Computer users can get politics online

PERSONAL COMPUTERS

November 09, 1992|By PETER H. LEWIS

On election night, computer users got news of the lates returns as quickly as the newscasters did. A modem gave citizens access to news wire services -- including the Associated Press -- and up-to-date information on the voting.

And now that the election is long past, citizens can remain politically active with the help of their computers and modems.

Compuserve's "candidate-gram" service allows users to send telegrams ($1.50 each) to the candidates directly from the computer. The service provides a form for writing the telegram and automatically addresses and sends the messages by the postal service.

Compuserve charges $12.80 for each hour of connected time at a modem speed of 1,200 or 2,400 bits per second, which discourages browsing. Perusing the political news clipping folders costs an extra $15 an hour.

Software International Inc., which makes a popular program called ACT! for keeping track of business contacts, wants to make writing elected officials easier by introducing a new package called, appropriately enough, Write Your Congressman! ($39.95, for DOS; a Macintosh version is forthcoming).

The software is composed of a data base of senators and representatives, including addresses, telephone and facsimile numbers, committee assignments and even the names of key assistants. A word processor inserts the date, address,salutation and closing, and then prints an envelope. It also generates mailing labels.

The software allows users to write a single member of Congress, or a group that can be selected by entering various criteria in the data base: Republicans, Appropriations Committee members, Kansans, etc.

For more information, call Contact Software of Carrollton, Texas, at (214) 919-9500.

For voters, the computer also provides a last-minute way to research candidates and issues before entering the voting booth.

On election night, the Prodigy Service Co. gave updates four to eight times an hour, including congressional and gubernatorial races. Prodigy users tapped in their zip codes for customized tallies. Between updates, users read analysis provided by national political commentators.

Prodigy maintains a data base of profiles for the major candidates. For those who haven't gotten enough political oratory recently, even the texts of the stump speeches of Mssrs. Bush, Clinton and Perot are included, along with comparisons of their stances on major issues.

Prodigy requires special software (about $25 at most computer stores, for DOS and Macintosh computers) and a subscription that costs $14.95 a month for unlimited access through a local telephone number.

For the presidential campaign, Compuserve has created a file of clippings from the Associated Press, Reuters and the Washington Post news services. The wires have been searched for key words, like the economy or the environment, and related articles sent to the appropriate files.

(Peter Lewis works out of the New York Times' Austin, Texas bureau: [512] 328-8258.)

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