Posted by: Douglas Macmillan on January 20, 2009
The 2008 Presidential Elections marked the first time that the various social media sites on the Web played a major role in shaping U.S. politics. Up through election day, average citizens got involved in the process on sites like Facebook, where they vigorously campaigned for their candidate, and on YouTube, where they uploaded videos of their voting experience.
So it’s fitting that today, when Barack Obama swears into office on the steps of the Capitol, millions of people are reuniting on these same sites to share the experience. Throughout the day, I’ll be touring the social Web and reporting live updates on how people are engaging with each other — from tried-and-true venues like Twitter as well as more experimental venues, like Ustream’s chat-enabled iPhone application that’s live-streaming the event.
Continue to check back for updates, this should be fun. And in the comments section below, share your own experiences from the day. What site proved most helpful? Did any tech problems arise? How did the Web make today different from past Inauguration Days?
5:23 PM: Leave a Message After the Oath
Not all field reports from the busy streets of Washington were sent via Twitter. Cellecast, a service that lets people listen to radio programs over their phone, set up a special page to allow anyone to share their Inauguration Day story with the world by dialing a number and leaving a voicemail. The site didn’t see much activity today, but Afi Scruggs, a teacher from Empire Computech Elementary School in Cleveland, Ohio left a string of voice message reports documenting her trail from the Midwest to DC with a busload of 100 kids, parents and teachers. “We’ve packed up the buses. We’ve got our pretzels. We’ve got our movies. And we just had our prayer,” Scruggs said in a message on Jan. 19, the day the group left Cleveland. “Everybody’s just overwhelmed by the momentous occasion and the fact that we’re going to actually witness this.”
4:36 PM: CNN Update
The latest global stats from CNN: As of 3:30, the news outlet counts upwards of 136 million page views to its site today and 21.3 million video streams since 6 AM. That’s nearly four times the site’s previous record of 5.3 million video streams on election day.
3:42 PM: The Mistake Heard ‘Round the Blogosphere
In an otherwise by-the-book ceremony, one glitch during Obama’s oath became instant fodder for online chatter. As Chief Justice John Roberts came to the phrase “faithfully the office of president of the United States,” he left out the word faithfully, causing Obama to pause abruptly in his recitation. From there, the YouTube clip caught instant viral life:
At first, some Twitter users attributed the mistake to the new President: “Aw, he was nervous taking the oath! He’s human too,” wrote grace2244. But soon, reports spread that it was indeed Roberts’ error. “ABC says the guy giving the oath mixed up the words -hence Obama’s pause,” wrote Twitter user hidama.
But then, a new wrinkle gave bloggers, TV pundits, and the Twittering masses plenty of grist to chew over the afternoon: does leaving one word out of the oath call into question his official status as President? On TV, Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume fueled the fire, saying “I suspect that everybody is going to forgive him and allow him to take over as president but I’m not sure he actually said what is in the Constitution.” Celebrity-gossip blog TMZ chimed in: “Could this be a conservative conspiracy?”
Over at ABC News’ Legal blog, Jan Crawford Greenburg at least temporarily settled the matter by pointing out that there’s precedent for Presidential oath-fumbling: “Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who had been President himself, also flubbed the oath when he was swearing in Herbert Hoover in 1929,” she wrote.
3:27 PM: Microsoft’s Gee-Whiz Moment
It’s not often you get to say that the coolest social media moment of the day was brought to you by Microsoft; it just doesn’t sit right. But lo and behold, the Redmond company’s Photosynth technology helped create this astounding interactive 3-D image, which pieces together photos submitted to CNN’s site of the instant President Obama is putting his hand to the Bible from dozens of different vantage points around the Capitol steps. Currently, the image is a little tricky to navigate, since it appears that only about 100 or so images have been incorporated. But the site is still requesting more images, so I expect by the time most Mall-goers get home at the end of the day this will grow into a spectacular, high-tech keepsake of this historic day.
3:00 PM: Facebook Update
Champagne bottles are likely popping open at Facebook’s Palo Alto offices the afternoon. The social networking site proved it was able to withstand a huge deluge of activity, peaking with 8,500 status updates the minute Obama took the oath. There were an average of 4,000 status updates every minute of the broadcast, and a total of 600,000 updates were sent through the Facebook/CNN live feed tool.
2:42 PM: MySpace Goes Ignored
Of the dozen or so Inauguration Day-related press pushes that came my way in the past week, MySpace had the most elaborate and, I thought, unique. The News Corp.-owned social networking site teamed up with Ashton Kutcher’s production company Katalyst Media to create the video below, in which celebrities like Cameron Diaz, Michael Strahan, and P. Diddy issue “presidential pledges”: What they plan to do to help the new administration bring about real changes in the country through simple actions, such as not using as much gas or remembering to turn the lights off.
The idea for this campaign was to encourage MySpace users to create their own video pledges and share them on the site. The start-studded video itself generated 700+ comments, but combing through them today I couldn’t find a single “presidential pledge” video created by a user. This is probably partly a result of poor promotion — and admittedly, it’s hard to generate buzz for a campaign like this when you’re competing with a new President. But judging by the low (nonexistent?) ratio of user videos to user comments, part of the problem seems to be technological: the site should have it made it easier to upload videos and rewarded those who did by displaying them more prominently on the site.
