Let the Games Begin!

The Opening Ceremonies for the 30th Summer Olympics is set for tomorrow in London.  How many posts, tweets, tags, texts, email messages and digital photos will be generated? Will social media be a welcome addition to the Games, further connecting the world? Or, will the constant finger play become a distraction to an age-old tradition?

This age-old tradition has changed in many ways over time. When the first ancient Olympic games occurred in 776 BC, they were dedicated to the Olympian gods and were staged on the ancient plains of Olympia.

The Olympics as we know them today began in Athens, Greece in 1896. The first modern games featured athletes from just 14 nations. In London this year, 205 countries will send representatives. The original games offered just nine sports, while at this years’ games, athletes will compete in 302 events over 26 sports. Further, at the start, only male athletes competed. Thanks to milestones like Title IX, female athletes now make up a good portion of the competitors. In fact, this year has been a landmark for women: all 205 nations will send female representatives, including Saudi Arabia. In fact, the U.S. team will send more women than men for the first time in history.

But one of the most major ways they’ve changed is technology. Certainly in 1896, not even television and digital timers existed. Over time, the games have embraced innovation. This year, though, marks the first time social networking, in particular, will be such a major player in the Olympics – so much so that London has been branded as “the first social media games.”

Mostly, social media platforms will enhance the way we view and interact with the events.  For the first time, the crowd is global, albeit virtually, 24/7. Even those of us lucky enough to trek to London will probably also watch the televised action, and check sites like Facebook and Twitter for updates.

Beyond those basic platforms, there are many apps, for socially networking the games. TorchTracker lets us track the Olympic torch, a results app keeps us updated on the standings, and the Join In App alerts us to events and activities during the games. Other virtual connections are more obscure, like Tweethletes, which allows “users to race athletes with their tweets during the 100M relay Aug. 5. The site measures every tweet at 2.5 cm, meaning 4,000 tweets will be needed to cover 100 meters. A bird will simulate users’ tweets on the site next to the distance covered by actual athletes.”

Social media can help make spectators feel like a part of the action. Spectators “can comment on content, interact with the athletes, create and publish their own content,” said Sebastian Coe, Olympic gold medalist and chairman of the London organizing committee, LOCOG, continuing that social media will kill off passive viewing and armchair sports fans.  (However, it could also ruin surprises for those of you who like to experience the events for the first time.)

As far as the athletes go, social media is also affecting the way they experience the game. They are cautioned against letting it distract them, and are subject to strict guidelines. One athlete from Greece has already been expelled for her Tweets. In a more positive light, though, it’s a way for athletes to interact with their fans and to humanize themselves. A favorite example is these Spanish athletes sharing pictures and comments via Twitter of their rather ridiculous uniforms.

Even The London Eye is lighting up, literally, with technology. The famous landmark will track the emotions of tweets about the Olympics and accordingly light up different colors based on viewers’ opinions of the Games.

What started in Vancouver, is sure to grow in London.  Anthony Edgar, head of media operations for the IOC, “freely admits that he does not know what to expect in London following the explosion of social media, with some 900 million people using Facebook in 2012 compared to the 100 million who used the site just four years ago at the time of the Beijing Games,” reports Reuters.

So what will happen? Feel free to discuss!

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