This summer’s London Olympics are set to be a time of intense competition – and not just for the athletes involved in the sporting events. Yesterday, Facebook unveiled “Explore London 2012:” its new portal for this summer’s Olympic Games, suggesting that traditional media outlets may be facing increasing competition from social media in their coverage of this year’s Olympics.
Explore London 2012, which Reuters reports took 18 months to develop, is a gateway to other Facebook pages, relating to individual athletes, country teams and sporting events. Users who like the main portal will also see updates from the Olympics in their newsfeeds, and those who like individual pages will also be able to see their posts and pictures from the Games. The whole process allows fans and athletes to communicate directly though posts and comments, rather that working through the medium of a news organisation.
Ingrid Lunden at TechCrunch writes that the link between the Games and Facebook is “not exclusive”. The Games will also have a branded Twitter page (something we have already seen for NASCAR) a portal on Google+ and partnerships with Foursquare, Tumblr and Instragram.
Lunden suggests that the 2012 Games’ wide social media presence is an illustration of the event becoming more democratised with the evolution of the internet. “With hundreds of events (and 10.5k athletes) to watch, TV broadcasters and newspapers can only use the highlights and never deliver a comprehensive picture,” she writes. “With Facebook’s effort, users who want to know every last detail of what is happening in gymnastics or synchronized swimming (ahem) could — that is, if the athletes participate in the process.”
Reuters quotes Joanna Shield, Facebook’s head for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, who said, "In the past, stories that were not headline-worthy, they could never reach the public. At this Olympic games, no story will go untold."
However, the Facebook portal has been the subject of some criticism. The Daily Dot writes dismissively, that it is “just a fancy, sleek-looking Facebook page that doesn’t really do much. It centralizes athletes’ Facebook pages, teams, and sports, and has very little interactivity on it; just a lot of clicking to get to those pages.” What’s more, of the more than 10,000 athletes expected to compete at this year’s games, a relatively small number have pages featured on the main portal: a provisionary scroll through the page suggests that the number is somewhere under 200.
Still, the Olympics's strict social media guidelines grant privileges to news organisaitons and places restrictions on athletes. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) writes that it encourages athletes and participants to Tweet, blog and post updates during the Games, but “any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist.” This means that they are not allowed to report on the competition, comment on the activity of other participants, or disclose any confidential stories that relate to other organisations or individuals. What’s more, participants are allowed to post photographs, but not videos taken inside the Olympic venues.
Moreover, the proliferation of social media at the Olympics will also be a boon to journalists. The IOC notes that “accredited media may freely utilise social media platforms for bona fide reporting purposes.”
As the Telegraph highlights, Facebook is not allowed to sell any advertisements on the Olympic pages. But Lunden suggests that the Olympics may offer Facebook other, possibly more lucrative opportunities, as it is also working with advertisers and brands to “bring the Olympic experience to the social network — even if that will not appear on its Olympics page itself.”