The World Cup And Social Media

In the four years since the last World Cup, social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have developed massive global followings. So much so that our All Tech Considered guru Omar Gallaga tells Michele Norris some are worried these sites may crash from the weight of all the World Cup chatter

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: Today we ask, are they tough enough for the World Cup? We're not talking about a soccer team or individual soccer players. We're talking about social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter. Both sites have become phenomenally popular around the globe since the last soccer championship, four years ago.

Could all that World Cup chatter shatter the sites? Here to talk about that and about what's clearly the most wired World Cup ever, we turn to our tech guru Omar Gallaga. He writes about the culture of technology for the Austin American-Statesman. Omar, how are you doing?

OMAR GALLAGA: Oh, good, thanks for having me.

NORRIS: Omar, there are reports that beyond sites like Twitter and Facebook, the entire Internet is lumbering under the weight of all those people working at keyboards large and small. Just how big of an Internet event is this?

GALLAGA: The closest comparison I've seen to it is the Obama inauguration, which was also during the week and had people glued to their computers. So on Friday, when the first matches started, we saw a huge spike in Internet traffic, surpassing the Obama inauguration. Over the weekend, it tapered off some as people saw the matches on actual TVs. But we're anticipating that during this week, as more matches continue, that we're going to see that spike again, as people are watching stuff at work and not able to get away to an actual television.

NORRIS: Now, I wonder what this is doing to productivity in a lot of workplaces. What have the most popular sites done to prepare for this increase in traffic?

GALLAGA: Well, Twitter, in particular, had a lot of problems last week that were unrelated to the World Cup. They might've been kind of gearing up for it. But they warned their users that this kind of spike in traffic is probably going to cause problems. They're probably going to have some outages. Facebook has fared pretty well, but both sides are doing a lot to just get people talking.

Twitter introduced some hashtags, where if you type in World Cup, it will actually put a little soccer or a team flag on there. So they're definitely trying to get people talking. And Facebook is actually allowing people to comment with live video streams. So they're pairing up - kind of Facebook status updates with those live streams.

NORRIS: So if you're a soccer purist and you don't want to comment on the games or read other people's tweets, you just want to watch it on, say, a smartphone or perhaps watch the games online, where do you do that? Where are the best places to find the games or view the matches or get updates, when you're not around a TV?

GALLAGA: Well, all of the major wireless providers have either apps or services that will give you a live stream of a lot of the matches. AT&T has sort of led the way. They've got an iPhone app from ESPN that allows you to watch them. And all of these services cost anywhere from $8 to $15 a month, but you're probably only going to be using it mostly during World Cup. Verizon has their vCAST network. Sprint gives you access to ESPN mobile. So there's lots of different options to access it.

NORRIS: I wonder what that does to your battery.

GALLAGA: Yeah, battery or data plan. If you're on a limited data plan and you plan to be live streaming video of World Cup matches, I would definitely opt for a higher service plan, at least for this month.

NORRIS: Finally, Omar, if all this Internet stuff weren't enough, there's another new technology that's latching onto the World Cup 3D television, where you can see the cup in 3D now. What sort of setup do you need to do this? You can't just do this on a normal television set?

GALLAGA: No, you would need a 3D-capable HDTV. You would need for your provider, either satellite or cable, to provide that. And, of course, you need 3D glasses as well. So this is not something you're going to see a lot of in people's homes right now. But if you know of a bar that maybe has this installed, or maybe a Best Buy you want to go check it out, I mean, this is definitely a good showcase to start. And we'll be seeing a lot more sporting events throughout the year that will take advantage of this. Like, the next BCS championship will be broadcast in 3D. And sports generally is kind of where a lot of this people will probably see their first 3D television.

NORRIS: Hmm, bass fishing in 3D - or something like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GALLAGA: Bass Masters 3D. Absolutely.

NORRIS: Omar, it's always good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

GALLAGA: Thanks for having me, and we will be posting links to a lot of these services on the NPR All Tech blog, at NPR.org/alltech.

NORRIS: That's Omar Gallaga. He joins us regularly to talk about technology. He also writes about technology for the Austin American-Statesman.

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