Opinion: Let the TiVo Olympics begin

Every fourth summer, IT trade pubs write about the technology that powers the Olympic Games. It's always an interesting topic, but apart from an enhanced focus on security, the Athens 2004 stories were little changed from their Sydney 2000 counterparts. And yet, this Olympics was utterly transformed, for me and for a few million other viewers, by TiVo.

Thanks to this cheap, Linux-based appliance, I was able to compress all of the events that interested me into a fraction of the time it would otherwise have taken to watch them. I'll always remember the Athens games as the first TiVo Olympics. Now I'm thinking about ways to make the next one even better.

A portable PVR (personal video recorder) schedule would be a nice improvement. I took a week of vacation during this year's games, so while the TiVo back home was recording everything for later use, I couldn't review each day's events from my hotel rooms.

Well, why not? Suppose your hotel had a central server with a month's worth of the popular cable channels. Filter that using your PVR schedule and -- voila! -- the hotel television is rescued from the jaws of irrelevance.

Although portability would be nice, more complete event coverage is a must-have item on my wish list. I was thrilled to waste no time consuming what the networks broadcast but was disappointed as always by the spotty coverage. As a former gymnast, for example, I'd love to be able to watch every compulsory and optional routine, not just the handful narrated by Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlegel. Skip the commentary. Just park a camcorder in front of each apparatus, let it run, and post the files. I'd pay to view them.

Come to think of it, don't skip the commentary. Instead, fix it. For a mainstream audience, Tim and Elfi are reduced to stating the obvious -- "Oh, a little step on the landing!" -- but trust me, they know more than that. Of course, plenty of others do, too, including the athletes themselves as well as countless other gymnasts, coaches, and knowledgeable observers like me. We form an informed and engaged community that could -- and should -- enrich the events with layers of analysis.

Similar communities surround each of the Olympic disciplines, and those communities ought to be thriving on the Web. Although Athens was the TiVo Olympics, it wasn't the blogging Olympics. For that, we'll have to wait until 2008. By then, let's hope, the International Olympic Committee's ban on blogging will be nothing but a bad memory. Beijing's legacy ought to be deep pools of content, shared among and enriched by participants and observers.

How does all this relate to life in the IT trenches? Think about the last conference you attended. You had to make hard choices about which sessions to attend and which to skip. Audio or video proceedings may have been available afterward, but they didn't flow to your PVR. Blogs written by participants and observers helped you fill in the gaps but didn't richly annotate the AV content.

Still, we're getting awfully close. In our world -- where blogs, Wi-Fi, and computer-attached video cameras are the norm -- we've begun to redefine the art of event coverage. If you want to see how the Beijing Olympics should be covered in 2008, visit a tech conference next year.

Jon Udell is lead analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center.

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Jon Udell

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