Inauguration coverage in cyberspace

Government agencies harness Twitter, cell phone alerts and streaming video for the inauguration

An unprecedented 1.5 million to 4 million visitors are expected to descend on the National Mall in Washington on Jan. 20 to watch the 56th Presidential Inauguration. Fortunately, the D.C. government, federal agencies, Congress and the Presidential Inaugural Committee all are harnessing new Web technologies to help attendees get most from the event, or to help them avoid the masses altogether and view it more comfortably from afar.

At 11:30 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow, on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden will be sworn in as the country's next president and vice president, respectively.

The event is expected to be the most well-attended inaugurations in U.S. history, the National Park Service has opened up the entirety of the Mall for the Inauguration, stretching from the west Capitol steps back to the Lincoln Memorial--a distance of 1.9 miles.

Those lucky or connected enough to score one of the 240,00 tickets given out by Congress for the event will be able to watch from a spot immediately in front of Capitol building. The unticketed throngs will be able to view the ceremony on giant video screens that flank either side of the Mall.

To help attendees, the Secret Service has set up a page for attendees. It provides information on the entry points and what roads will be closed, as well a list of what items not to bring.

Attendees have been strongly encouraged to get to the event by some form of public transportation. The D.C. Metro will operate on a rush-hour schedule from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. (and will run on a non-rush hour extended scheduled until 2 a.m.). Bicycles will not be allowed on the trains. To help riders, Metro has set up a cell-phone text messaging service and RSS newsfeed for alerts about potential changes in service.

The District of Columbia government is also using Web to help visitors find their way to and from the event. It is encouraging visitors to sign up for its text-based emergency alert system for cell phones, called Alert DC. The city also has set a up a Twitter feed for late-breaking items-of-interest.

For those who can't attend live, Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) has promised to stream the event live tomorrow using Microsoft’s Silverlight media player browser plug-in.

Those with Apple Macintosh, Linux and other non-Microsoft Windows-based computers won't be able to access this live stream though, as the downloadable Silverlight client only works on Microsoft Windows platforms.

Perhaps they could turn to another live Internet feed, to be supplied by the Congressional Joint Inaugural Committee. This feed will use the cross-platform Flash.

PIC has also set up a page on Google's YouTube video service, which will capture some of the highlights of the inauguration and associated activities.

In addition to the videos posted there, PIC will also issue short dispatches about the inauguration via a Twitter Feed, and photos through a Flickr account, a commercial hosted service allows users to post photos on a Web site.

USAGov Search also has a page of links to other inauguration-related government Web sites.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.


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