Given how late in the day it is, I suspect everyone is almost over the 2008 US election.

But I wanted to add a note about my experience in trying to monitor the election online today.

I watched the CNN TV coverage live, but wanted to compare/contrast their stats with that of other major US media outlets. So I monitored the Web sites of CNN, Fox News, BBC News, New York Times and MSNBC.

Each had a very similar approach to covering the vote counting – a map of the USA, with each state coloured according to their current status (i.e. leaning towards the Democrats or Republicans). Most also allowed you to mouse over individual states to get more specific information on the progress and projections for that state.

Now here is what bothered me: the data on all of the US media web sites trailed what was being announced on-air, often by a matter of minutes. The CNN site was particularly annoying, as they had both a ticker and a map on their homepage, and while the ticker kept in close synch with their TV ticker, the map was often 10 minutes behind the ‘live’ data. Same site. Same page. Presumably same data source. Different update speeds.

(The BBC was a potential exception, as their web site was often minutes ahead of the other sites, but I did not have access to their broadcast, so I could not see whether the two channels were in synch.)

How did this happen?

Even the mainstream media has commented quite frequently about the importance and role of the Internet in the 2008 US Presidential election, in terms of both generating donations and motivating volunteers to join campaign activities, and in dramatically increasing voter registrations.

Much was made of the incredible viewing figures that political satire and comedy segments (especially the Palin impersonations on Comedy Central) were pulling online – often far exceeding their broadcast viewer numbers. Social networks like Facebook, and microblog services like Twitter have generated unprecedented traffic around political groups, conversations, debates and commentary.

Just as TV ‘made’ John F Kennedy – his superior telegenic appearance giving him the edge over Richard Nixon in the 1960 debates, the first to be televised – Obama’s campaign was given an immense boost due to the manner in which it was able to engage voters via the Internet (embracing and extending the lessons from Howard Dean’s campaign).

The abovementioned media outlets had plenty of warning that there would be significant demand for online information and analysis during the election and vote counting, but they clearly dropped the ball.

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