Social Media Tools and Playing Spectator

May 18, 2009

Posted in Higher Ed and Web Industry.

On Sunday May 17, 2009, the University of Notre Dame held its University Commencement Exercises. Unlike previous commencement events, it was surrounded by controversy and buzz. A highlight of the ceremony was the commencement address by President Barack Obama. His policies and positions on abortion and stem cell research conflict with Catholic teaching, leading many to protest the invitation and his appearance. Further, he was awarded an honorary degree which was considered a violation of Catholic canon law.

Suffice to say, it was a stressful few months leading up to that Sunday afternoon.

I spent most of Sunday watching the events unfold through a variety of tools:

Twitter Search

I had two searches running in TweetDeck – one for notre dame -cathedral -france -paris and one for These gave me a sense of the conversations, frustrations, commentary, and so on. They also allowed me to answer questions for people who couldn’t find a video stream and so on.

At one point, Notre Dame became a trending topic and opened the floodgates – thousands of tweets spilled through and I started skimming as best I could.

uStream Video

One of the protests streamed live video of their demonstration using uStream. I was able to see how that progressed, though I gave up once it turned into interviews.

Live Video Stream

We streamed live video of the event on our own commencement website. While it was also available on many other outlets, ours was one of the few uninterrupted video streams – many complained of “talking heads” from CNN and Fox News continuing over the speeches.

Links, Links, Links

Through these outlets, I ended up discovering hundreds of links to commentary, live blogs, and other Twitter accounts covering the events. While I wasn’t engaging them directly, it was quite educational.


Our web traffic was off the charts. The homepage saw a 400% increase, and the commencement website itself more than tripled the usual daily visits to I don’t have all the stats yet, but we had more than 75,000 visits to the video page alone – in one day. Not too shabby for a site we built two weeks ago, and our first foray into live Flash streaming.

The New Spectator Gallery

Most of these are readily available outlets for any event. When any breaking news hits, this is where I look first – coverage, citizen journalism, conversation, whatever you call it – all before mainstream media can break the news. There’s no one authoritative source, but that means it’s unfiltered data that can tell the whole story.

Proud of Notre Dame

Those who tuned in got to see some inspired speeches by some brilliant people. The valedictory address will stay with me for some time. The resolve of the University, and especially Fr. Jenkins make me truly proud to be an alumnus, fan, and employee of the University.

For anyone interested in seeing videos of the event or the individual speeches, they are available at: