- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

The next text messages Massachusetts Democrats receive on their cell phones may not come from their spouses asking them to stop at the grocery store on the way home from work.
It may come from Sen. John Kerry asking for their votes.
Mr. Kerry and a handful of other politicians are soliciting cell-phone numbers from volunteers and have tentative plans to send political ads in the coming years using short text messaging to people who say they want to receive them.
Many believe text messaging could emerge as an effective means of immediate contact between campaigns and voters. Others wonder whether it will degenerate into the newest form of spam, or unsolicited e-mail.
"I would not encourage the use of this technology as a recruitment tool to send unsolicited text messages to people. Reaching out to people randomly would seem to me to have a significant downside," said Jonah Seiger, co-founder and chief strategist at Mindshare Internet Campaigns, an Internet consultant in the District.
A Federal Election Commission decision made in August is expected to increase the use of text messaging by campaigns.
The FEC waived a requirement that short text messages sent to wireless devices include campaign disclosures. The decision is significant because text messaging on most wireless devices is limited to 160 characters. Eliminating the disclosure, which requires information indicating who has paid for the ad, allows for more text, and that makes the medium more practical.
The FEC has made similar exceptions for ads on bumper stickers, pens, pencils, balloons and water towers, and for skywriting.
The decision is also significant because cell-phone subscribers number 137.5 million, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. About 23 million U.S. cell-phone users send short text messages on their cell phones, Jupiter Research says.
But people have to pay for text messages they receive on cell phones, and campaigns are asking voters to opt in, so they know which voters are willing to pay to receive the messages.
"Once people are accustomed to sending and receiving text messages on their cell phones, it will absolutely be a part of campaigns," said Ben Green, co-founder of Crossroad Strategies, an Internet consultant in the District, and a consultant to Mr. Kerry's online campaign operations.
Mr. Kerry is collecting cell-phone numbers but isn't using them yet. Asking voters for cell-phone numbers is a first step to sending text messages.
"We're keeping all our bases covered for the future. Right now it's a little early, but these things can catch on pretty quickly," said Mr. Green, who ran Internet operations for the Gore 2000 presidential campaign.
In fact, few candidates are likely to use text messaging in the remaining weeks of the current election cycle, but the technology is showing signs of taking hold.
A weekly survey of 386 candidate Web sites spearheaded by the University of Washington indicates 2 percent of House candidates and 4 percent of Senate candidates ask volunteers to provide their cell-phone numbers. Missouri Democrats Rep. Richard A. Gephardt and Sen. Jean Carnahan are among the politicians soliciting cell-phone numbers.
"People who are likely to give cell-phone numbers to a campaign likely are committed to a candidate and want to contribute to a candidate's success," said Kirsten A. Foot, assistant professor of communications at the University of Washington, who is spearheading the project.
It's not clear whether text messaging will catch on like other technology.
The use of Web sites has become standard, and many candidates collect e-mail addresses to send updates to volunteers.
The campaign of Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, has compiled a database of 25,000 e-mail addresses over the past 18 months.
Having cell-phone numbers would provide candidates with the same connection to voters that e-mail offers, but with greater immediacy.
But some political consultants say that text messaging has to prove that it is as useful as Web pages or e-mail.
"I'm not convinced yet that immediate communication technology is well-suited to an audience that may be only mildly interested in a campaign," said Larry Purpuro, managing director of RightClick Strategies, an Internet consultant to candidates and campaigns, and a former deputy chief of staff at the Republican National Committee.
California Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill recently to prohibit unsolicited text messages to cell phones. The law takes effect in January. Unsolicited commercial text messages to cell phones should be illegal because the people who receive them have to pay for the messages, California lawmakers said.
In addition to that hurdle, no clear strategy has emerged for using text messaging in campaigns.
That hasn't discouraged Craig Krueger, president of Target Wireless, a New Jersey company that has asked the FEC to waive the disclosure requirement.
Mr. Krueger envisions tying messages from candidates to news updates that consumers have said they want to receive. Candidates could sponsor news updates or the updates could be paired with messages from candidates.
"I think everyone understands the world is going mobile. This is real. This has legs for 2004," Mr. Krueger said.


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