- 5 Nov 08, 10:15 GMT
Life was so much simpler on election nights in the old days. You slumbered in front of the telly into the early hours, occasionally switching channels - if you were a real political anorak - to check on who was getting the results more quickly. Then you went to bed and got the result the next morning.
But today's interactive, digital multi-platform election viewer is presented with a much more rigorous challenge. At times last night, as I tried to follow the US elections, so much data was coming at me from so many sources I felt my brain might explode. I was hopping through every possible TV channel - the BBC, CNN, al-Jazeera, France 24, to name but a few.
I was surfing any number of websites, from the BBC's live text coverage to the New York Times, from the Huffington Post to Google News. There was a constant pinging from my Twitter feed, as friends provided a stream of instant analysis of the coverage and the politics.
Then there was Twitter's election site which tracked anything anyone anywhere was saying about the election - from a disgruntled McCain supporter:
"Went to eat at chili's so we could ignore the obama victory. They sat us right in front of a tv w/ cnn on. :-( "
To someone heading for the Chicago park where the Obama victory celebration would take place:
"We're in! Now in the holding area right outside the park."
Still, until just after 0100, this great flood of data produced very little that meant anything to me in terms of the result. CNN had beamed their Chicago reporter via a hologram into their New York studio - an amazing but utterly pointless advance in election technology. The BBC had two bloggers scanning their laptops in a Times Square studio - though neither seemed to have any fresh insight into the race. And conflicting rumours were scurrying around the web at ever greater speed.
All of this new technology was not delivering faster results. In fact, you got the sense that the networks, burned by previous misleading exit polls, were being ultra-cautious in "calling" states for Obama or McCain.
It was only at about 0200 that the picture really began to clear, and that was because the networks were finally becoming confident enough to call some of the key states. And what were the blogs and tweets and websites telling the world? That "Fox has called Ohio for Obama" or "CNN says Obama leads in Florida." So despite the proliferation of new voices that the web has delivered to election coverage, it was still the powerful voices of the old media - the mighty networks rich enough to pay for a mammoth polling operation - which brought the news to homes across the United States and much of the rest of the world.
Watching this election was certainly made far more enjoyable by the interactive, communal experience offered by the web. Alone on the sofa, with my family long since tucked up in bed, I was nevertheless connected to a worldwide community, and so able to shout at the TV or the web - and get a response. In fact, online friends kept me up and watching far later than I'd planned. But did the denizens of Web 2.0 get the news of an Obama victory more quickly than the couch-potatoes? I don't think so.
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