Following political conventions the Web 2.0 way

From C-SPAN to Digg, bevy of sites offers ways to follow and comment on the conventions

In 2004, the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) provided official press credentials to about 30 bloggers to cover the party's convention.

For this year's convention, some 120 bloggers gained official credentials, and many more are expected to cover the event -- many from a new 9,000-square-foot, two-story structure called The Big Tent, which is sponsored by political blogs and Web 2.0 companies such as Digg Inc. and Google Inc.

The Web site associated with the building in Denver will allow credentialed bloggers and citizen journalists to post content throughout the event, which ends Thursday night.

The Big Tent is but one example of the various ways in which Web 2.0 tools will be used to follow the Democratic and Republican national conventions this week and next, respectively, where Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) will officially become their party's presidential candidates.

C-SPAN, for example, overhauled its Web sites for the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention to add the ability to incorporate citizen journalism from blogs, Twitter, YouTube and video streaming site Qik, noted TechCrunch blogger Michael Arrington.

"But unlike the unwieldy content on the main C-SPAN site, the new sites will show video in Flash format and allow embedding on other sites," Arrington added. "C-SPAN employees will be given Qik cameras to record the action when not on main camera. All in all, it's a great effort to spice up coverage with user-generated, up-to-the-minute content. It may have the most up to date news on the conventions."

Other ways to follow the conventions on the Web include the following:

  • Using a Twitter tool like Search Twitter to follow the Twitter tags "#dnc08," "#rnc08" or #bigtent" and get constant updates of posts about the conventions on the Twitter microblogging site.
  • Using a new Digg feature called Digg Dialogg, which allows users to pose questions via submitted text or video to featured guests. The first guest will be U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who will be taking questions Wednesday, noted Digg founder Kevin Rose. Users can vote questions up or down.
  • Using a new Sunlight Foundation online tool called Party Time, which tracks who attended parties thrown at the two conventions. The foundation is a nonpartisan organization that intends to use the Internet to make information about Congress and the government more accessible to citizens.
  • Using an RSS feeder to follow the posts of all credentialed DNC bloggers with an online tool created by Brian Sykora, a strategy associate at political consulting firm EchoDitto in Washington.

Micah Sifry, a blogger at TechPresident, noted that the organizers of the events themselves have not moved to gear the events for the online world, leaving Web 2.0 participation up to the organizations listed above.

"Not only are these gatherings still completely geared for television … they're designed for television circa 1990," Sifry said. "Think of it: All they need to do is put up a big banner behind the speakers each night saying, 'Join the conversation -- go to www.democrats.org or www.rnc.org and set up an interface to involve people in live chats by state or ZIP code.' State delegations could be enlisted to participate."

Even without such efforts, he predicted that tens of thousands of people will participate virtually in the conventions by creating and participating in conversations online. "For millions of people, politics is no longer a spectator sport," he said. "We've gotten involved in co-creating the campaigns and co-shaping the public discourse, and we like it. We're off the bus, out of the smoke-filled room, and crashing the gates."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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