- The Washington Times - Monday, September 4, 2000

Political Web sites are proliferating in Washington this presidential election year, offering everything from candidates' profiles and position papers to information on how to become a volunteer or a donor.
According to a recent survey by the University of California at Los Angeles, the majority of people who go on line feel the Internet helps them better understand politics.
Users also feel confident that what they learn on line is true. The survey found that 52 percent feel comfortable relying on the accuracy of what they find on line. Close to 40 percent said they feel safe believing at least half. Only 3 percent said they disbelieve everything they find on line.
That's good news for D.C.-based sites like www.SpeakOut.com, which was started to enhance people's understanding of politics and offer them an outlet to share their views.
"It's about the things people feel they need to raise their opinion about," said Rekha Chalassani, a spokeswoman for SpeakOut. "It's not Harry Potter it's about the things America is talking about and that are going on."
Users can choose to discuss big issues like abortion, gay rights and the death penalty. But they can also discuss current spotlight topics. Elian Gonzalez, for example, was a very popular center while his saga unfolded.
Today, Napster is the hot topic.
The on-line music file-sharing company has ruffled many regulators' feathers by allowing users to freely download what sometimes turn out to be bootlegged songs. More than 20 million people use it. Its popularity has caused a congressional hearing and earned a judge's injunction to shut down because of a lawsuit that says it violates copyrights. The order was overturned on appeal, but the suit is still pending.
"Napster has really been a very high vocal point," said Ms. Chalassani. "The visitor numbers are very high on that [center]."
The company also is developing a technology that enables thousands of users to react simultaneously to televised and video news clips on line.
Introduced in February, SpeakOut.com established itself as a major player quickly by buying www.VoxCap.com, the oldest political policy site, which also brought it www.IntellectualCapital.com, www.Policy.com and www.CongressVote.com.
But why focus on political action?
"I think it's part of our national consciousness. Americans are a very vocal group, and that's part of the foundation of democracy," Ms. Chalassani said. "Finding an avenue, an outlet, has sometimes been elusive. The Internet provides a new tool for that, and we are helping make connections a little bit less obscure."
Not finding what he was looking for is how Justin Dangel got the idea for a dot-com that focuses on politics.
He was 24 and working at an early stage venture capital fund in London.
"And I was trying to figure who to vote for by absentee ballot. So I was looking on the Web and couldn't find any info," he recalled.
Soon after, he returned to the United States and is now the founder of www.Voter.com.
The site does many things for many people. For politicians it creates personal Web sites; for associations and trade groups it distributes information; and for the public it provides things like background, news articles, access to other resources, and the ability to track specific legislation.
Recently, Forbes magazine ranked Voter.com among the top 50 Web sites and the top site in the political arena.
"Ultimately, we are going to look like an actual political building," Mr. Dangel said, adding that Voter.com is expanding, and by January users will be able to find all the above information not only on the national level, but on the state and local as well.
To keep all parties interested, political Web sites are careful to stay nonpartisan. At Voter.com, the unorthodox mixture of political backgrounds among its employees ensures that neutrality, Mr. Dangel said.
"Well, we have someone here who used to work for the Christian Coalition, another who worked for the White House, and some journalists so it all becomes very balanced."
Colin Delany, co-founder of another political site, www.Political-Information.com, said behind anything that has to do with politics are always bent one way or another. But he agreed the sites tend to be "totally nonpartisan."
Local www.PoliticalInformation.com differs from other sites.
"Essentially, we work like an AltaVista or another search engine people are used to using. But instead of searching the entire Net, we search some 5,000 political, policy and news sites," said Mr. Delany. "We search everything from campaign sites to trade associations and interest groups."
So the emphasis is on making it easy to find anything about politics a user may want to know.
"If you go to a general search engine, finding targeted info can be pretty difficult," Mr. Delany said.
On PoliticalInformation.com, Internet surfers can find a list of political Web sites, with a short description next to each.

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