Feb. 23, 2010 -- The Olympic Games always boasts at least a handful of firsts, but one of this year's first-ever feats isn't happening on ice or snow, but online.
On Twitter, Facebook, Google, Flickr and other Internet sites and mobile applications, Olympic fans around the world are taking part in the Vancouver Games in unprecedented numbers.
"It's the first-ever social media Olympics. There's no doubt about it," said Alex Huot, the International Olympic Committee's (first-ever) head of social media.
Olympic medals might be decided by the events broadcast on television, but social media goes a long way in sharing what happens off the sporting stage, in the minds of the competitors and those who cheer them on.
"I think the big thing is how personal you can get with the athletes," Huot said. "They can tweet, they update their status on Facebook in a very personal way that gives access to people."
Whether you're in Vancouver or thousands of miles away, whether you have a TV or not, here are seven ways you can get personal with the games.
1. Fans Get 'Face Time' With Athletes on Facebook
So far, at least, it looks like Facebook is in first place when it comes to social media Olympics coverage.
The official IOC page, Facebook.com/OlympicGames, has attracted more than 1.4 million fans with its stream of updates, daily photo contests and an online game that lets users compete virtually in events like snowboard cross and ski jumping.
Through Facebook, fans can also keep up with about 500 athletes and 200 teams.
After snowboarder Shaun White won his gold medal in the men's halfpipe event, he told his more than 1 million Facebook fans, "Whoa! What a night, didn't get to sleep until 1am last night, so excited! Thanks to everyone for all your support, I couldn't of done it without you!!!"
Skier Lindsey Vonn took to Facebook even after a disappointing post-gold medal run. After she crashed in the women's super-combined competition, she posted a message called "mixed emotions" on her Facebook page.
"I am really disappointed that I didn't finish and I lost a chance for gold in one of my strongest events," she wrote. "But on the positive side I was happy to have another solid run in DH and I was also happy with how my SL was going before skiing out."
Huot said those kinds of personal messages have helped push Olympics Facebook activity "through the roof," setting the tone for the 2012 London Olympics.
2. Tweeting Athletes Give 140-Character Olympic Reports
Not to be outdone by Facebook, Twitter too is helping to spread Olympic fever.
To help fans follow their favorite Olympians, the site has created a special page of messages aggregated from verified athletes' accounts. Gold medal figure skater Evan Lysacek, snowboarder Louie Vito and Canadian skier Brad Spence are just a few of the tweeting athletes.
As he continues to rack up medals, speed skater (and prolific tweeter) Apolo Anton Ohno keeps his more than 116,000 followers updated along the way.
"Just finished the medals ceremony. Awesome USA support! Caught the end of our mens USA hockey team put the smack down 2! Nice boys!!!," he wrote after nabbing his seventh medal Sunday night.
But it's not just shop that he talks online.
Presumably hungry after all the intense competition, he tweeted Monday, "Let's talk food..anyone been to Gotham Steakhouse here in vancity? Hy encore?"
If you want to follow your favorite athletes, head on over to Twitter-Athletes.com. It's a directory of professional athletes on Twitter with a special section for the Winter Olympics.
3. 'Get Inside' the Games With Google Maps, Earth, Street View
In honor of the 2010 Vancouver Games, Google created a dedicated site featuring several special Olympics tools.
In addition to a schedule of events, constantly updated medal count and event results in 40 languages, Google provides satellite and street-view images of the competition venues.
To capture mountaintop views of Whistler Mountain, the company deployed its new snowmobile outfitted with photographic and GPS technology. With a few clicks, you can virtually drop in to the snowboarding halfpipe on Cyprus Mountain or fly over Vancouver's Olympic Village.
You can also view and share photos on Picasa, read real-time search results for the Games and learn about Vancouver hotspots from local experts.
4. Cowbell 2010 Lets You Cheer From Your Living Room
If you really want to feel like you're slopeside at Whistler, take a look at Cowbell 2010.
The new iPhone application turns your phone into a clamoring cowbell, just like the ones cheering on Olympic alpine skiers.
Launched by Boulder, Colo.-based Rage Digital, the 99-cent app has been downloaded more than 20,000 times by people in 34 countries and is the second most popular paid sports application in Apple's App Store.
"The cowbell is such a vibrant tradition of the Olympics and the iPhone, with the accelerometer, has the ability to detect movement," said Tom Guggenheim, CEO of Rage Digital and the app's creator. "[It] was the perfect platform to create a cowbell."
He said the cowbell tradition originated in Switzerland, where cowherders would ring their bells from pastures to encourage the athletes.
Users can personalize the app with the national flag of their choice, access an event schedule, read athlete tweets and post their own messages and photos to Facebook.
After the Vancouver Games, he said his company plans to re-design the bell for the World Cup in June.
5. Official Mobile App Puts Olympics in Your Pocket
Downloaded by more than 1 million people, the official (and free) Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics mobile application is another top sports applications in Apple's App Store. (It's also available for a number of other handheld devices.)
It's one of many mobile apps for the Winter Games but is backed by the Vancouver 2010 committee and lists all of the competitions, as well as free concerts, ceremonies and cultural events.
If you're in Vancouver, the location-aware application tells you how close you are to the various events.
For those taking part from home, it aggregates Olympics-related news, photos, video, medal counts and Twitter streams.
6. Rock Out Like an Olympian
So what if you can't skate, ski or jump like an Olympian. If you're so inclined, you can still rock out like one.
For prices starting at $9.99, Olympic fans can purchase "Sounds of Vancouver 2010," a commemorative album of the Games' opening ceremony.
In addition to the Olympic anthem, songs by a number of Canadian artists, including Joni Mitchell and Sarah McLachlan, are featured on the album.
Team USA's "soundtrack" is also available on iTunes, courtesy of AT&T and a crew of elite recording artists, such as Rascal Flatts, 3 Doors Down and Mariah Carey.
Available only through iTunes for 99 cents or $1.29 each, the songs were recorded "in hopes of inspiring and supporting members of Team USA," the application's description says.
A portion of the proceeds from the tracks and corresponding ringtones will be donated to the U.S. Olympic Committee.
7. Watch Olympics Videos, Live Streams Online
And if you still need a helping of traditional media after tasting the Olympics with other tools, check out the official Vancouver 2010 Web site.
The site's video gallery includes training videos, medal ceremonies, torch relays and more.
It also provides a direct link to country-specific live online coverage, for example, the NBC Web site for the United States and CTV and RDS for Canada.