Watching the Conventions: The Final Hour

SAN FRANCISCO (08/07/2000) - On the final day of the Republican convention, George Dubya Bush finally delivered something worthy of media coverage. If anything during the 12 hours of prime-time speeches and musical performances warranted a test of public sentiment, it was Bush's 51-minute monologue. So I decided to watch a live video stream of the Texas governor from two Web sites that also offered simultaneously viewer and delegate polls. If nothing else, it would beat talking back to the TV, I thought.

Voter.com and SpeakOut.com each promised their own unique and novel interactive technology. I logged on to Voter.com shortly before Bush's speech was scheduled to begin. The site offered a live chat room, streaming video through C-SPAN and instant results from a poll of the general public and delegates. Text in a box above the chat room read, "I proudly accept your nomination."

Above the text, a graphic with a vertical red bar (representing a sample of delegates) and a blue bar (representing a sample of the general public) measured the reaction to that portion of the speech on a scale of 0 to 100. As Bush made his way through his speech, new text appeared accompanied by a new pair of bars just to left of the old pair.

The trouble was that while the text showed George W. accepting the nomination, he was still saying "Thank you" to the audience in my accompanying C-SPAN video. The text box turned out to be several sentences ahead of the video, providing an unexpected and distracting preview to Bush's speech.

To be fair, this might have been a glitch with my computer. Another person watching in the chat room wrote, "I love how the results pop right up on the screen." But upon closer inspection, the value of those instant results was not so clear. One chatterer wondered if the red bars - measuring the delegates' opinions - would ever drop below the top of the scale. They didn't.

Tired of knowing what Bush was about to say, I moved to SpeakOut.com, which let viewers rate Bush's speech as it progressed. I tested the technology, moving a colorful horizontal meter up and down its 0-to-100 scale as Bush spoke. But watching the results from others moving that bar up and down proved more interesting than doing it myself.

SpeakOut, whose meter had gone on the fritz on Day 3 during Dick Cheney's speech, separated the results on Bush's speech according to party affiliation and gender. But the results did not fluctuate much, and again, the results for each party offered little surprise: Republicans consistently scored the speech about 50 points higher than Democrats did.

After Bush concluded, I had planned to watch the small contingent of Internet broadcasters dissect the speech. But I lost my patience with the Net after a half-hour of error messages while trying to connect to Sam Donaldson's show and repeatedly getting a "Stay Tuned for John Hockenberry with Politics Only! The Wrap" message at MSNBC.com.

After four days of Internet struggle, the message seems to be that the medium still needs a lot of work.

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