Obama Coverage Weathers Web Traffic Storm

Billed as the most open and accessible in US history, Barak Obama's presidential inauguration caused record-breaking streaming video traffic for CNN.com (www.cnn.com), however, the success of this online event was marred by delays and Internet slowdowns as websites were unable to handle the flood of traffic.

The San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets reported that CNN and micro-blogging service Twitter were slow or inaccessible for many users due to the interest in Obama's inauguration, not only in Washington, DC, which attracted millions, but also elsewhere in America and the world.

More than quadrupling its previous record of 5.3 million streams set on election day last November, CNN served 25 million live video streams between 6 am and 6 pm, with its audience peaking at 1.3 million concurrent users just prior to Obama's address, according to a Los Angeles Times report. The LA Times also reported that MSNBC supplied 14 million video streams by 1 pm, and Fox News 5 million by 5:30 pm.

The Chronicle, however, reported that CNN's live streaming left many in the queue, sending visitors to a page that read, "You made it! However, so did everyone else. This means you've got your place in line to join our watch party. As soon as space opens up, we'll put you through."

Those who did make it to CNN's video feed would have noticed Facebook status updates streaming in real time so viewers could see how members reacted to events, not unlike Twitter feeds.

Micro-blogging service Twitter, also had trouble handling the new president's arrival, becoming slow or inaccessible during Obama's speech.

Twitter's inauguration feed was flooded by nearly 100 per second, according to Chicago Tribune blogger Wailin Wong's informal count. She also reported having difficulty accessing live video on Ustream, official inauguration site pic2009.org, Hulu and CNN. "Eventually, I called up CNN's sputtering feed and watched it on mute while listening to National Public Radio's smoother broadcast," she wrote.

Many Internet companies and mobile phone services similarly braced for an onslaught of traffic Tuesday morning.

Telecommunications analytics firm Keynote Systems (www.keynote.com) told the Associated Press that the top 40 sites on the Internet slowed by as much as 60 percent by the time the inauguration began.

Phone companies bolstered their capacity by installing temporary towers in Washington DC to handle the extra calls and digital photos sent over the network, however, cellular phone congestion caused some people in the city to lose reception and delayed text message delivery by about an hour, according to another Associated Press report.

While it remains to be seen whether this event is the beginning of increased political engagement in the web 2.0 era as demonstrated by the use of sites like Twitter and Facebook or merely a one-time show of civic excitement , Wong makes special note of Internet's unifying role in this event to link an individual to "a much larger world," however temporary the experience.

"But for a day," Wong wrote, "I caught a fleeting glimpse of web 2.0 at its best. I hope that's enough encouragement for everyone to keep caring."

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