The Man In the Street by Bob Sprankle

There was much to celebrate last Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Many firsts were accomplished. Among those were: the largest crowd to ever show up for a presidential inauguration, not counting the folks that got turned away. There were many other records set, but we have no tool for accurately counting them due to their recent emergence. For instance, many reports state that TV viewership was much lower than expected, and that Ronald Regan's inauguration still holds the record for most eyes glued to the screen. But we simply aren't equipped to quantify the viewing of this particular 21st century inauguration (yet) with the 21st century tools we have of accessing it. Firstly, there's no way of knowing how many folks watched the event in groups --which in this time of grassroots explosion and community involvement may have seen more gatherings than the 1981 inauguration-- but more importantly, we have no way of counting the eyeballs that watched the many flavors of Internet streaming options on computer screens. There were many more online options than there were for 2001's inauguration, and it amazed me that I even had the option of watching it on my cellphone.

Two other tools we didn't have in '01 are Twitter and Flickr, not to mention the use of Folksonomy, or tagging. A simple Internet search would have prepared the "tweeter" or Flickr user to tag their captures/posts with the hashtag "#inaug09". Collectively, we have probably amassed the largest documentation of any inauguration by "the people" than ever before. You can view Twitter captures about the inauguration easily here and Flickr photos here. Or head over to the "Inauguration Report" site, brought to us by NPR (with Andy Carvin and in conjunction with CBS News and American University) that collected all of this and made it easy for folks to document their inaugural experience by supplying them with tools for their phones.

We live in an exciting time: "man in the street interviews" are now done by the man (and woman) in the street. No longer do we rely just on big media to report on events; we are increasingly looking to "small" media, such as Twitter and other social media tools to tap directly into the pulse of folks who are there, watching it with their own eyes, reporting it with their own tweets, text messages, photos. Is watching this flood of reporting any less significant than watching it on TV? Is the fact that more people watched Regan's inauguration on TV a record that holds any significance now that the media tools have transformed so much?

If records are important, then we celebrate that this was "The First True Internet Inauguration". Internet bandwith and cell phone networks took a big hit, and yet held in there, so that's cause for celebration too --things worked "okay"-- but the infrastructure is clearly straining. Part of the stimulous plan presented by the Obama team is slated to improve this infrastructure. A lot can happen in the next four years. Perhaps by the next inauguration, we'll have a way to accurately count the true viewership and participation, with more of a balance between "big" and "small" media.