Obama's inauguration: The most interactive

Social media and other Internet technologies have enabled citizens to take a more active role in this year's inaugural events than ever before. Still, millions watched it on TV.

Stephanie Condon Staff writer, CBSNews.com
Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.
Stephanie Condon
3 min read

WASHINGTON--Barack Obama was sworn in as president Tuesday in what many spectators viewed as the nation's most interactive inauguration ceremony so far.

Andrea Williams takes a picture of herself in Washington on Tuesday to send to her family. Stephanie Condon/ CNET News

As millions of people in Washington and around the globe watched a weekend of festivities, culminating with Tuesday's ceremony, they gave their instant feedback online and through text messages and other means to family, friends, and anyone else listening. At the same time, event organizers were able to give spectators live updates about the state of affairs in the nation's chilly, crowded capital.

Most people who watched the inauguration did it through traditional television broadcasts, a medium that hasn't changed significantly in half a century. But it was also possible to tune in online; our sister site CBSNews.com, for instance, streamed the inauguration live over the Internet. And people learned about the inaugural action from pictures uploaded by friends, comments on Twitter and other social media, and direct text messages from event organizers.

"I think we're more connected with the experience, the overall process from the primaries to today," because of technology, said Ghajiibah Campbell, who came from Baltimore with her family to watch the inauguration. "It made you not only more connected, but willing to be connected--it wasn't an inconvenience."

Campbell used her cell phone to send pictures and text messages to her sister in Florida, her brother-in-law in New Jersey, and her brother in Virginia.

"It allows us to share the experience with everybody live, as opposed to getting home and saying, 'Guys, you should've been there, you should've seen it,'" she said.

Countless others also used their handheld devices to share the historical moment with loved ones.

Dawn Chandler from New York said she was sending text messages to her relatives throughout the ceremonies describing "how cold it was, how long we were waiting--it was worth the wait--and the speech."

The desire to share the experience led to more organized communications as well. Inauguration-watchers from Oregon to Massachusetts sent anonymous comments to Januarythe20th.com, describing the scene around them as the swearing-in took place. Participants of the "mass observation" sent comments to Januarythe20th either via e-mail or Twitter.

"CNN airs," says one post from a deli in Washington. "A small sitting room is packed with diners eating out of Styrofoam containers. Three limo drivers beside a salad bar talk rapidly in an eastern language."

The inaugural balls this year have a new emphasis on interactivity as well.

The Huffington Post pre-inaugural ball Monday night featured text messages from guests displayed on a giant computer. Stephanie Condon/ CNET News

New media received top billing at the pre-inaugural ball held Monday night by the news aggregation and commentary site Huffington Post. Even as stars like Ben Affleck, Dustin Hoffman, and Michael J. Fox milled around the lowly lit, sleekly designed Newseum in downtown Washington, they were overshadowed by a giant computer displaying text messages sent in from lesser-known guests at the party.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee's Web site will host a live blog of the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball Tuesday night, which is open to Washington residents. The committee is encouraging people to host their own inaugural balls across the country and text in photos or video of their events, some of which will be aired on ABC's broadcast coverage of the Washington inaugural balls.

The committee made use of more practical interactive features as well, offering text alerts for event scheduling updates, public transportation news, weather reports, and more.

Regular citizens will also be able to contribute to the Official Barack Obama Inaugural Book by uploading their pictures to Photobucket.