Millions will descend on the nation’s capitol over the long weekend, and stick around for the historic swearing in of Barack Obama. And while millions press for a glimpse to history-tens of millions will log onto news sites, picture sharing sites, social media sites and anything else to vicariously take part in this moment of American history.
Citizen journalists (and pros for that matter) will have a unique set of challenges on the Mall in Washington as history plays out.
In this ueber connected world, the masses packed onto the mall will be carrying with them a variety of devices-smart phones, iPhones, Flip cameras, laptops, air-cards and more. Each will vie for a little slice of bandwidth so its owner can connect with others—and connect to the world.
These challenges make me think back to an evening in July of 1996 when TWA Flight 800 exploded off the south shore of Long Island, NY. At the time I was a local news producer in NYC and was among the first to make their way out to the Moriches Coast Guard base. Granted, it was a different time so I was able to park on the base, armed with a camera, Nextel two way radio and a pretty good line of BS (and an NYPD Press Credential) I made my way onto a boat heading out to the scene.
As the specter of what occurred that night became clear, and hundreds of members of the media made their way out to the scene-those simple analog messages on the Nextel network were getting more and more garbled, and the connections fewer and far between.
I can remember even carrying a text pager-where I could not respond, but I could get a text message from managers or the assignment desk. It looked something like this:
This little walk down memory lane harkens to the inauguration this way—as the media (at one point police estimated there were more than 2000 members of the media on scene) descended all of the carriers came out and added additional temporary cell towers to support the media, and emergency communications.
This is the backbone of our mobile society and communications. Its not a glamorous part of the process-but critical. When you pick up your cell phone, iPhone, BlackBerry-you expect it to work. To make it work you need access to the network, WiFi or WiMax. The carriers and others have been hard at work for months adding capacity to the networks in Washington to support the crush—but there are limitations.
So that great picture or amazing video you are trying to upload to CBS Eye Mobile, TwitPic, Flickr, You Tube etc may take a little longer—or just not make the trip.
Along with the history that will unfold as Obama takes the oath of office-expect there to be a historic use of bandwidth that will go slightly less heralded, but will be critical to our memories of this moment.