Dec. 19, 2007 — -- Newspapers and magazines won't be the only media outlets endorsing presidential candidates this election cycle.
Popular tech blog TechCrunch will make its own picks for president, giving its opinionated readership a voice on policy issues close to tech-savvy Americans' hearts.
Starting today, TechCrunch, which is read by more than 400,000 people monthly according to Nielsen/NetRatings, will allow readers to vote on its site for a Republican and a Democratic presidential candidate based on the candidate's stance on issues such as net neutrality and ID theft.
"What really surprised me is how much my readers wanted to see this information. Candidates are seeing that it's not only important to jump on Facebook and YouTube … but it's also important to outline their policies on some of these issues," Michael Arrington, the blog's founder and co-editor, told ABC News. "We're not talking about issues that have a huge moral [impact], but they're issues that are really hard to understand."
At primaries.techcrunch.com, readers can vote for a candidate and read more information on his or her positions on issues including technology education, immigration and H1B visas, the wireless spectrum, intellectual property and renewable energy, among others. Voting ends Jan. 18 and users will be allowed to vote once per day.
The idea for reader-endorsed candidates began after users responded strongly to the site's podcasts with candidates this fall, Arrington said. In the segments, candidates discussed — openly, for the most part, according to Arrington — their stance on various tech issues.
"The idea just sort of evolved. We reached out to really all of the candidates to do podcasts with them," Arrington said. "It became pretty clear a lot of these issues were pretty important to our readers."
So far, the site has featured former Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. and former Democratic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. The blog will try to interview all of them, according to Arrington, who said that he was surprised at the access the site was granted.
"To some extent we've forced the candidates to think hard about these issues when they otherwise might not have," he said. "They went to a lot of trouble to make sure they had a real position on net neutrality."
Arrington attributed that access both to candidates' heightened awareness of social networking tools and online video as well as to the site's apolitical stance.
"We just talk about technology," he said.
Candidates with libertarian leanings, like Gravel, a Democrat, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a Republican, are undeniably Silicon Valley favorites. Paul has an extraordinarily active fan base on the Web, which he demonstrated during a record-breaking fundraising period of about $6 million in 24 hours.
Still, Arrington doesn't believe Gravel's and Paul's Web popularity has automatically determined the vote's outcome. The site will also be watching for Web bots set up to skew the vote for a certain candidate.
"Obama seems to be the lead in [a] number of comments" on the site, Arrington said. "There's a difference in fraud and the skewed voting ideals of Silicon Valley."
Whatever the outcome, endorsements rarely have a huge impact on elections, according to Rick Klein, ABC News' senior political reporter.
"Media endorsements are rarely game-changers — few viewers or readers blindly follow their favorite media outlets or commentators," Klein said. "But they can be key in reinforcing certain themes candidates talk about, and in providing stamps of approval that candidates can tout on the trail."
Even so, for media outlets with a smaller, more niche audience — like TechCrunch — the endorsement may have more impact than a publication with a larger, but more disparate, audience.
"The more specialized the audience, generally, the more the sway [an endorsement has]," Klein said. "Dedicated viewers or users, who have gone out of their way to find a particular blog or commentator, are probably more likely to follow the lead of that outlet."