For the first time, people around the world can get detailed coverage of the presidential inauguration simply by logging onto the Internet. From proponents to protesters, political junkies of all stripes are planning Web events for the day Bush takes office.
Though the four-day celebration already is under way, kicked off with a party featuring pop singer Ricky Martin, Bush doesn't take his oath until Saturday.
It's unclear how much Web traffic the inauguration event will draw compared with other political happenings, given that it's an orchestrated affair without much drama. What's more, the official swearing-in ceremony takes place Saturday, when most people will have easy access to television at home. But political events have been the top traffic generators for news sites in recent years.
When the Starr Report on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky was released via the Web, traffic skyrocketed as people read the salacious details from their cubicles, and many sites set traffic records. Those numbers were topped during the most recent presidential election, as people logged on in an attempt to learn who would occupy the Oval Office next.
"Since it's a weekend, I don't think we'll see those types of numbers," said Dean Wright, director of daily programming for Netscape Communications. The AOL Time Warner unit is using the inaugural event to draw attention to its fledgling political coverage, first kicked off when AOL scored a skybox at the Democratic and Republican conventions.
Wright said the Web provides interactive features that television cannot, letting the public vent or boast about Bush's ascension to power.
"Users that are online on Saturday will be able to use our polls and respond to our message boards," he said.
So far one of the most popular Netscape forums deals with cabinet nominees; people can sound off on the Linda Chavez debacle or the John Ashcroft hullabaloo. "There's a real appetite for politics and political controversy," Wright said.
As they did at the conventions, protesters are using the Web to rally their followers and organize demonstrations. Protest groups will be challenging everything from globalization to the death penalty. Because of the turbulent election process, demonstrators are expected to be out in numbers rivaling the Vietnam wartime inauguration of Richard M. Nixon.
DemocracyMarch.org is urging people to protest "the dirtiest election our nation has seen in more than a century" and giving them instructions on how to do so. InaugurAuction.org is throwing counter-inaugural balls and staging marches. Meanwhile, some online journalists have complained that the Bush administration is snubbing Internet reporters, so they're turning to the Web to protest.
On a lighter note, at the official inaugural site, parents can download a souvenir coloring book, which relays presidential facts such as "President Jackson's open house featured a 1,400-pound cheese that was centered in the White House for friends and children to enjoy," a statement that appears beneath a picture of a pack of hungry, knife-wielding guests diving into a giant wheel of cheese.
Unlike its news and protest counterparts, the official inauguration site lacks links to live video or audio content, and it's sold out of tickets to major events.
But if you're still dying to go, there's always eBay. Inaugural ball tickets on the site are going for as much as $1,000 a pop.