I watched the inauguration on TV and online. While scrolling through both reverent and snarky comments in the form of frequent Facebook status updates, I couldn’t help thinking about the old cable comedy show, Mystery Science Theater 3000. In case you don’t remember, it debuted in 1988, when the civilian Internet was comprised chiefly of dial-up users chatting via CompuServe and Prodigy. The show featured an man and his robot friends delivering a running commentary on bad 1950s sci-fi movies.
At the time I thought the show’s central conceit was a little presumptuous. Why sit in silence listening to the patter of professional comics? Why not mock B-movies with one’s own friends?
Now I realize, the show’s obvious deficit just pointed the way to the future. The joint CNN-Facebook inauguration streaming transformed coverage from a passive viewing event to an interactive salon — but one in which no single voice is drowned out by the din of cross-talk, and one in which the opinions of one’s own contacts are given equal weight to those of insider pundits.
Online video leaders clearly have a firmer grasp of this insight than I do. Enhancing video content with social networking functionality does two important things: 1. It creates opportunities for live event programming that will stimulate real-time interactions. 2. It encourages real-world and virtual social networks to re-create themselves (or extend themselves via Facebook Connect or some other one-stop log-in).
This kind of interaction is more meaningful than simply leaving comments behind for strangers to read on YouTube. It gets to the heart of an ideal vision of social networking — one that combines the immediacy of online chat, the viral reach of e-mail and the common purpose of a functioning community.