CongressDaily: At 2008 Conventions, An Exponential Jump For Technology

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(Winter Casey of CongressDaily reports on how the Republican National Convention is innovating by using to broadcast the convention and offer behinds the scenes access live over the web.)

By Winter Casey.

Call it the political counterpart of Moore’s Law: With each quadrennial national political convention, the use of information technology seems to grow exponentially.

This year, with the Democratic and Republican gatherings barely two months away, officials of both parties involved in planning the Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul conventions say they are utilizing technology to get their messages across in more ways than ever before. And representatives of such major players as Google and Microsoft — both designated as official convention providers — affirm that technology has taken on a critical role in the convention planning process.

Microsoft General Manager of Government Solutions Joel Cherkis said that the planning committees for both party conventions have shown much more interest this year in reaching out to tech providers and considering the role of technology early on in the planning process.

“Both of the convention committees reached out to tech providers over a year before hand,” said Cherkis. He said the planning committees tended to concentrate on two aspects of technology: setting up the right infrastructure and taking advantage of innovation possibilities.

On the latter front, a number of technologies considered for the conventions — such as the Microsoft’s Silverlight for streaming video — didn’t exist four years ago, Cherkis noted.

A Very Different World From 2004

Ginny Hunt of Google’s Washington office also made the point that the 2008 conventions are occurring in a very different tech world as compared to the Democratic gathering in Boston and GOP gathering in New York four years ago. The technology being employed today “is much more personalized, customizable” and able to be more widely utilized for in the political sphere than it was in 2004, said Hunt.

For example, the Republican convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul this year has a YouTube channel and has launched a YouTube video contest to attract Internet users. Seven out of the 16 candidates for president announced their candidacy on YouTube.

To put into perspective how quickly things have changed, compare that to 2004: YouTube didn’t exist four years ago.

This year, the Republican National Convention planning team is much more focused on using new media to get the party’s message out, said Matt Burns, director of communications for the convention.

Both the Republican and Democratic convention teams also say that the heightened use of technology has enabled them to plan for greener and more environmentally friendly conventions.

“I don’t know how anyone survived before the Blackberry,” Burns mused.

An Upsurge In Bloggers

According to Burns, the GOP had credentialed 12 bloggers to cover the convention. This year, “that is going to increase ten-fold,” he said.

He added that convention planners are looking to credential 175 to 200 independent bloggers before they even consider the “Washington Posts of the world.” Said Burns, “What you see on a blog today is probably in the mainstream news a day or two later.”

The Democrats are also credentialing far more bloggers in 2008 than they did in 2004. While, four years ago, the Democrats credentialed a little over 30 blogs to cover the convention in Boston, this year they plan to “credential more than 120 blogs for the convention,” a party spokesman said – adding that “many more individuals will blog the convention via credentials issued through the U.S. Congressional Press Galleries.”

More than 400 bloggers applied to cover the Democratic gathering. The Democrats considered traffic, popularity and the number of political posts when deciding who to credential.

A spokesman for the Democrats said he didn’t think the party had credentialed any bloggers who are decidedly conservative — but cautioned that he did not want to speak to the views of all the bloggers who have been credentialed, while contending that they represent a wide range of opinions.

He said that non-partisan as well as Democratic-oriented blogs would be covering the convention, and that some of the blogs feature many contributors of varying views.

Streaming The Proceedings

Both parties are tapping into some of the biggest names in the tech sector to achieve a truly wired convention. “We are working with businesses like Google and Microsoft to really attract Internet users,” said Burns.

The Republican convention has named Microsoft as its technology provider, Qwest Communications International as its communications provider and Google as the innovation provider.

In addition, USTREAM.TV has formed a partnership with the Republicans to stream video live. Burns said recent progress in video streaming technology will make it easier to provide live coverage of the convention to online users.

Convention planners also intend to use USTREAM.TV to “provide behind the scenes content” to Internet users, Burns said. And the convention has designated ShadowTV as the official broadcast monitoring provider to “provide the convention with digital, continuous access to live and archived broadcast coverage of the 2008 Republican National Convention.”

In addition, the convention has a Twitter account and FaceBook page and MySpace pages – and has launched an interactive online forum known as CONVENTIONiNSIDER ( where visitors can ask questions about planning in Minneapolis/St. Paul.

A Bipartisan Push On Tech

Like its Republican counterparts, the Democratic National Convention Committee is excited about the possibilities presented by the new technologies.

The committee’s director of technology, Brook Colangelo, said the Democrats are using technology in every aspect of convention planning as well as well as to enable anyone with an Internet connection to be able to follow the convention events.

The Democratic team is also taking advantage of YouTube as a way to get the message out. This year, as the Democratic committee moves to utilize more video content, “it all ends up on YouTube and our current Web site,” said the director of online communications, Aaron Myers.

The Democratic team said they are taking advantage of the greater use of high-definition streaming on the Internet.

Democratic convention planners are working with many of the same firms as the Republicans: They have lined up Microsoft as the official software and high-definition Web content provider; AT&T as the wireless service provider; Comcast as the cable television and video-on-demand provider; ShadowTV as the video monitoring service provider; and Level 3 Communications as the live video and content delivery services provider.

Both the Republicans and the Democrats are teams are making outreach efforts to a key block of voters — Hispanic-Americans — through the Web.

The Democrats are offering Spanish language content on their convention site and have announced that Comcast will produce online streaming coverage of the convention in Spanish. The Republican convention team also said a Spanish language Web site is under development, and that video and streaming in Spanish would occur.

Technology is even playing a role in dealing with convention logistical issues that far predate the Information Age — such as making sure that attendees can secure housing.

While, in past years, Burns said that the Republicans would have used a paper process to reserve 160,000 hotel rooms in 102 hotels, it’s now being handled by an online booking specialty company — with everything done electronically.