The Most Tech-Enhanced SOTU Yet

More reasons to ditch your TV and watch online

Don’t have a TV to watch tonight’s State of the Union address? Or do you just get bored with all the standing-applause breaks without constant visual and informational input? You are in luck. Nancy Scola at TechPresident reports that tonight will be the first-ever “simultaneous online visualized annotation of the State of the Union address.” will feature a live stream of the President’s speech on one side of the page, and charts, graphs and statistics on the other side. Scola notes that this is part of a pattern by the White House of using visualizations to both enhance and improve political conversation; for instance, we’ve seen it in the “White Board” video series, which features administration officials explaining policy with dry-erase cartoons and charts.

The White House is also inviting people to send in questions for the press secretary and the president while they watch, sent via the website and social media. On Thursday, the president will answer some of the questions in an interview that will be broadcast live on YouTube, as he did last year. And just to cover all the bases, on Friday, the vice president will answer questions in a Yahoo forum.

If you want to watch with a more critical eye, check out Sunlight Live, a joint project of the Sunlight Reporting Group, The Huffington Post, National Journal, CQ Roll Call, and the Center for Public Integrity. This “platform of real-time investigative reporting,” as the Sunlight Foundation puts it, will

provide real-time transparency of the annual State of the Union and make our analysis participatory in a way we couldn’t have before the Web. We invite all citizens to join us and submit questions as we live-blog, fact-check on-the-fly and provide contextual analysis about the influences shaping President Obama’s statements at the moment they are spoken.

The Sunlight Foundation won the 2010 Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism for the tool. When accepting the $10,000 prize this past September, a press release stated:

Among the new technologies it is exploring is the addition of facial recognition capabilities that will allow for the real-time display of relevant data—such as campaign finance contributions, lobbying history or earmarks—as people appear on-screen during Sunlight Live events.

I don’t know whether they’ve had quite enough time to develop that technology for the State of the Union, but the tool should be quite useful nevertheless, even if all it does is aggregate online conversation and fact-checking onto one page. Michael Calderone reported on The Cutline that Sunlight Live “will have four parts: a live feed of the speech; rotating widgets covering specific issues (i.e. Afghanistan, the deficit); a live blog of participants from the four organizations; and a Twitter feed (using the hashtag #sotufacts).” Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation told Calderone she thinks of this process as “data-jamming public events.”

For politicos on the go, PBS is inviting people to watch the speech live via the NewsHour iPad or iPhone app. Personal Democracy Forum is also publicizing an iPhone app produced by some online market researchers that allows you to register your relative approval or disapproval during the speech—real-time—by moving a slider back and forth from red to green as the speech progresses.

Just a warning, though: it might be hard to concentrate on those teensy screens if you are also planning on also playing a SOTU 2011 drinking game like this one from Esquire, which suggests taking a drink every time the camera settles on either a “Close-up of angry Representative” or “Close-up of sad Senator.”

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner