play out. This year, those dramas will be shown on the World

Wide Web, on video and on television.

"At the last convention, [America Online] showed up with a laptop, looking

for an extra chair," said RNC spokesman Tim Fitzpatrick. "This time, they

are applying for a sky box and media credentials for a whole team of people

[who] will be providing original news for the first time."

Both parties plan to provide high-definition TV broadcast programming

to 6 million Americans overseas. The parties will have Web sites for the

conventions and Webcasts and interactive chat rooms for voters interested

in making their opinions known.

Both parties plan to unveil revised Web sites soon. The Republicans

plan to launch a new voice-over-Internet service with Net2Phone Inc.'s "Click2Talk,"

incorporating voice technology into its Web site.

Not to be outdone, the Democrats are planning their state-of-the-art

"E-Convention," which will give voters a chance to be heard. Recently, the

Democratic National Committee announced that SBC Communications Inc. would

provide local, toll and wireless services to the convention.

The committee also has enlisted Event411.com, an online planning provider,

for the convention. Delegates, staff members, volunteers and delegates will

be able to book their accommodations and communicate with each other online.

Convention planners also are discussing other ideas to make this year's

convention more technology-friendly than any in history, including:

* Providing palmtop computers to every delegate so that they can keep

up to date with what's happening on the convention floor,

* Setting up tiny video cameras that follow delegates and capture their

every move and deliberation.

* Providing chat rooms with candidates, former candidates and party

officials to give the public a bird's eye view of what is happening.

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