Dems' Web Show Less Than E-mazing

Actress Anika Noni Rose arrives at the L.A. premiere of "Dreamgirls" at the Wilshire Theatre Dec. 11, 2006.
GETTY IMAGES/Michael Buckner
The Democrats seem to view the Internet as the ultimate form of democracy, with potential for equal access for all. To prove it, they've ramped up their convention Web site,, with promises of enticing high-tech goodies to encourage voter interest.

"What you see at the convention is an unprecedented focus on a variety technologies," says Julie Green, communications director for the Democratic National Convention Committee. The hope is to provide open access to "insure as many Americans as possible have an outlet to participate," says Green.

But on the first day of the party's convention, Americans seeking to take advantage of those new technologies may have felt as excluded as a Web reporter without a coveted floor pass.

Click on "e-Mersion" on the Democrats' site and you are led to several links, which promise live video, audio-only speeches, digital stills, backstage interactive chats and a chance to eyeball the convention floor from several angles via 360-degree cameras.

The digital stills gallery requires users to register. But after doing so, this reporter was unable to access more than one photo. The "Dems Uncut" link, which promises video packages of "behind the scenes" events also led to a dead-end, but DNCC officials promised Tuesday that fresh content was on the way.

The cameras, which can be manipulated by a computer mouse, did work, even if the pictures seem to take a while to update. But the picture was extremely blurry on a laptop with a 56K modem and a standard telephone line. The same was true for the site's "Gavel-to-Gavel" coverage of the convention floor events and the backstage online chats with podium speakers.

Travis Berry, senior technology advisor for the DNCC, concedes that viewers can get sharper pictures faster by turning on their television. But, says Berry, "they can't look at what look at what they need to look at and ask what they need to ask. I would really point to the importance we placed on interactivity."

Berry points in particular to the online chats, which were operative on Monday. He says "hundreds" of questions from Internet users across the country were logged during backstage interviews with Karenna Gore and singer Melissa Etheridge. But during a random sampling throughout the day, this reporter saw no questions pop up on the screen except her own. It also took about five minutes to load and connect to the "Podium Chats" section, which may deter some users.

Another new innovation this year can be found in the seating sections for the state delegations on the convention floor. Look next to the tall state signs and you will see a bright-colored iMac computer. During the state-by-state roll call, the state chair will enter the number of votes into the computer and a live tally will be posted online. The company sponsoring this limited form of online voting is, whih organized the first online primary in Arizona last February.

While the computers aren't really necessary to tabulate the votes, the Democrats apparently see a symbolic message in their presence: They are the party of the future.

Berry says it goes beyond that.

"Rather than just having it around for the sake of having it around ... we want to highlight the power of technology to enhance involvement," he says.

For their sake, let's hope the involvement capabilities on the convention Web site E-volves soon. The convention lasts just four days.