Politicians who find themselves lost in the wilderness after this month’s election have nothing to fear. A good GPS device will lead them back to civilization, if not a winning electoral strategy.
This fall I tested TomTom’s GO 730, a relatively pricey model that comes with a bundle of features. They’re overwhelming at first, and so is the software designed to help download maps and keep them up to date.
But the basic functions—entering your starting and ending points—are fairly straightforward and easy to start using. I had no trouble finding my destinations, though some rural addresses (I live in south-central Pennsylvania) turned out to be a few hundreds yards farther than the device let on.
A little time is all you need to focus on the GO 730’s other features. They include advanced lane guidance that helps you pick the right lane at highway interchanges. A tool called IQ Routes provides the fastest route based on actual average speeds rather than posted speed limits.
The GO 730 is not the best choice for a starter GPS. But if you’re ready for a richer device that can do more than give basic directions, the GO 730 might be worth the price.
Even smaller campaigns can set up social networks
This election year may go down as the one that launched a thousand social networks.
Less than two years after they gained attention beyond college campuses, Facebook, MySpace and their online kin have become indispensable campaign tools. And before these networks have truly been proven effective at the presidential level, they already are filtering down to state and local campaigns.
With unlimited funds, a campaign can whip up something like MyBarackObama.com, the innovative social networking site created by the Democratic senator’s presidential campaign. But those with smaller war chests may prefer to piggyback, using software that can be customized for each client.
“Obama’s definitely done a great job at going beyond just social chatter online and getting people to do things,” says Caleb Clark, chief executive officer of WeTheCitizens, an Atlanta-based software company.
Like the Obama campaign, WeTheCitizens has developed software to tie in online networking and real-world activity, such as calling undecided voters and door knocking. The company’s clients include Sonny Perdue’s successful gubernatorial race in Georgia and Rudy Giuliani’s presidential primary campaign.
On its surface, the software resembles Facebook, with a social-networking component where members create profiles. But it has other features to spur action and, just as importantly, allow campaigns to keep track of who’s doing what.
“It’s focused on what they need in the end, and that’s getting people out away from the computer and going door-to-door, making phone calls and going out to vote,” Clark says. The software’s base cost is $2,800 per month for a congressional race, the smallest campaign currently served by WeTheCitizens.
The Giuliani campaign began eyeing the software in spring 2007, according to Katie Harbath, who was Giuliani’s deputy e-campaign director.
The social network, my.joinrudy2008. com, went online in November 2007. By the time the campaign shut down in January, the network counted between 15,000 and 20,000 members.
Giuliani had pages on MySpace and Facebook, too. “But you had a harder time connecting all your groups together to have people take action,” Harbath says.
The separate site allowed the campaign to identify enthusiastic supporters more easily. “They took the time to sign up for a whole other social-networking site,” she says. “That alone tells you what their interests are.”
Online social networking has created such a buzz this year that some companies are hoping smaller races in 2009 will want to get in on the action.
Politics4All.com, for example, plans to bring social networking to races all the way down to high-school class president.
Candidates for city council may not need as many online friends as someone running for president, concedes Chris Stearns, director of software development for the site. But, he says, “They can and should still be able to leverage that web space locally and not have to spend a lot of local money doing it.”
Candidates and advocacy groups can use Politics4All to create their own profile pages and assemble supporters. The basic service is free, but candidates will be offered premium services, such as an online-donation tool and demographic reports based on Census data.
The site has been undergoing testing during the 2008 cycle and should be ready to go for local races in 2009.
Adoption also will hinge on a generational shift in office-seekers. Most people running for local offices didn’t grow up with the Internet. They tend to be late adopters of technology, Stearns says. “It’s going to be more effortless for a younger candidate to step into this space.”
Need to Plug Into a Party Line?
A webcam, a microphone and a computer are the only tools you need to jumpstart a video chat. And I’m not talking about any old Skype (or iVisit, Sightspeed or TokBox) chat.
A new service, ooVoo, lets up to six users talk together at one time, a perk that has obviously attracted attention from the political world.
This summer, for example, ooVoo invited political bloggers to take part in an eight day online conference. Readers could call in and join a six-way, private discussion with their favorite pundits and commentators.
During the party conventions, TexasMonthly.com plugged into ooVoo to record conversations between editors and reporters covering the events. The conversations were posted as a regular feature on TexasMonthly.com.
“That’s one way people are using it,” says Philip Robertson, an ooVoo spokesman. “Another is to have a fuller, more meaningful communication where you can see people face to face.”
Campaigns have tried to create town-hall meetings on ooVoo, Robertson said. For the video chat to be public, however, it would have to be broadcast using another service, such as uStream.tv.
A free version of ooVoo gives users threeway video chats and the ability to e-mail video messages. Six-way conversations require the premium service, which costs $10 a month.
Politics and pop-up videos come together at VoterWatch.org, a website that lets people inject their own thoughts into debates, hearings and other video feeds.
The site debuted during the first presidential debate this fall. Viewers could watch a replay of the debate spliced with comments from political consultant Dick Morris, Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney, and others.
The site’s users, which include the Heritage Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union, can do the same to any political video and post the results on their own sites, says William Hallowell, content director for VoterWatch. Notes can scroll on the video screen or run below it.
“You then are able to insert yourself and your perspective into the event,” Hallowell says.
One potential drawback is that VoterWatch allows for commentary only after the event is over.
A version of VoterWatch allowing for live commentary is in the works, Hallowell says. But, he adds, people still might want to go back, check facts and edit their comments before posting a video and their responses. Real-time commentary is already available, of course, on many blogs and through services like Twitter.
“This is really an opportunity … to create a multi-media project that combines everything,” Hallowell says.