Mark Samber considers himself a political enthusiast, so much so that he ran for office as a candidate for the Oyster River School Board from the town of Lee, New Hampshire in 1997. He didn't win, but it made him realize he was better off as a political thinker, not as a candidate. So he put his ideas into action and helped create a web site called "PrimaryDiner.com - Information From The 2000 Campaign Trail."
This is more than just the usual political site, and more than the usual presidential candidate's site. PrimaryDiner.com takes the old-fashioned values of New Hampshire and "dishes" out the information people really want to know about the candidates, issues, latest standings and anything else to help them make a better decision when it comes time to vote.
PrimaryDiner.com has the streamlined feel of a diner from the 1950s - you can almost see the high-backed vinyl booths, smell the aroma of a fresh pot of coffee and apple pie and have a perky waitress come to your monitor screen to take your order.
"I wanted that homey, informal, close feel," Samber explains. "It had to be a neighborly online community where people would feel comfortable, just like they did when they went to the corner diner to have their morning coffee and congregate, to talk about local politics and gossip - it's an American icon."
Since New Hampshire is the starting point for presidential candidates, Samber felt it was natural to incorporate the retail feel of politicking with something people could relate to, whether or not they visited diners in the 1950s.
When PrimaryDiner.com officially went up on April 15, 1999, it was still a work in progress, but soon caught on and has evolved tremendously since.
"Staffers from every campaign are registered with the site," Samber notes. "They think it's great and contribute information, schedules, and news."
We over 2000 daily readers of the e-mail brief that goes out. we've had as much as 500,000 hits
in a day. though we are averaging about 10,000 hits a day.
With over 2,000 people registered on the site, Samber finds most of them are staffers, media, activists and political junkies, although voters are steadily adding to those numbers. But you don't need to register - just visit the site and see how popular it's become. There are an average of 10,000 hits a day, sometimes as many as 500,000 - mostly due to the diligence of keeping everything fresh and up to date, which guarantees return visits.
PrimaryDiner.com offers a little bit of everything, from the Soup du Jour (editorials and opinion about important issues in the 2000 race) to the Daily Brief (what's happening in the campaigns, articles and the latest headlines) to Regular Joes (candidate speeches, campaign calendars, endorsements, whistle stops and where everyone stands on the issues) plus The Jukebox, where visitors can listen to campaign speeches and view television ads of the candidates.
Two of the more popular areas are The Booth, home to the bulletin board and chat room, which seems to see a flurry of activity at lunchtime, after 5:00 p.m. or when a candidate is scheduled for the weekly online chat. The talk is as lively as one at a real local diner - all that's missing is the waitress refilling your coffee cup.
The site is cleverly done, easy to navigate even for a novice and truly eye-catching, which is not surprising since it was designed by Eyeoninteractive, a web site development firm that is also one of Samber's other ventures.
A Little About Mark Samber
Samber has been on the Internet since 1985, starting off with UNIX in college, then watching it grow into the web as we know it today. After graduation, Samber worked for a couple of Internet-related companies before starting Eyeoninteractive in 1998 with his brother-in-laws Stephen Rakaseder and Drew Casey.
"Our multimedia part of the site has grown, with more group activity designed to create a true community feel," Samber adds. "Once the primaries are over, we'll become PoliticalDiner.com (which is already a mirror site) and keep track of the Presidential race and beyond."
Not that this doesn't keep him busy enough - Samber also speaks throughout the nation about effectively bringing business to the web instead of just throwing up any old web site.
"I want to put a fire under business owners so they can decide whether it's worth it to hire a company to create their web site or do it themselves, but do so in a way to attract customers," he explains.
With a marketing campaign in full gear to attract more of the "regular joes" to PrimaryDiner.com, you'd think Samber would have his hands full. But he's able to find time for his other passions - baseball and off-road biking.
Plus there are more projects, one of which is called wiredvote.com and others he is keeping under his hat for now.
"I have to admit, I'm filled with ideas," he laughs.
J.A. Hitchcock is a regular contributor to Compute Me. Visit her web site at jahitchcock.com.