21st Century Inauguration

To say it was exciting was a bit of an understatement. Sure, it happens every four years. And, truth be told, I rarely watch it. I think the last one I watched was in 1997. But this one was different.

Yes, he’s the first African American president. Yes, that’s a very big deal, and I don’t want to diminish its implications. And yes, he has inspired the American people. There’s a culture of hope surrounding this president. But this is a tech blog.

This was the campaign that embraced social networking, provided interactive tools on its web site, used Twitter to keep everyone informed, revived the “fireside chats” using YouTube, and gave audience to the blogosphere. This is the president with a Blackberry. Rumor has it that there may even be a computer in the oval office for the first time.

So it’s only natural that we would want to use online tools to celebrate this event. There were lots of resources available. I think every major news organization (and a number of minor ones) were streaming live video. Ironically, perhaps, our over-enthusiasm to embrace the new may have caused more problems than it solved. After unsuccessfully trying to watch the streams at CNN, C-Span, PBS, and ABC, I was amused to see an email to our staff suggesting that they watch those streams. I quickly followed up, pointing out that the easiest method for watching the inauguration was probably to find a TV. Personally, I ended up listening to the audio stream on NPR, and catching occasional glimpses of the video at CBS. At the same time, I was keeping an eye on Twitter.

The Twitterverse was going crazy from the moment I got up. Here are some highlights from people I follow. I was initially going to organize these chronologically, but I’ll go with themes instead:


  • Schinker: Just threw away my “George W. Bush Out of Office Countdown” calendar. What a long eight years it’s been.
  • alexragone: Waiting on the platform this morning it felt warmer than the actual temperature. I felt good vibe – An inauguration vibe – A hopeful vibe.
  • willrich45: Been waiting over 8 years for this. Others have been waiting a lifetime. Time to find the Kleenex. Proud to be American today. Gobama!
  • AngelaMaiers: Good Morning Friends- Today is an historic day…Enjoy!
  • wasilt1: Obama has arrived in the Capitol building. My students are clapping and cheering.
  • jutecht: 2 1/2 hours to go and bar in Thailand is packed waiting for Obama.
  • JenM: wow … catch in throat all day … (in a good way)
  • schinker: It feels a lot like Independence Day.
  • kevinschultz: Today is a great day for our country!
  • willrich45: Amazing speech. Where do I sign up?
  • skydaddy: Note to a watching world: We did it again. Hotly contested election, strong arguments, peaceful transition of power. The system works.
  • AngelaMaiers: God Bless America! I just watched the speech with 150 HS students- you could have heard a pin drop! Amazing, amazing , amazing!
  • ewanmcintosh: Love it – “The previous guy did a bloody awful job, sapped out confidence, set off America’s decline…”
  • AngelaMaiers: God Bless America! I just watched the speech with 150 HS students- you could have heard a pin drop! Amazing, amazing , amazing!

Let me stop here for a second. Jeff Utecht lives in Thailand. Ewan McIntosh is in Scotland. I can’t remember the last time I paid this much attention to a government change in any other country. I’ve also never been in a position to get immediate feedback from people all over the world on current events.


  • ijohnpederson: CNN reporting that Obama’s slightly off schedule as they wait for Internet & DirecTV to arrive “sometime between 8:00am and 1:00pm.”
  • courosa: “Cheney to haunt the nomination in a wheelchair. His transition to Bond villain is complete.”
  • mr_rcollins: I heard that Foxnews has finally accept Obama’s victory and will be covering the inauguration today.
  • ewanmcintosh: I soooo wanted Aretha to sing R-E-S-P-E-C-T – would make a nice addition to the national anthem
  • courosa: Have the primaries started yet?

At the same time that everyone’s in a frenzy about this inauguration, there are plenty of people to shine a humorous light on it. Note, too, that Alec Couros lives in Canada. Ninety percent of the Canadians I know have a better understanding of American politics than half of the Americans I know.

Meanwhile, Fred Delventhal kept us up-to-date on the situation on the ground in Washington. While this information wasn’t particularly useful to me sitting in my office 600 miles away, it does illustrate how these technologies are increasingly being used to keep people informed of new developments in events like this. If I had a data plan on my cell phone, and if I had been in DC for the inauguration, this information may have been very useful.

  • RiptideF RT @drgridlock: Metro Orange and Blue lines are temporarily skipping Federal Center because of overcrowding.
  • RiptideF RT @drgridlock: We’re hearing of a serious bottleneck on C Street NW & 1st. Also, police have closed the 14th Street Mall entrance.
  • RiptideF RT @drgridlock: The Mall near the 4th Street exit is now closed. It’s been filled to capacity.
  • RiptideF RT @drgridlock: The Dept of Health has set up a first aid tent at 7th and Penn. Avenue SW. They’ve got a space heater & blankets


The network was constantly trying to find the best resources. While I’ve already mentioned that just finding a TV and turning on just about any station was probably the easiest course of action. we were still trying to find the best way to watch online.

  • schinker C-Span stream is not allowing any more connections. That may be a first for them. CNN streaming spotty. Switching to PBS.
  • mr_rcollins Anyone have a video link that doesn’t stutter?
  • mr_rcollins I’d survive with just audio.
  • schinker Nope. PBS worse than CNN. Trying ABC. May have to resort to audio-only (NPR) or go find a TV somewhere.
  • wasilt1 @schinker I have not found one network yet. They all say busy. What an historic day for the internet.
  • jefflebow @schinker Have you tried http://tinyurl.com/7hw5l6 ? (closed captioned, to boot)
  • willrich45 RT @jayrosen At 12:01, whitehouse.gov changes its homepage. http://is.gd/guuV
  • schinker CBS News stream seems to be holding up pretty well.


I mostly follow education people. Lots of folks had great resources for students. There’s everything here from background information on inaugural traditions to comparisons of the various speeches made over the years. The links to the transcripts were sent a few minutes after the speech was over. It’s also worth noting that Sharon was volunteering to have her students in Canada chat live with other students about the inauguration as it was happening.

The result? This was a much different inauguration for me. I spent it essentially alone, sitting in my office with a headset on, working on other things while keeping an eye on the stream. But through the miracle of the network, I was interacting with others all over the world.

World view? Got it. Collaboration? No problem. Information Literacy? Have you seen the volume of information here? Innovative thinking? That one may be a stretch for participating in the event, but it was certainly all over the president’s speech. Welcome to the 21st century.