Microsoft Working to Make Political Conventions Unconventional

REDMOND, Wash. — Aug. 19, 2008 — From a technological perspective, the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions will be unlike any before. With the help of Microsoft, both the Democrats and Republicans will transcend the walls of their respective venues through online events that give voters unprecedented levels of access and empowerment.

Microsoft is the Official Software and HD Web Content Provider for the 2008 Democratic National Convention – held Aug. 25-28 in Denver, Colo. – and the Official Technology Provider for the 2008 Republican National Convention, held Sept. 1-4 in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn.

Both parties want to use technology and the Web to engage more people in the convention experience this year than has been possible in the past.

“As we’ve seen throughout the primary season, technology is playing an increasingly critical role in the electoral process,” said Brad Smith, Microsoft’s senior vice president and general counsel. “Microsoft will help ensure that both parties’ delegates are able to take full advantage of the benefits that today’s technologies offer.”

Several business-productivity, e-mail and real-time collaboration applications will be used at both conventions, including:

The 21st-Century Convention

Microsoft was a technology provider at the two 2004 conventions, but at that time the focus was primarily on creating a basic technology infrastructure for the events. This year, according to Joel Cherkis, general manger of Government Solutions for Microsoft and the technical coordinator of the company’s activities at both conventions, the role of technology is much more significant. “This time around, we are supplying both parties with some very innovative technology, such as interactive displays, portable music players and high-definition video streaming,” said Cherkis.

“Microsoft’s leadership in software development makes them an ideal partner for the DNCC,” said Leah Daughtry, CEO of the Democratic National Convention Committee. “Microsoft’s pioneering technology will play an integral role in powering the business of the convention and helping to involve more Americans in the convention experience than ever before.”

Innovation in the Twin Cities

For the Republican National Convention in St. Paul and Minneapolis, Microsoft is creating collaborative virtual workspaces, a volunteer management system and a venue-scheduling system. The electronic collaboration is designed to help the staff be more efficient and use less paper, in keeping with the convention’s green commitment. Convention attendees will also use Microsoft Forefront business security products to protect information and control access to online data.

To help the estimated 40,000 attendees at the convention find their way around, a series of “digital concierges” will be available. Microsoft Surface computing technology will help provide easy access to the latest convention and local information, including transportation routes, hotel locations, restaurant guides and entertainment options for Minneapolis – all through a natural interface requiring only natural hand gestures and touch.

In addition, the Surface computers at the convention center will offer interactive content related to the current and past conventions provided by the Library of Congress, such as video footage, photos and articles.

Microsoft is also co-sponsoring an essay contest for local St. Paul and Minneapolis teens. Students in grades seven through 12 were invited to submit essays on what the American flag means to them. The winning essayist, 15-year-old high school freshman Victoria Blackstone of Roseville, Minn., and the runner-up, 13-year-old eighth-grader Mark Rugnetta of Savage, Minn., will receive Xbox video game and entertainment systems from Microsoft and laptop computers from Qwest Communications. Blackstone will also be invited to lead the Pledge of Allegiance during the convention, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper will publish the two winning essays. Microsoft will also award Zune music players and educational software products to the other eight finalists.

Mile-High Tech

For the Democrats, Microsoft has created systems for media registration, delegate tracking, vote tracking, credentials management and podium operations.

In a first for a political convention, Microsoft, in conjunction with Level 3 Communications, will bring live, gavel-to-gavel high-definition video coverage of the four-day event to a worldwide audience via the convention’s Web site at http://www.demconvention.com/home/. Content will include live footage, data feeds, pictures, speaker information overlays and a daily “pre-game show” recapping the previous day’s activities and highlighting upcoming convention activities. These multimedia applications will be enabled by Silverlight, Microsoft’s technology for developing interactive Web applications and delivering high-definition video via the Web.

The use of Silverlight will make viewing the convention online a rich experience, offering larger, crisper pictures and the unprecedented opportunity for viewers to individually tailor their convention experiences, for both live and on-demand viewing. Viewers will have the ability to adjust screen sizes, view multiple streams simultaneously with a picture-in-picture feature, and view additional content such as the speaker’s bio, voting history or even commentary from political analysts on the same screen while watching a live speech. Viewers will also be able to easily share Silverlight segments with friends and colleagues.

“We’re using technology to break through the walls of the convention halls, creating virtual halls that can accommodate millions, all with a front-row seat,” said Cherkis.

Surface kiosks will also be set up at the Democratic event, offering local information and multimedia files from past conventions.

Microsoft will contribute to the Democrats’ “green” efforts by deploying power-management settings on all equipment, virtualizing the servers at the convention center and tracking the company’s carbon footprint for convention-related energy consumption, including all transport of goods and staff air and ground travel.

“Putting together all the technological aspects of these two conventions in the time we had to work with was really quite a feat,” said Cherkis. “We were contacted by both convention committees in June 2007. So we accomplished the equivalent of equipping two companies that went from startup to full production to maturity, in just 14 months.”