Thursday, March 5, 2009

How The Inauguration Affected Online Activity

On Tuesday, January 20, people from across the globe witnessed the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America, both on television and through streaming video on the internet. The event was so popular, in fact, that many communication channels were strained for several hours. Texting and phone calls overloaded some wireless network providers, several media websites streaming the live video had difficulty accommodating would-be viewers, and some social networking platforms were unable to keep up with the heavy increase in simultaneous user participation.

This occasion marked the first internet broadcast of an American presidential inauguration. While there was a marked increase in general internet activity throughout the day, there is no doubt that certain areas of internet usage were neglected, such as search engine queries. According to the official Google Blog, "the overall query volume of Google searches dropped in the U.S. from the time President Obama took the oath of office until the end of his inaugural speech."

Various forms of online advertising, such as Google AdSense, also suffered slightly during this period, as people turned their attention elsewhere. Several advertisers collaborated on WebMasterWorld's forums the day after the inauguration to complain about their lackluster AdSense performances, due to the drop in overall traffic.

While search engine queries and internet advertising may have seen less traffic on Tuesday, the realm of social media was going full-blast. As reported by PCMag.com:
"We've never reached levels like this before," a Facebook spokesman told CNN.com. "Even just yesterday, we had more users online than we've ever had before, more new users than we've ever had before." Facebook partnered with CNN to allow members watching inaugural festivities via CNN.com to sign in and update their statuses alongside the streaming video provided by the cable news channel. Throughout the broadcast, Facebook saw 4,000 user status updates per minute; a figure that peaked at 8,500 updates per minute during President Obama's speech.

Twitter - widely regarded as the world's most popular microblogging service and one of the fastest-growing social networks in the world - was the other social media heavyweight of the day. Despite not having the additional benefit of a media relationship with CNN, Twitter received a large influx of updates throughout the day: at its peak, a 400% increase in its usual posts-per-minute average. Though not as functional as Facebook from a rich media standpoint, Twitter proved that it is one of the most popular ways for internet users to create, gather and share up-to-the-second information.

This shift in internet activity could mark the beginning of noticeable trends during important, scheduled, worldwide events:

  • Online advertisers can most likely expect drops in ad revenue during an event
  • Wireless networks and media websites will most likely continue to be strained during peak hours of an event
  • Social media will continue to one of the preferred methods for instant communication throughout an event