Inaugurating Social TV

posted on 20 Jan 2009 23:15 by technologynews

CNN’s live streaming of the Inauguration, with a feed from Facebook is powerful demonstration of how television can use social media and an equally powerful demonstration of what Facebook can do for various Web sites.

As Jenna Wortham wrote, all sorts of Web sites and mobile services are using the inaugural festivities to show off their latest features. There are lots of places you can see streams from what is happening in Washington, and many sites allow you to read what people are thinking about the day.

The CNN site combines the two. On the left is CNN’s video streaming service: A choice between an anchored newscast and feeds from three locations in Washington. (It’s not CNN’s on-air talent, but an Internet-only anchor team.) On the right, is a news feed from Facebook. If you are a Facebook member, by default you see a stream of status updates from your friends. You also have a chance to read a stream of all the status updates from everyone watching the CNN feed.

The effect reinforces the experience of a moment that is shared with the world, and especially your friends. There is something about seeing a person you know commenting about what it is like in the crowds on the National Mall in Washington (my friends are all stuck not moving), that is a great deal more vivid than simply seeing cameras panning over the masses.

What CNN is doing here in some ways isn’t very hard. It is simply weaving together ideas and technologies that have been in the air for some time. Twitter’s politics page, created for the debates, showed how interesting a live stream of short opinions can be. Facebook has been building out its Facebook Connect service that brings your existing roster of friends to other sites. CNN is simply bringing these ideas together.

A quick word to note the prescience of Barry Schuler, who was the president of AOL in 2000. He tried to introduce AOL TV, a set-top box modeled after Web TV, that was meant to let you chat with your AOL Instant Message buddies as you watched TV. AOL TV flopped, of course, as no one wanted a separate set-top box to connect slow Internet connection over a phone line to their TV. But in a world of broadband streaming, where many people now have a list of friends on Facebook or other social network, the kernel of Mr. Schuler’s vision proves true.

Whatever else the Obama administration brings on the pressing issues of our day, on the minor matter of television, I think we are going to be seeing a lot more experiences that blend mass media and personal media like the CNN-Facebook mashup.