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Inauguration Day Online

On Tuesday morning at 11:45, I ran out of my last final exam and plopped myself down in front of the nearest screen, determined not to miss a moment of Barack Obama’s inauguration. Televisions are harder to find around campus these days, but all I needed was a laptop with Internet access, and nearly everyone in the dining hall was congregated around one or another.

I was only one of millions who found themselves in front of a computer rather than a TV (or in DC in person.) According to Akamai, who handles one-fifth of the world’s Internet traffic, Obama’s inauguration set a new record in the number of simultaneous data streams, which mostly carry live video: seven million data streams with a max of 2 terabits per second. (via xconomy and VentureBeat)

The Google Blog looks as some search data from this and previous inaugurations tell a story of how far the Internet has evolved in the past 8 years:

During the last nine years, the growth of the Internet has changed the way the world seeks information. From President Bush’s first inaugural address in 2001 to his second in 2005, the number of inauguration-related searches increased by more than a factor of ten. From 2005 to today’s address, the number grew even more. Few of the 2001 queries requested “video,” and none requested streaming. By 2005, a few queries such as inauguration audio and streaming video of inauguration appeared. Today, technology has become so prevalant that queries such as YouTube live inauguration, live blogging inauguration, inaugural podcast, and Obama inaugural speech mp3 formed one-third of all inauguration-related queries.

And if the overall query volume at Google is any indication of online activity, there is also has a fascinating graph on search patterns during Obama’s speech. It seems like as Obama was giving his speech, people on the Internet actually stopped to listen and watch:

It’s more than fitting that Obama’s inauguration would make waves around the Internet, as a kind of capstone to how well his campaign had leveraged the power of the Internet during the election. But watching the inauguration wasn’t all that we were doing. I was impressed by how many websites had pulled out the stops for their inauguration coverage. Bits at the New York Times had list of the digital spaces the inauguration would watched and discussed. I watched the speech on CNN’s website, and when the video site first popped up, I was surprised to see not just a live stream from DC, but my Facebook friends smiling at me too:

I wasn’t standing in the middle of an animated crowd, but watching a stream of my friend’s statuses placed me amidst an equally excited digital crowd. It reminded me of watching the debates while perusing the streams on election.twitter, and unsurprisingly, Twitter too was a flurry of activity on Tuesday.

What do these changes mean for the Obama administration? For digital natives who are participating in this new world of politics? I don’t have any solid answers – if you have any insights, share in the comments! — but I would like to point to one thing: all the chatter surrounding the new White House website and blog. The simple fact that we care about is amazing enough. I can’t think of the last time I went the site before Tuesday’s redesign, and now we’re even analyzing the website’s robot.txt file. “Change has come to America” announces the White House website banner – true, where change will lead us remains to be seen.
-Sarah Zhang