Obama's inauguration via the Web: Imperfect, but still very cool

The Web was one of the stars of the Obama inauguration today. However, like Chief Justice Roberts, it stumbled a bit during the festivities.

I was following along on CNN.com, which had, rather ambitiously, decided to run Facebook's status feeds alongside its streaming video coverage of the events, allowing Facebook users to join in a conversation among their "friends" or with everyone who was watching via the CNN site. On the whole, it worked -- those of us who were watching from home or work could still exchange opinions and feelings with a community of equally engaged people. 

That is, if they could get the stream. After I got on, several Facebook users complained that they were getting "stream not available" messages at the CNN.com site (Computerworld reporter Robert Mitchell noted that he wasn't able to access the video until five minutes after the swearing in). I had adjourned to another room to watch the actual swearing in and speech on TV; when I returned, I was no longer connected to the stream either.

Reports are mixed as to how things went if you were actually attending. CNN reported that "wireless service was spotty" in DC as cell phone calls and texting hit what could possibly be an historic peak. MSNBC ran a headline reading, "Wireless networks crushed with traffic," and reported that texting was, on the whole, working, but cell phone coverage was difficult or, depending on which service you used, impossible. One of the main problems? The number of people sending "I wuz there" photos from their cells.

Still, despite the hiccups and the outages and the bandwidth issues, it appears as if technology is starting to create the brave new world it had promised. It enabled a huge number of people to be simultaneously in touch with large events and their friends and neighbors. And if President Obama makes good his promise to "build the...digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together," then it should prove even more efficient, useful, and (much as I hate to use a cliché) empowering.

I have a few vague memories of the year 1961, watching John F. Kennedy's inauguration on my parents' black and white TV. This was actually not the first television broadcast of a presidential inaugural address -- that was Truman's in 1949. But in those days, television was still relatively new, and for many of our friends and neighbors this was the first time they could actually watch an inauguration while it was happening.

It was exciting then. It was equally exciting today.

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