Obama Inauguration: Be There Without Being There

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States is arguably one of the biggest--and certainly most-anticipated--events in the country's history. It's also one that very few people will be able to attend in person. For those who get to be there, Washington, D.C., will be a madhouse, and the experience will be fraught with hassles (like finding a restroom). Fortunately, the media coverage will be massive and multifaceted, so experiencing the event from afar may not be so bad. I'll suggest some media resources new and old to give you a taste of what it's like to be there.

You still can't beat good old TV for pure visual quality. While many of my suggestions below involve a computer and the Internet, it's a good idea to have a TV on in the background if you can. Turn the sound off, and keep the remote handy. (I'll say a little more about the TV coverage below.)

For reference, take a look at the entire Inauguration Program, including Tuesday's schedule of events.

Some of the best tools I've found for following political events are the ones that mix video and social networking features.

The one that I'll start with on inauguration day is a Web 2.0 service created by CNN and Facebook. At the site, you can watch the CNN video feeds and use Facebook to comment on the goings-on and comment on your friends' comments. You can also link to various sources of media coverage, or post images. All of this will happen at CNN.com Live. The CNN/Facebook coverage begins at 8 a.m. EST, with the swearing-in ceremony at 12 p.m. EST, followed immediately by Obama's inauguration speech.

Though broadcasters can air only one video feed at a time on a single TV channel, they will likely have four or five separate crews on the ground in D.C. creating multiple other feeds. Often at sites such as CNN's, you can choose which feed you want to watch at a given time, and switch around. Advantage: Web video.

NBC (through MSNBC), CBS, Fox, and the New York Times also will be providing live video streaming of the inauguration.

MSNBC and a chain of movie theaters (Screenvision) have arranged for MSNBC's live coverage of the event to be shown on the big screen in select major cities (27 of them in 21 major markets). To find out if your city is among the group, visit MSNBC Events. If you plan on attending, you will need to RSVP at the site. The show will run from 11:30 a.m. EST to 3:30 p.m. EST.

The U.S. Capitol in preparation for the Inaugural Ceremonies for Woodrow Wilson.Obama's inaugural committee has pledged to make his January 20 inauguration the most "accessible" in U.S. history, but does that apply to those folks who can't (or choose not to) be there, too?

Actually, yes. The Obama organization has become a media machine in its own right, and that machine will fire up once again for inauguration day. Here are some of the media types it'll be using.

The official Inaugural YouTube group already has numerous videos posted in advance of the event, but the real reason for tuning in there is the possibility of seeing some behind-the-scenes footage shot and uploaded by members of Obama's staff. We saw some interesting footage that was shot just before Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver last summer.

Of course, the setup also has a social element. If you are a YouTube member, you can log in and join the Presidential Inaugural Committee group; afterward, if you wish, you can post your own videos or comment on the ones that are up.

The Obama team has a fetish for text messaging, as everyone saw throughout the campaign, and the organization is at it again with the inauguration. The Obama people will be sending out text messages (and e-mail) to people attending the inauguration, starting before the weekend and continuing through Tuesday. These messages, the Obama people say, will be updates on events happening throughout the capital. It might be fun to sign up for the updates and pretend you're there.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee will also be updating a Flickr photo stream throughout the day.

The Obama team hasn't forgotten its Twitter-using friends, either. The "Official Presidential Inaugural Committee" Twitter group gives you a way to do your own play-by-play of the event, and to mix it up with other Twitterers. The group has about 3000 "followers" at the time of this writing, and it will probably grow over the weekend.

If you're sitting at your desk at work, remember that Twitter can be a significant time-sink. On the plus side, using Twitter is a great way to read about the inauguration-day experiences of nonmedia types.

Speaking of citizen journalism, NPR and Current.tv have established a couple of tags for people to use while microblogging before and during the inauguration. Thousands of people on their way to D.C. are already tweeting and labeling their tweets with the "#dctrip09" tag. Another tag, "#inaug09", is for microblogger use during the inaugural ceremonies. By searching for these tags on Twitter, you can follow the all the microblogs. The tags can be used on other sites, like Flickr and YouTube, too, so you can follow the photo and video submissions of the inauguration over there, as well.

For more inauguration-watching advice, see the next page.

For the best inauguration day coverage, it's a good idea to turn to the Washington Post, which will be offering a hometown perspective on the inauguration. Not only is the Post covering the event up close, it also has a lot of multimedia tools to convey what being there in person is like.

And you can get to the info in one click: The Post has a great team of interactive-news producers, and this time they've come up with a special inauguration-coverage widget that you can install on your Web page or blog and click throughout the day. It's not a live stream of information; rather, it refreshes frequently, every time news happens.

If you'll be at work on inauguration day, you might find this a handy little tool to have around. One good strategy is to click on the Post's link every now and then before noon eastern time, and then tune in (on TV, or at CNN.com or another Webcaster) for the swearing-in and Obama's speech.

I also found a couple of lesser-known mashup sites that are designed to help visitors to Washington, D.C., make sense of it all on inauguration weekend. They're fun to use from afar to get some local color, too.

The first, Navigating Washington, provides a map of the area, with flags marking the locations of events throughout the weekend. Each clickable flag provides a pop-up box containing further information about the event. The site also has a cool feature that allows you to read notes from people from around the world on their way to D.C., describing their experience. A mobile version of the site lets visitors get information while they're moving around in the city.

The second, DC Historic Tours, provides a proper warm-up for anyone preparing for a trip to the city. Among other things, it offers a detailed map view of the inaugural parade route, with pop-up information about landmarks along the way.

Because this is such a huge transition year for the presidency, the TV networks are entering full-court-press mode in covering the event. I won't go into specific coverage schedules here because the schedules are still being announced (consult your local listings), but suffice it to say that any time you might want your inauguration fix starting Sunday evening, one of the major networks will be doing something.

Notably, HBO has purchased exclusive rights to air the inauguration-week kickoff ceremony Sunday night at the Lincoln Memorial. The event will feature a long list of performing artists and luminaries, including the president-elect himself and vice president-elect Joe Biden. HBO will televise the event on an open signal, meaning that cable and satellite subscribers across the country will be able to watch the coverage whether they pay for HBO or not. We're hearing that the ceremony will also be streamed live over the Internet, but that has not been confirmed.

CBS, MSNBC, FOX, CNN, and ABC will be broadcasting live from the inauguration ceremony Sunday, and for most of the day Tuesday, when most will cover the motorcade ride, the swearing-in, Obama's speech, and much of the parade.

If you don't care for the infotainment the networks offer, you can count on C-SPAN for its no-nonsense approach. C-SPAN's coverage is right down the center--and very unlikely to dramatize or play up any aspect of the inauguration. You can also watch the C-SPAN coverage online.

You have several options if you find yourself on the go during the inauguration. And by the looks of things, many more people will be watching in this way than ever before.

MobiTV, which provides mobile content to 20 mobile networks, including AT&T, Alltel, and Sprint, says it is busy beefing up its servers for a big mobile-traffic load on Tuesday. The company says its mobile-TV service saw record numbers of subscribers during the presidential debates, and it expects a similar subscription rate for the inauguration.

Of course, other mobile video providers are around (MobiTV competes with Qualcomm's MediaFLO and nontraditional services like SlingPlayer Mobile), but MobiTV's numbers are a testament to the idea that America is increasingly watching live TV events on mobile devices. So if you're out and about on inauguration day, chances are pretty high that you can find decent coverage of the event as part of your mobile video package.