Streaming the Inauguration

Posted by Joel Cherkis 
General Manager, U.S. Public Sector Industry Unit

Ok, I admit: I’m not a policy guy.  But I’m venturing onto our new issues blog to report we are one day away from launching our latest project to support government initiatives around openness and transparency. 

The Presidential Inaugural Committee has selected Microsoft Silverlight to deliver high-quality video streams of President-Elect Obama’s Baltimore event on his Whistle-Stop Tour (going from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, January 17) and Tuesday’s historic inauguration swearing-in ceremonies.  The video streams can be seen live on http://www.pic2009.org/ starting tomorrow. 

This is the same technology we used in Denver to stream live, high-definition coverage of the Democratic National Convention in August and in Beijing to stream the summer Olympics.  I know I’m biased since I worked on the project, but I believe the HD streaming of the convention was among the highest quality live events I have seen on the Internet.

I’m a big fan of Silverlight because it is such a rich platform.  You can easily develop applications that offer video, audio and text, and deliver them to people who use any major browser on Mac OS X, Linux, or Windows, with video feeds that adapt to individual bandwidth capabilities.  For most users, that means you won’t be bothered with video streams that freeze (a.k.a., ‘buffering’) every time your neighbor gets online or the weather is bad.  This is very cool because it allows people to interact in more casual ways than they used too.  It also means governments can use Silverlight’s capabilities to participate more with their constituents.

For years, government agencies have wanted to be closer to their constituents, but the relationships have often been very clinical.  Citizens, just like me, interacted with the government only when we needed something: registering a car, getting a driver’s license, paying taxes.  And it usually wasn’t much fun.  What most people forget is that governments are made up of people, just like themselves, and those people want be more open and inclusive because their constituents include their families, their neighbors and millions more just like them.  Until recently, ‘openness’ was difficult, expensive and klunky.  ‘Participatory’ democracy often meant a huge amount of effort for citizens to be heard in politics.  Enter the Internet.  Actually, enter social networking on the Internet, propelled by the rampant spread of online video. 

Over the past few years, I have watched video become a vital part of social networking.  So now your voice now has a face.  Unfortunately, in the beginning the video experience was lousy due to low bandwidth, slow processor speeds, and storage limitations on most computers. All of that is changing rapidly.  Broadband Internet access, in particular, is far more accessible today and continues to spread, although America needs to do even more to ensure full broadband penetration.  As access grows, so does social interaction via online video. 

When you watch the video streams of the Inaugural events, you will get a first-hand look at how governments want to communicate.  Watch closely, as I expect Internet video to have a bigger and bigger impact on how government agencies interact with the citizens they serve in the future.  And I expect technologies like Silverlight to continue changing the game. 

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Microsoft News Center Staff