Crowds watch inauguration with their Facebook friends

Facebook and CNN team up to let people watch and chat online at the same time

In a somewhat new twist to social networking, a lot of techies watched today's inauguration of President Barack Obama with all their Facebook friends.

No, they didn't meet up at a local pub to watch on a widescreen TV. In this case, CNN and Facebook teamed up in what observers are already calling a wildly successful inauguration day venture. The two media companies collaborated on an application that enabled Facebook users to watch the inauguration while communicating with their Facebook friends at the same time.

And according to, more than 1 million people had updated their Facebook status through the Live Facebook feed as of 2 p.m. Eastern time today. The Web site also reported that there were 8,500 status updates the minute Obama began his speech and 4,000 status updates every minute during the broadcast.

"I think it was a tremendous catalyst to show some of the things social networking can do," said Allen Weiner, an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. "It was a thing of beauty. It was easy to use. The TV window never overwhelmed the conversation, but it provided context. Social networks work when you have something to talk about -- from the size of Aretha Franklin's hat to the content of what Obama was saying."

Inauguration day was a big day for social networking sites in general.

Today's ceremony had people flocking to social networking sites, like Twitter and Tumblr, to comment, share and take in the reactions of people around the world. Instead of sitting and watching, people could be virtual historians, reporting in from the actual event or recounting reactions around the globe. For instance, at its peak today, Twitter had five times as many tweets per second as it usually does, according to Biz Stone, co-founder of the microblogging site.

Caroline Dangson, an analyst at IDC, called the Facebook/CNN collaboration a clever way to enable people to contribute during a historic event.

"I was on the Twitter site, but I was really drawn to seeing the live event and the comments, like about Aretha Franklin's hat, side by side" on the Facebook site," she said. "I was glued to the screen, and having that access to Facebook was really convenient for me. I can go back to Twitter [later] and see links and comments and photos that people posted."

Weiner said he particularly liked having the tabs on the Facebook page that allowed him to share his comments with his group of friends or with the entire inauguration audience.

"People were interested, and the numbers were impressive," he added. "I'm not sure if this would work with just anything, like TV shows, or if it'll only work with major events."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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