PRESENTING THE VOICE OF THE 'NET;VOTELINK GIVES USERS A PLACE TO AIR VIEWS AND TO VIEW ADS, TOO

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Come July 4, when most of the country will be barbecuing and watching fireworks, Votelink will inaugurate one of the World Wide Web's first online opinion-gathering projects.

Votelink, a new company based in Boulder, Colo. (http://www.votelink.com), will tally responses on world, national, state and local issues each week. Web users can also read opinions and add their views to bulletin boards and chat areas.

Poppe Tyson's interactive unit (http://www.poppe.com) will sell ads on the site.

The Internet has long stood for democracy and free speech, two issues close to the heart of Votelink. With the 1996 elections impending, the company hopes to be able to present the voice of the 'net to government officials and news media.

"We don't feel there is a collective place where people can come together to discuss all these issues," said Votelink founder and President Alexia Parks. "What we're looking at is valuing the 'net for its collective thinking ability."

Votelink's first world issue question will relate to the situation in Bosnia; the national question asks whether people would be willing to pay more taxes to lower the budget deficit.

Web users in 10 major cities will be able to vote on local and state issues.

At first, voters can visit the site anonymously, but after the first month Votelink will establish a registration mechanism ensuring there won't be ballot-box stuffing.

"There's a huge interest in issues," said David Carlick, senior VP-general manager of Poppe Tyson, Mountain View, Calif. "Issues are what drive the news. This is the first time you get to put in your vote."

Votelink is the latest in a string of Web contracts for Poppe Tyson. The agency manages ad sales for Netscape Communications Corp.'s site (http://www.netscape.com) and also designed the Web site for the White House (http://www.whitehouse.gov).

Rotating ads on Votelink's world and national pages cost $3,845 per week, with a minimum buy of eight weeks. Ads on the state/local pages run $2,575 per week. Mr. Carlick wouldn't name sponsors, but a mockup of the site features links to the Web sites of Sun Microsystems, Federal Express Corp., United Airlines, AT&T and others.

Ms. Parks expects the site to tally a minimum of 5,000 voters per day.

There are concerns that any Internet voting effort won't really track the voice of the people.

"The demographics of the Internet are particularly skewed in the case of gender, education, etc.," said Scott Fritchie, technical coordinator for the Minnesota Electronic Democracy Project, a volunteer group exploring Internet issues.

But, said Stanton McCandlish, online services manager for the Washington-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, "The real potential here is for grassroots organization and information dissemination."

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