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The State of the Union is...Annotated.

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, January 24 2011

Image via the White House

President Obama would like to show a chart. Or two.

The folks over on the White House new media team have just announced that, during tomorrow's State of the Union address delivered to a joint session on Congress, up and running on WhiteHouse.gov will be a simultaneous helping of visual aids intended to help shore up the presidential lesson being delivered live and in person on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. With the enhanced feature yet to go live on the site, here's a bit of description from the White House's new media director, Macon Phillips:

We're putting the finishing touches on a new feature for WhiteHouse.gov that will offer an enhanced viewer experience for President Obama's State of the Union address.

As President Obama addresses the Nation, WhiteHouse.gov will offer a companion stream of visual aids, like charts and quick stats to provide context and emphasize key points.  Anyone will be able to use this feature by heading to WhiteHouse.gov/sotu and using the "Enhanced" tab.

The sample that the White House hints at in a screen shot is the pre-and-post-Obama jobs chart that has been floating around the Internet for many months after getting its start on then-Speaker Pelosi's in-house blog nearly a year ago. It will be intriguing to watch what other sorts of visuals that Team Obama will come up with to flesh out the case being made up on the podium.

As Phillips notes on the White House blog, "You've Never Seen a State of the Union Address Like This Before," but here they seem to be taking a page from what we're seeing happening with live televised events of a non-presidential nature. People are watching stuff on TV and, in a communal sort of way, going online to extend the experience. If, on a personal note, my own Twitter feed yesterday was any indication, people seem to enjoy watching, say, the Bears versus the Packers while chatting about it with great vigor with people scatter around the country, if not the planet. As Ellen McGirt reported in an November Fast Company piece "I Want My Twitter TV!," there's been quite an uptick in people going online to deepen the experience of watching everything from sporting events to music awards shows -- so much so that Twitter's seeing dollar signs in the hybridization of livestreaming video and online socializing.

Here, of course, the emphasis is more on annotating than socializing (though one imagines that the White House has in mind people using their charts and stats to drive posts and tweets). The implicit hope is that enhancing the conversation with visualizations is a way of making the conversation smarter. We've seen that tried, too, in the Obama White House's White Board series where an administration official, generally Austan Goolsbee, uses a marker and a chart to simplify a complicated policy point without dumbing it down too too much.

Simultaneous online visualized annotation of the State of the Union address? Yep, that's one we haven't seen before. But as the Clerk of the House reminds, the American president's address to Congress on the state of the union and his presidency has often been shaped by the technologies of the times. Courtesy of the clerk, a look back:

  • First radio broadcast of Message: President Calvin Coolidge, 1923.
  • First television broadcast of Message: President Harry Truman, 1947.
  • First evening delivery of Message : President Lyndon Johnson, 1965.
  • First live webcast on Internet: President George W. Bush, 2002.
  • First high definition television broadcast of Message, President George W. Bush, 2004.

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