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Record Web crowd flocks to CNN and Facebook's live inauguration stream

January 20, 2009 | 11:18 am

Cnn

So you couldn't make it to the inauguration. How to experience it from afar without missing the speeches, the crowds, the inane comments of the guy standing next to you?

Thanks to CNN and Facebook, you could get all that from the comfort of your desk chair. CNN.com's live streaming, which was accompanied by a sidebar showing who on Facebook was watching, set Web traffic records this morning, with 18.8 million total online viewers. It also served more than 1.3 million concurrent live streams just before Obama began his inaugural address, beating the estimated 700,000 concurrent streams served during a YouTube event that industry watchers believed held the previous record.

The total numbers were much higher. As of 8:10 a.m. Pacific time, CNN said, its website had served up more than 8 million live video streams globally, which beat its previous daily-streaming record of 5.3 million, set on election day. And that record was set before the ceremony got into full swing. The number hit 13.9 million by 8:45 a.m. and 18.8 million by 10 a.m.

The Facebook feed was complete with the snarky, inspired and sometimes gloomy commentary of the viewers. In turn, CNN staffers commented on the air about some of the Facebook comments. How meta.

As the pomp and circumstance were shown online, one woman wrote she was glad that Miley Cyrus wasn't singing the national anthem. A handful of other Web viewers virtually shouted "Amen" when prompted by Joseph Lowery. Still others mocked poet Elizabeth Alexander. The Facebook masses seemed not to like poetry. Judging from their comments, they also seem not to like former President Bush.

The record numbers mean today is a historic day in technology too, according to Richard Greenfield, an analyst with Pali Capital.

"CNN.com’s broadcast is a watershed event," he wrote on his blog (registration required). "Live TV shifted from a passive to a social/interactive experience and underscored the power of the Internet to deliver video programming to a massive number of users simultaneously."

On the Web, as in the real world, watching the inauguration with a crowd means there's not always enough room for everyone. The CNN site was so crowded that people trying to get on were told that they'd have to wait until some room freed up to watch. At least they could wait in line from the comfort of their own couches.

-- Alana Semuels

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