NBC Olympic Pulse: A Lost Opportunity to Demonstrate Social Media in Action


Clearly a lot of work went into this NBC Olympic Pulse site but not a great deal of thinking. As a piece of engineering it’s fine. But aggregating Twitter streams is no longer bleeding-edge technology. Not that it ever really was. The clunky design of both page and visual representation is definitely not to my taste but I have seen a couple of tweets that have appreciated the style of the page. So as ugly to my eye as it is I shan’t be spending anytime criticizing the look of the page.

However, as a demonstration of Social Media in action it is a complete fail.

It is a fail because the mentality that informed the conception of the site is not a mentality that is conducive to operating in the Social Media world that we now all find ourselves in whether we recognize it or not. It is a mentality that operates on a linear process which says: we decide what information, news events, sporting events, entertainment and so on that we think interests you, we get it for you, we package it for you, we give it you. A one-way process that noticeably lacks the idea of dialogue.

It is a mentality that exists in the context where information is perceived to be scarce and hard to come by, and therefore has a price if it can be owned by means of licenses for rights to control the information. It is a mentality which in exists in stark contrast with the new and still-changing realities of our new world of information movement and sharing.

NBC is a broadcasting company and like many other broadcasters it tends to go about its business using the model just described: it finds a subject that they think a substantial number of people may want to watch, the Winter Olympics in this case. Using well-oiled production skills they put the games together in an attractive show and send it out to the viewer. If these two elements come together well – an interesting event and a coherent production effort then – they then have a reasonable hope of attracting a considerable amount of viewers and thereby attracting a considerable amount of advertising revenue.

All this massive effort and co-ordination in the hope of financial reward is dependent on an end-user being interested in viewing what you have to show them. If enough of them are, then job done and off to the bank. But a user in the world of Social Media is not an end-user. He or she is just one of the many nodes that information passes through as it gets moved around. Treating a Social Media user as though he or she were a traditional end-user is clearly an error. An error when acted upon produces something like Olympic Pulse.

The linear command and control process that has worked so well up until now is being challenged by a much looser decentralized way or moving information around. Communication, whether large-scale or small-scale no longer has to be a plodding series of events manipulated by invisible hands on invisible levers hidden behind a curtain. It is a continuous and dynamic mix of tones and textures full of surprises and serendipity.

To be able to cover something with as many moving parts as the Olympic Games as successfully as NBC does by means of its normal programming is an amazing achievement. An organizational triumph of co-ordination and planning. But NBC would have been better off spending their supporting media budget on giving all those members of staff working on the games, and I mean all, a smartphone with working Social Media accounts already set up and let them at it.

Instead of being an alternative to NBC’s coverage of the Olympics they would have had a wonderful addition which would have only enhanced the energy and focus around the main broadcast. This is not only about the NBC and Olympics. It is about all broadcasters and most of the things they cover.

Instead of Olympic Pulse – which ultimately is only a dressed-up aggregation page – we could have all sorts of tweet streams bringing all sorts of insights that would have rounded out NBC’s coverage in a more complete way. We can only imagine the sorts of tweets that we could have had. Tweets about:

  • Camera crews scurrying from position to position and assignment to assignment.
  • Producers waiting for interviews to take place.
  • Presenters tweeting odd bits of fun facts that never made it into the regular broadcast.
  • Sponsors cheering their teams on.
  • And all the wonderfully unexpected things we see elsewhere in the SM world.

We can deduce fairly easily and fairly accurately from what we have already seen in the rest of the Twitterverse exactly the sort of tweets we never saw and never will see. It’s a shame for the lost opportunity but there will be more chances to do things right to come.

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