The soon-to-be 44th president of the United States, who addresses citizens via YouTube (here and here) and Twitter, is also a Mac user who has been spotted flashing an iPhone, keeps up with his family via iChat, whose “O” logo was designed on a Mac and whose campaign was powered by MacBooks.
Obama has said they’ll have to pry the Blackberry out of his hands and, in addition to the more obvious firsts, may be the first president to put a lap top in the Oval Office.
It would give him something in common with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, who has been photographed doing official business on his MacBook.
Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington today could also prove to be the biggest new media event ever?
Maybe – but it could also turn out to be a triumph for the old media.
If you want to watch the event live, then there are innumerable ways. Here in the UK you can see it on BBC1 and, if you have multi-channel TV, on Sky News, CNN or plenty of others. But that is just the beginning. If you’re at a computer rather than in front of the telly, it will still be very easy to watch the swearing-in of President Obama live, with everyone from Joost to C-SPAN – and of course this site – offering a live stream.
Then there is all the social networking and other interactive bells and whistles. So Facebook and Twitter will be alive with comments and links, and just about every other site will be telling you theirs is the best place to be to experience the swearing-in of the 44th President.
CNN has what sounds like a great idea. It is asking anyone who is attending the inauguration to take a photo at precisely 1200 (1700 GMT) when Obama takes the oath and send it to the cable news station. They will then use a Microsoft program called Photosynth to create what could be an extraordinary 3D image of a moment in history.
The BBC website also has all sorts of plans. There will be a live event page, with reports from correspondents in the field, blog posts, and Twitter messages. There will be video reactions sent in by users of services like Seesmic and Qik, and there will be a “mood map” with people around the world invited to say whether they are optimistic or pessimistic about an Obama administration, and their reactions then flagged on the map.
I looked back at our online coverage of the inauguration of President George W Bush in January 2001. It looks pretty plain vanilla – lots of text, but no embedded video or social networking. Of course back then in the dim and distant past, nobody had heard of Facebook, MySpace or Twitter – because they did not exist.
So, given all of this innovation, how many people will choose to be online rather than on the sofa for President Obama’s inaugural speech? Back in 2001, the BBC site was used by around one million people on an average day, whereas these days an average audience is six million, and that rises to 10 million for really big events, like the US Presidential election back in November.
But one of my colleagues, who analyses our web traffic, isn’t convinced that the inauguration will be a big online event, pointing out that it doesn’t play to the strengths of the internet.
He told me that big web events involve a lot of data, like an election, or a lot of conflict, with people coming online to argue. With Barack Obama already elected and the sole focus of the event, there is not much information to digest – and not a lot to argue about.
What this feels like is a classic television event. Of modern inaugurations, that of Ronald Reagan in 1981 drew the biggest US television audience with around 42 million people tuning in, while George W Bush’s second inaugural address in 2005 was watched by just 15 million.
There are predictions that President Obama will bust all records – in the US and globally. So this looks like an event that could see the old media – or at least one of them, broadcast television – stage a fightback.
But the great thing about the online coverage is that it will be around for years to come, as a resource for history students and schoolchildren. I’ve been looking at YouTube, where I found plenty of videos of President Kennedy’s celebrated inaugural address.
Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Chicago was the most popular piece of video ever on the BBC site, with 1.7 million views. Perhaps his inaugural address – if he gets it right – will break that record?
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