Democrats Using Software to Link Up

FRAMINGHAM (08/09/2000) - With most of the floor activities likely to be scripted in advance, the best action at next week's Democratic National Convention just may be online.

Some of the delegates to the quadrennial political gathering, which starts Monday in Los Angeles, are using communication and collaboration software developed and hosted by an application service provider (ASP) to plan convention events. Next week, all 5,000 delegates will be able to use the software to keep in touch with fellow Democrats inside and outside the Staples Center, the arena where the convention will take place.

Dan Slater, a delegate who works as an attorney at McDermott Law Firm in Canon City, Colo., said he doesn't expect much spirited debate on the convention floor. But he intends to use the temporary intranet created by the collaboration software to follow how the Democratic Party's big splash is being perceived in his home state. "We're in a bubble in the Staples Center," Slater said.

The application, developed by Event411.com Inc. in Marina del Rey, Calif., has been in limited use by several hundred people for the past two weeks, although passwords have been given to all the delegates and to a wider group of Democrats. Event411.com is letting the Democrats use the software for free and made the same offer to the Republican Party for its convention last week. But officials at the company said they never heard back from the GOP's organizing committee.

Event411.com customizes its meeting software for every event it works on and spent about a month preparing the collaboration service for the Democrats. Four levels of access were set up -- two that permit the development and planning of events at the convention and provide full communications capabilities to the designated users; another that lets convention delegates schedule events on their personal calendars and send and receive e-mail; and a fourth that lets "friends and family" communicate with the delegates.

Delegate Doug Stone, an attorney at the Kansas City, Mo., law firm King Hershey Coleman Coch and Stone who chairs the Democratic Party organization in his county, said he has already used the collaboration technology to generate ideas for party activities. For example, he created working groups for planning fund raising and social events with other county-level party officials whose areas have similar population demographics.

They also exchanged messages that critiqued each other's Web sites and provided suggestions for improvements, Stone said. He added that he sees the collaboration service as a vehicle for helping local politicians like him "grow the party at the grassroots level." Kristian Denny, a spokeswoman at Washington-based National Journal Group Inc., which publishes a series of print and online magazines and newsletters that focus on politics, said the Democratic Party has also changed its traditional method of offering convention media credentials only to reporters who previously received press passes from Congress.

Many Web-only political organizations such as San Francisco-based Grassroots.com Inc. are being permitted on the convention floor for the first time and are even being given skyboxes for next week's event, Denny said.

But not everything about the preparations for the convention is being done in a high-tech way: In preparing for the use of Event411's software, the Democratic National Committee sent passwords by regular surface mail to all 5,000 convention delegates because many of them don't have e-mail addresses.

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