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Web wins on election night

Netizens flood the Internet in record numbers trying to get election information and live results.

Netizens flooded the Internet yesterday in record numbers trying to get election information and live results.

"I think it shows the Web has come of age," said Daniel L. Smith, a Web developer with America Online, who, like many, left the TV on while wading through molasses-slow connections to get results. Smith said he surfed "to see what I wanted to see--when I wanted to see it."

Some were looking for last minute information before heading to the polls. Some wanted local results they couldn't get by turning on the television or the radio. Others wanted the results immediately. Whatever their reasons for going online, last night showed definitively what political pundits have been declaring all election season: The Internet is an ideal environment for disseminating election information.

"The Net was just crazy last night," said Scott Anderson, an editor with the Online Newshour. "We had a fivefold increase in our daily hits. Elections like this are what the Net excels on."

Small sites featuring local results were equally swamped with people seeking information they couldn't get anywhere else.

"It's a good example of how the Internet can be used better than newspaper or TV," said Dan Hontz, the online producer at Arizona Central, a Web site for two Phoenix daily newspapers. "It has immediacy and depth."

Although slow connections usually draw criticism, in this case they indicated positive news. "I was just delighted to see the traffic jam," said Gary Selnow, professor of communication at San Francisco State University. "This is the first time the Internet has made available the results, and the people just seized on the opportunity. I find it extraordinarily encouraging."

On the downside, Selnow added that the traffic jams indicate something else: The Internet needs more resources as the population increasingly comes to depend on it.

But, he added, for now the issue is access. "The people who have access to the Internet voted last night, and they voted for this medium."

At MSNBC, users jammed the system, said James Kinsella, general manager on the Internet side. "We had extraordinary usage. At many points we had five times the usual usage.

"It's the first time the Web has played a substantial role in the American public discourse. It says to me the Web's coming of age. This election did for the Internet what the Nixon-Kennedy debate did for TV: It legitimized the medium as part of the American political discourse."

"We're pretty excited," said Lorena O'English, legislative director of Project Vote Smart, which supplied nonpartisan information. "Yesterday we had 400,000 hits," she said. That breaks all previous records. It's clear the Internet is seen as a place people can go to get political information.