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Debate with interactivity

Political junkies won't have to settle for television and radio to access the presidential debate Sunday. There will be plenty of places to go online to get fixed.

Political junkies won't have to settle for television and radio to access the presidential debate Sunday. There will be plenty of places to go online to get their fixes.

You can hear the debate with a RealAudio player, courtesy of the Hartford Courant at its special election site. Political pundits will be their to offer their, er, commentary.

If you're an active Netizen who wants to participate directly, you might go to a site that offers a chance to voice your own opinion. America Online, for instance, is offering its members such a site on its proprietary network.

Digital Equipment will conduct an experimental cyberpoll live during the debate to capture voter opinions as they are being formed, said David Jefferson, project manager of the electronic survey.

A person participating would watch or listen to the debate in front of a computer screen and click on buttons saying she approved or disapproved of the candidates' statements. The results will then be correlated to the debate, tabulated, and released immediately following the debate, Jefferson said.

Just as important as offering another vehicle for pundits to determine political opinion, the poll will force voters to think while they watch, Jefferson said. "You have to be listening carefully to what the candidates say in order for you to give your reaction," he said. It also "gives political analysts a new tool to know what the American public thinks."

Mark Kuhn, communication coordinator for the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has a comprehensive list of online debate-related services, said Internet coverage of the event offers several advantages.

For instance, he said, it will give people overseas the same access to the debate as people in United States. And the sites that offer this coverage will create a rich database of political information.

"For those places transcribing and storing text, it's invaluable," Kuhn said. Some, he added, "may want to participate in an online discussion during the debate."

But the real value in this experiment may be the development of these resources for the future.

As Kuhn put it: "In many ways what I think people are doing is preparing for the next set of elections where the technology will be more sophisticated."