Today is the final day of the Beijing Olympics - and while I'm sorry to see the Games end, I'm proud about what they've represented from a social media standpoint. Many people have compared the Internet powered evolution of the Games in Beijing to the 1960 Olympics in Rome where television revolutionized the public's exposure to event, as well as the athletes.
(Lest there be any confusion Beijing will NOT be remembered as the Games when network coverage went digital. I found most major network Web sites to have somewhat awkward UI's, and content that failed to deliver behind the expected front of tail stories. I couldn't get the much hyped streaming to work on my computers, and while I heard there were some social media plays with athletes (which is great) it did not seem to be prominently featured. I believe there was a big opportunity missed here, and look forward to seeing this go further next time around.)
Though I'm admittedly biased because of my close proximity to Lenovo's Voices of the Olympic Games project, I do believe that Beijing will be remembered as the Games when independent athlete blogging took off in a way that was meaningful for them, the fans, and the Olympics - and I could not have been more excited to have a front row seat at that event.
Lenovo's David Churbuck offers a great post entitled "Building a Social Athlete" in which he breaks out four benefits for blogging athletes- Recognition, Support, Sponsorship and Satisfaction. And indeed, almost every athlete blogger I spoke with (old or newly minted) cited many or all of these reasons as motivators for them. Below is a great interview I did with "long time" blogger, and US 110m Hurdles bronze medalist David Oliver. David was one of more than 100 athletes blogging as a part of the Lenovo Voices project.
Everyone I talked to from the sponsors, to coaches, to "traditional" journalists, to the USOC sees this "Athlete 2.0" as an essential ingredient in Games going forward - and that's great news for fans. In Beijing athlete blogs meant that fans could begin to craft a highly personalized Olympic experience from their own living room. They could follow the preparations of a particular athlete, and get the real, unedited inside scoop on competitions. They could also connect. Athletes I spoke to were in awe of the well wishes they received from around the world, which numbered in the dozens for some and thousands for others - like Abhinav Bindra, who won India's first ever individual gold medal.
American television coverage may never go beyond what appeals to the masses (yes, we'll probably be stuck watching Beach Volleyball, Basketball, Gymnastics, Athletics and Swimming until the end of time - you might be surprised to learn that at present there are 26 other Olympic sports!) But, well crafted social media projects, and the smart use of digital rights to the Games is going to open up new doors for Olympic fans and spectators around the world. Imagine thousands (not hundreds) of athletes blogging. Imagine photo and video libraries co-created with attendees and athletes. Imagine social networks created around specific sports. Imagine real time streaming of all competitions. Increasingly, we'll be able to tap into the best Olympic experience available to each of us individually - and that is something to cheer about.
*Photo courtsey of Lenovo Voices of the Olympic Games blogger and USA Epee Fencer Seth Kelsey, author of the blog En Garde Beijing.