1:59 PM: Postcards from Around the Country
On photo-sharing site Flickr, the number of posts tagged "inauguration" now numbers in the tens of thousands. Many of those are picture updates from this morning's viewing parties in the streets, offices, and schools across the country. Here's a sampling:
Harlem, courtesy of Flickr user airtightdolphin.
San Francisco, courtesy of Flickr user Slo White.
A real estate office in Scottsdale, Ariz., courtesy of Flickr user JohnHallAssociates.
1:34 PM: Twitter Update
This just in from Twitter: The micro-blogging site saw a peak of five times its normal tweets-per-second rate during President Obama's swearing in. But not every tweet got through, says co-founder Biz Stone. "Some folks did experience a 2-5 minute delay receiving updates at the peak but the system recovered quickly," Stone says. "We'll be looking at that this afternoon and correcting for the next big event."
12:47 PM: Now Taking Suggestions for Change
At 12:01 PM, the official web site for the U.S. President, whitehouse.gov rolled over to its new look. As expected, it looks a lot like Change.gov, Obama's official transition site which won praise for its clean look and Citizen's Briefing Book feature, which invited visitors to send in ideas about issues. That features has been renamed, but there's still a forum for submitting ideas, called the Office of Public Liaison, which promises "bring new voices to the table, build relationships with constituents and seeks to embody the essence of the President's movement for change through the meaningful engagement of citizens and their elected officials by the federal government." Just keep your proposal snappy -- the Web form only allows for 500 characters.
12:29 PM: Good Speech. What's For Lunch?
The official host of this Washington shebang, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, wants to bring you viewers at home a little closer the experience. So the committee has published on its Web site the entire menu for the inauguration luncheon, a Presidential tradition dating back to 1987. But don't just sit there and drool at the thought of "A brace of American birds served with sour chutney and molasses sweet potatoes," go make it yourself -- the committee has also included detailed recipes.
12:18 PM: CNN Statistics
This just in from CNN: The news site is reporting 13.9 million live video streams globally since 6 AM. That's already approaching triple the number of live streams served over the course of the entire Election Day, when there were 5.3 million.
12:07 PM: Facebook's Status
A side-story today is Facebook's attempt to out-Twitter Twitter. In a partnership with CNN, the social networking site got some 2.1 million users to sign up to watch the news site's live feed while discussing the events via status updates, directly next to the video player. So far, Facebook is reporting surprisingly high activity: 200,000 status updates have gone through the CNN site from about 3,000 people. Why does this matter? Because this is the first time we've seen a large number of people using Facebook status updates more like a real-time chat, or a microblog. Over the next year, we're likely to see Facebook alter its status update tool to encourage more active updating like this. If that happens, Twitter might lose the single most important point of differentiation it has to the behemoth social network: its flurry of constant activity.
11:45 AM: Streaming Video Vital Signs
On election day, online news outlets and Web video sites set new records for live streaming video feeds. Today, they're expected to topple those records -- and in a more condensed time frame, no less. While #1 player CNN appears to be holding up, I've heard first-hand reports that Web TV site Joost and live-streaming site Ustream has already begun suffering serious outages. Any problems now will only intensify over the next hour.
11:26 AM: Celebrity Accounts
Not all first-hand accounts of the scene in D.C. are coming from average Joes -- some celebrities are using their enviable access to support their own fan bases online. Over the weekend, R&B singer John Legend uploaded a video to his site that's been making the rounds on the viral Web. It shows him with other performers like Beyonce and Queen Latifah during a rehearsal for Saturday's We Are One concert, at the moment that President-elect Obama swings by to pay them a personal visit. When A-listers like this are jittery, teary-eyed, and awestruck, you know this moment is huge. Click here to watch the video.
11:15 AM: Twitter Embeds
Updates are coming fast and furious on micro-blogging site Twitter, where users are sharing 140-character Inauguration-related musings by including #inaug09 in their tweets. By last count, these posts are coming at a rate of 75-100 per minute, but the site hasn't experienced any outages in service so far. Many people are reporting their at-work celebrations ("Festive snacks, balloon-flag archways and video on the big screen"), while some intrepid Twitter-reporters are uploading pictures and eyewitness accounts from the National Mall in D.C. This photo comes from a user named "beanz80," who writes only "The scene":
10:40 AM: Mr. President, Throw Away Your Speech
"Crowd-writing" has produced millions of Wikipedia entries, at least one novel, and now this: an inauguration speech by the people, for the people. News site Slate teamed up with collaborative writing site MixedInk to take reader suggestions on what Obama should say in his first speech as President. After combing through 385 user-submitted speeches, Slate editors picked two of the best and mashed them up with past inauguration speeches from Dwight Eisenhower and Woodrow Wilson. The result is a compelling speech, one the keen orator Obama himself may be hard-pressed to top: "Future generations of Americans will look back at this moment of crisis and opportunity and they will judge us—but not by our words. They will measure us—but not by the promises we make. For language has the power to move us to action, but it is never a substitute for it." Read the full speech here.