Candidate comparison Web site puts issues at fingertips

Your computer is now an Election Information Superhighway of sorts.

If you’ve missed all the TV ads and candidate signs, then you should know its election time in America.

And probably like many Americans, I’ve waited until the last minute to do my homework to help me decide whom I want in office.

But that’s okay, because I came across a Web site that can get many voters up to speed on the political candidates.

PriceGrabber.com is a comparison shopping Web site – the kind where you can do a search on a product and get results listing all the online places to buy it and showing side-by-side comparisons on price and shipping.

Yahoo! Internet Life magazine named PriceGrabber.com the best comparison shopping site.

PriceGrabber.com now has a new search tab that lets voters compare candidates for governor and senator on a variety of issues, like their stand on gay rights or abortion.

Pam Swartwood, communications manager at PriceGrabber.com, talk with me about their “Vote 2002” comparison search tool.

Q: Give us a rundown of what we can find on the PriceGrabber.com “Vote 2002” Web page.

Swartwood: We created a tab on the PriceGrabber.com Web site that is devoted to the 2002 elections on Nov. 5.

We have information on candidates for both the U.S. Senate and for state governor races.

We’re covering 70 races altogether with information on 180 candidates.

Q: Your search tool lets you compare these folks, right? What kind of issues can you research on the candidates?

Swartwood: We took all sorts of information like what states they’re representing, what their background is, and what their views are on the number of key issues.

You can search by a number of issues like gun control and the death penalty, or by age or gender or party and do a side by side comparison against two candidates in the same race, or even see how a candidate you’re backing compares across the rest of the country.

Q: You have a category telling how much was spent on each campaign.

Swartwood: Yes, that’s very interesting information to find out how much a candidate has raised and how much they’re spending.

There are a few expensive campaigns that are spending a ton of money, California being one of them.

We got this information from a number of sources on the Internet. For example, we looked at the governor race in California.

It’s a close race between Gray Davis and Bill Simon. If you live in California like I do, it’s all you hear about.

We do show the candidates outside of the Democrat and Republican parties, too.

We don’t have all of them as some are a little tough to research. The “Vote 2002” site lets you look at them side by side and you see that Gray Davis is 60 years old and Bill Simon is 50.

Gray Davis has raised over $23 million and Bill Simon has raised almost $27 million.

Q: I noticed you show how each candidate stands on the Iraqi invasion issue.

Swartwood: That’s right. We try to find quotes from the candidates either from their own election campaign Web site or within the news media.

Q: Did you have a hard time trying to find out where these candidates stood on issues?

Swartwood: Actually, we did. We thought coming up with the content was going to be the easy part with the Web being out there. Turns out a lot of politicians just won’t say.

Q: They don’t want to be pinned down?

Swartwood: We spent about a week collecting content to put this together and we have a couple of people still plugging in holes as we drive nearer to the election.

Q: What kind of reaction are you getting from the candidates? Do they want you to change information?

Swartwood: I’m waiting for that call. Every day, as I listen to my voice mail, I’m just waiting to hear a candidate say, “You’ve got it wrong!” It hasn’t happened yet.

Q: Do you track the visitor traffic to your site?

Swartwood: Yes, we do. Over the first couple days we had 10,000 people doing searches.

That compares favorably with the last time we did this in 2000 when we did a side-by-side comparison of the presidential candidates.

The traffic then topped out at about 6,000 per day so already we’re seeing a significant increase from that.

Q: Do you see yourselves moving into local races with your comparison charts?

Swartwood: We talked about doing the House of Representatives but that was an awful lot of research and candidates.

Q: I can see this as being very popular.

Swartwood: It fits in very well with what our main business is, which is shopping comparison.

We have a lot of back engine stuff that lets people research and compare products against each other.

Once we had the content, we just put it in the engine we have for products – and in some way the politician really is a product, except it really is a more important decision than what kind of optical mouse you want to buy.

But really the format for serving up this type of information and being able to search by different filters and criteria, all of that is already in the back end of our web site so it was just a kind of tweak on the information we plugged into it

Q: How long will the “Vote 2002” Web page remain up after the Nov. 5 elections?

Swartwood: That has not been determined yet. We’ll probably keep it up a few weeks afterwards so people can come back out of curiosity.

Once they know who has won they may want to come back to read up on their senator or governor.

The full audio interview with Pamela Swartwood of PriceGrabber.com, can be heard Saturday at 11am on KLAY 1180 AM or anytime at www.webtalkguys.com.

Dana Greenlee is a Web designer and co-host of the WebTalkGuys Radio Show, a Tacoma-based talk show featuring technology news and interviews. WebTalkGuys was just named the top “Hidden Gem” in PCWorld Magazine’s August 2002 issue. It is broadcast locally on KLAY 1180 AM Saturdays at 11 a.m. The show is also on CNET Radio in San Francisco, on the Web at www.CNETRadio.com, www.WebTalkGuys.com, via the XM Satellite Network, on IM Networks’ Sonic Box and on the Mobil Broadcast Network. Past shows and interviews are also webcast via the Internet at www.webtalkguys.com

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