Facebook, online video make Obama inauguration interactive

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While the White House staff is busy Tuesday morning swapping out first families (in six hours flat!) the rest of the world will be watching the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. The January tradition has long been covered by TV, radio, and newspapers, but this year, we have a host of new options – some with decidedly techie twists.

For starters, watching history has become interactive. When vice presidential candidates Sarah Palin and Joe Biden debated in October, I wrote about the corresponding happening that occurred on Facebook. "Friends" watching on TV carried on a running conversation on the site through Status Updates, commenting on things the candidates did and responding to each others' posts.

Some folks at CNN noticed the same phenomenon on election night.

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"On the night of the election we were all in New York at the election center, watching the results come in and reporting on them,” KC Estenson, senior Vice President and General Manager of CNN.com told Broadcasting & Cable. “A lot of us went home that night, logged onto our computers, and saw a flood of status updates [on Facebook]. When we came in the next day we said, ‘what if we could do that in real time? What if we could do that against the event itself, make the inauguration a social event.’”

Both of those events occurred at night, but the inaugural festivities take place smack in the middle of the workday. For the inauguration, CNN and Facebook are teaming up to snag workers at their desks, taking TVs out of the equation. Visitors to cnn.com/live can log in to their Facebook accounts and watch live video of the festivities and see a feed of their friends' Status Updates and posts about the event.

No TV? Not on Facebook? The video options don't stop there. The major television networks will all have live video feeds of the inauguration on their sites – some with multiple feeds and angles of the action. Productivity site Lifehacker has a great rundown of the many options available to workers tied to their desks. Highlights include CSPAN's four channels – all devoted to the inauguration on Tuesday – and Hulu's feed of Fox News coverage.

Video of the events is even being offered to iPhone users through an application from Ustream. As TechCrunch reported, "The application will let users watch any Ustream channel, live, directly from their iPhone. And not only that, users will also see and be able to participate in the live chat around the video as well." The application sounds great, but it isn't available in Apple's App Store as of this writing, so would-be mobile video watchers might want to look elsewhere. Ed. note: The Ustream application went live Monday night, and is available for download here from the iTunes App Store. Hundreds of visitors coming to the site were treated to a rollicking two-hour piano/guitar concert from Geoff Smith.

But video's not the only medium to watch come Tuesday. Twitter users are already tweeting into a frenzy – just search for "obama" or "inauguration." Tuesday's swearing in of Obama, billed as the most photographed and filmed event of all time by a blog at the Financial Times, will generate a massive collection of digital images. Microsoft is taking a shot at making sense of them all. From the FT post:

CNN and Microsoft are collaborating to create a 3D walk-through of the inauguration using thousands of photos submitted by members of the public. Pictures from users of cell phones and digital cameras at the event will be processed by Microsoft’s photosynth engine and fused together through common details to create a 3D environment.

The resulting images will be aired on CNN and available to view here. I'm not alone in hoping the experiment turns out better than the network's creepy experiment with election night holograms.

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