Long Campaign Trail

Computer Life column for March 20, 1999

Richard Gordon

It's not even a quarter past 1999 and already signs of the 2000 presidential election have hit the Internet.

I remember Kennedy-Nixon: Democratic kids would sing "Whistle while you work! Nixon is a jerk!" And the Republican kids would answer in kind. But it was also the first campaign in which TV played a significant role.

In the mid-1970's, there was a revolution in the "slick" use of TV in campaigns. Not just the televised debates and other news events, but highly-produced ads and "town meetings"--thinly veiled infomercials for a candidate.

Once the Internet became thoroughly "dotcommed," it was only a matter of time before candidates started showing up in this media, too.

In 1996 and 1998, many politicians had Web sites. They were mostly passive information archives that would allow the faithful to come read a candidate's position papers or write his or her staff a letter.

The next 19 months are going to be filled with more frenetic political Web activity.

Steve Forbes announced his candidacy on line this week. His Web site (www.forbes2000.com) looks well-organized, but his site was too busy for me to see a Webcast of his announcement.

Forbes' site looks like he's poised to try to take the high ground on-line, setting up "e-precincts"-- electronic precincts--complete with e-precinct captains. Uh-oh. Sounds like a cover for politically partisan SPAM.

However, Forbes' Web site isn't going to help him one iota if it can't handle the traffic on the day his candidacy actually begins.

Meanwhile, about 10 days ago, Al Gore told Wolf Blitzer of CNN that when he was just Congressman Gore, he "took the initiative in creating the Internet" (cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/stories/1999/03/09/president.2000/transcript.gore).

Republicans had a field day with this exaggeration. Senator Trent Lott made the most colorful counter-claim, asserting that, if Gore was the force behind the Internet, then he'd like credit for the paper clip.

Later in the same interview, Blitzer asked Gore about recent polls that showed 45% of the voting public have "already ruled out voting for you." Gore responded by comparing himself to the key part of the information technology revolution:

"[A] few decades ago, IBM predicted that the total market worldwide for computers would be a few dozen."

About 40 years ago, some executives at IBM did make that erroneous prediction, but for someone with as stiff a public-speaking style as Gore to compare himself to a computer invites waggish comparison with Commander Data, Star Trek's android.

These recent events point to a pair of themes candidates had better learn fast.

Politicians are used to being able to say things and have most of their foolish promises or partisan remarks forgotten. But the digital media doesn't forget. What you say can last for years on the Web.

Second, the Internet audience has high expectations. If you build a Web site, even if you make it look slick and exciting, you're worse off if the site cannot deliver on its promise.

It's going to be a long campaign.

Tip of the week

It's customary to make fun of the Help menus in our favorite programs. However, given how rapidly versions change, it's wise to learn to navigate a program's Help system.

Microsoft products usually ship with their annoying "Tip of the Day" feature turned on. After a while you'll want to turn it off.

But while you are learning a program, those tips can introduce you to features whose existence you did not know about and to the terminology used in the program, enabling you to make more efficient use of the program's Help.

For example, this tip from Internet Explorer 5.0 introduces frames and the right mouse button--two concepts new to some users:

"To quickly print just one frame of a Web page, right-click inside the frame, and then click Print."

Copyright © 1999, The News Journal Company

Computer Life Index

Richard Gordon helps support faculty, staff and student computing at the University of Delaware. E-mail questions, comments or suggestions to richard@inet.net, or write him at The News Journal, Box 15505, Wilmington, DE 19850. Although each note cannot be answered individually, reader comments and questions will often be incorporated in future columns.