Inauguration 2009: Can social networks handle it?

In the face of unprecedented Inauguration traffic, should streaming video sites and social networks have declared a network "state of emergency" of their own?
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

The Washington Post reported last week that President George W. Bush declared a state of emergency for Washington D.C. during the President-elect Barack Obama's Inauguration festivities due to the unprecedented 2 million people said to convene in the District, which is usually only populated by about 580,000.

While the Capitol made a significant investment to ensure safety for all involved, it begs the question: should streaming video sites and social networks have declared a network "state of emergency" of their own?

With as many people who will swarm D.C. to witness this historic event, millions more will be live streaming the event via the Internet rather than turning to traditional news networks. For many, it's a matter of necessity due to work hours or simple convenience. For others, it's about sharing it with remote family and friends via technology.

"I want to watch it online because then I can share it in a way I never could before," said Stacy Thayer, founder of SOURCE Conference. "Tomorrow's inauguration will be a special experience and via Twitter and Facebook and social media, we can share the experience together. It's harder to do that if I am parked in front of the television."

This kind of a demand puts a strain not only on streaming video sites (such as Ustream, which will live stream the event to computers and to iPhones [Updated: iPhone app now available] but also on social networks that will be supporting live blogging or citizen journalism in action. Of course, as with any major news event, the social network of choice for live feeding is Twitter -- which has partnered again with Current so people can live tweet across the stream. To prepare, Twitter took steps toward further improving the bandwidth of its service.

"We're always working to increase reliability but yes, the inauguration puts a finer point on it," said Biz Stone, Twitter co-founder. "During massively shared events we normally see an increase in timeline views and tweets per second. Last week we significantly boosted performance with both hardware and software optimization."

iStreamPlanet, which is partnering with Microsoft to deliver live and on-demand video streaming of the official inauguration swearing-in ceremony on the PIC Web site, has also taken important steps to help ensure reliability and quality content for its viewers on Inauguration day.

"The challenges involved in streaming a live event of such magnitude are around finding the best ways to get live content from different event locations," said Mio Babic, CEO of iStreamPlanet. "Some locations had onsite connectivity so digitization was possible onsite, while others did not. For those that didnʼt, we had to find alternate ways to get content back to both Microsoft Studios in Redmond, Washington and our Webcast Operations Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, to ensure we were digitizing the content properly."

So, which sites will make it through and which ones won't? Let me know your experiences in the TalkBacks or ping me on Twitter.

Note: Fellow ZDNet writer Andrew Nusca has a complete list of places to watch the inauguration online over in The Toybox.

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