Barack Obama's Inauguration to be Immortalized by "We, the people" and Photosynth

by dboynton 1/19/2009 11:05:00 AM

Regardless of your political affiliation or perspective, tomorrow, Tuesday, January 20, 2009, is going to be truly historic as Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States. Officials in Washington D.C. estimate that as many as three million people may be there in person tomorrow to witness the event, with hundreds of millions more watching on television and via the Internet. Because of the historical significance of this event, Microsoft and CNN are partnering to capture it for all posterity using one of the coolest technologies around, Microsoft Photosynth.

microsoft-photosynth-logoTo review for those who aren’t familiar with Photosynth, it’s a technology from Microsoft Research that takes a collection of digital photos, analyzes them and the stitches them together to create a three dimensional representation of the space in the photos. To illustrate, imagine setting up a camera on a tripod in the middle of a room. Then you start rotating the camera slowly and shooting a picture every three to four degrees until you go in a complete circle. Then you take the camera and shoot close-ups of objects in the room like pictures, artwork, furniture, etc. When you upload all these photos to “the synther,” they are organized and put back together to recreate the room digitally, allowing you to step into the space. The close-up photos are also included in the synth, allowing you to zoom in and view them in detail. Reading about Photosynth is one thing, but actually seeing it in action is another. Here is a synth of the Sphinx in Egypt done by National Geographic. Note that you will need to install the Photosynth viewer for this to work.

What does this have to do with Obama’s inauguration tomorrow? Well, CNN will be collecting digital photos being taken by both professional photographers and regular citizens in attendance and using them to create a synth of the event. That’s right, people just like you and me will participate in documenting the moment when Obama is sworn-in. Anyone with a cell phone camera standing on the Mall tomorrow morning will be able to contribute to capturing this historic event. Here’s how it will work:

  1. Take a photo of the moment when Obama takes the Oath. If you have a zoom or telephoto lens, then take three pictures, wide-angle, mid-zoom and full-zoom.
  2. As soon as possible, email your photos to Please be aware that you can only send one photo per email and the size limit for the photo is 10MB. Also, be sure to include your name if you want to be included on the list of contributors.
  3. All photos used in the synth will be posted at

InauguralConcertSynthThe synth will be constructed as photos start coming in from the event and will be posted on the CNN web site URL above, as well as on the “magic wall” during on-air broadcasts.

Also, as was announced this morning, the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) has chosen to stream the inauguration live from their web site using Silverlight 2, its most high profile use since the Summer Olympics last year in Beijing.

Update:  I just found out that Linux users and Mac PowerPC users will be able to watch the inauguration via Moonlight today. Get all the details from Ben Waggoner's post from this morning! Thanks to Josh Holmes for passing this along to me.

Want to get a feel for what this will look like when it’s done. posted a synth this morning of the “We Are One” inaugural concert held at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday afternoon. You can view the synth here. It is really cool how far back away from the actual concert you are to start with and how you can zoom into the space and see the details.

When this all comes together, this will be the single most documented moment in history, which seems appropriate considering the historic significance of the occasion. What’s more, we will be able to experience it not in two dimensions, but three. Not quite as good as being there in person, but darn close.

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Events | Photosynth | Silverlight

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Denny Boynton Denny Boynton
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