Obama Ringtones, Giuliani RSS Feeds: Are Presidential Candidates Burning Us Out Already?

New political media flood is already close to overwhelming.

The good news is that by the time most of you can actually start voting in presidential primaries in February, some of the 18 major-party candidates will have dropped out of the race so you can focus on the front-runners.

The bad news?

If you've already started narrowing down the list of candidates you want to follow, you're looking at nine months of daily (or hourly) text messages, RSS feeds, blog entries, ringtones, vlog posts, e-mails, YouTube videos, MySpace friend requests, live Web chats, Eventful calendar updates and customized widgets for your desktop that give you the latest news on your candidate.

While these are all opt-in technologies that voters have to sign up for, political consultant Jordan Lieberman, publisher of Campaigns & Elections magazine, said the profusion of news streams and constant updates are part of a scramble between the candidates to grab eyeballs using technology that costs them next to nothing.

"The cost of this election is twice what it was for the last one and communication is cheaper, so the number of [times candidates reach out to voters] is rising exponentially," Lieberman said. "But the more times you're touched [by the campaigns], the more you need to be touched for it to be effective again."

And because the campaigns are competing with other media distractions and each other, if Barack Obama tries a new tactic, Hillary Clinton has to follow suit to beat back his advantage. Lieberman said it would be hard, though, to top the traction Clinton got with a "Sopranos" spoof video teasing her song-contest results last week. But will it all burn out voters months before they even get to the voting booth?

Peter Daou, Internet director for the Clinton campaign, doesn't think so. "Technology is a means not an end," said Daou. "It's a starting point in a two-way conversation. So if you focus on what the technology can do to engage people, to get them excited to make a difference and get involved in a presidential campaign, you don't get sidetracked by every new toy that comes out. If it's all about the bells and whistles then fatigue might set in."

That desire to find new ways to tap people's enthusiasm — in the first presidential contest in a half century to not feature an incumbent president or vice president running for office — is what all the e-action is about, said Alex Burgos, a spokesperson for Republican Mitt Romney's campaign. "We'll always use traditional media as well, but there are now all these additional opportunities to engage voters looking for information on their own time," he said.

For now, Democrats definitely appear to be winning the arms race when it comes to offering interactive distractions, though Lieberman said several Republican candidates have some savvy staffers who could make things interesting later this year.

A look at some of the services a few of the major candidates are offering their followers:

Democrats

Hillary Clinton: In addition to the popular song contest/ "Sopranos" spoof video that drew more than 500,000 views, Clinton is offering a build-your-own-blog page, the HillaryHub (with RSS feeds of stories on the candidate) and HillCast videos of her talking about topics such as children's health care and energy.

Barack Obama: A newly launched mobile text-update service allows you to get the latest news on Obama on your cell phone, where you can also get Obama ringtones featuring techno and reggaetón beats under the candidate's sound bites on health care and the Iraq war. Like most of the candidates, you can also catch up with Obama on his pages on Facebook, MySpace, PartyBuilder, YouTube, Flickr and Eventful, where you can download his tour schedule.

Joseph Biden: Some of the usual (a blog and video archive), as well as "HeadtoHead08," a side-by-side video comparison of Biden's and his competitors' takes on the major issues.

John Edwards: Edwards has a sprawling menu of geegaws, including a spot to set up a House Party for Change — with buttons that let you instantly sign up to host or attend one — tools to create your own grassroots funding page, RSS feeds of press releases, headlines, upcoming events, speeches, newsletters, podcasts, audio and video blogs and wife Elizabeth's diary. He even has a lengthy page with detailed definitions of all these tech geek innovations, explaining to the uninitiated what XML and vlogs are. There's the downloadable "I support John Edwards for president" e-mail signatures, wallpaper and badges for your Web site, as well as a downloadable John Edwards widget that sends updates to your Dashboard.

Republicans

Rudy Giuliani: The former New York mayor is offering downloadable widgets that allow you to get campaign updates delivered directly to your blog and automated e-mail invitations to friends to join in on supporting his candidacy.

Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor's site has many of the same elements as the other leading efforts, plus the Five Brothers Blog, written by his handful of sons, and Mitt TV, his very own YouTube-like channel screening dozens of clips of Romney doing interviews and attending events.

John McCain: The Arizona senator augments the standard assortment of blogs and RSS feeds with McCainSpace, an online community where supporters can hook up with other McCainiacs.