I participated in an somewhat-obscure Olympic sport in college: rowing. It’s only on TV during the Olympics, and during that time you can’t pry me away from the TV with a 30-pound crowbar. But for most people rowing is one of those novelty Olympic sports, like team handball and ping-pong. For the average Olympic viewer, watching a crew race is like watching a David Lynch movie – you’ll watch the beginning just to see how weird it is, but by the end you’d really rather be watching something else.
I’m a little different. Crazy sports like badminton, rhythmic gymnastics, and modern pentathlon are among my favorite to watch. What makes the Olympics special is precisely the inclusion of such sports on the grandest stage in the world, right alongside the globe’s most popular athletic endeavors. I sometimes fall asleep to the sweet sounds of the famous Olympic Fanfare in my head, counting the number of times Bob Costas jumps over a fence. But what really gets my goat every 4 years is that if I want to watch an event live, I have to wake up at 3 a.m. (no TiVo for me). If I don’t catch it in the wee hours of the morn, I have to wait until prime-time to see my beloved sport that nobody cares about. The Beijing Games this summer will surely be no exception, as there is a 12-hour difference between New York and the Eastern coast of China.
Despite the Olympic drama there lurks a villain – the Internet. You know, that magical place of automated real-time sports updates which couldn’t care less about your stupid sport. Every single major media network site broadcasts the results of the day’s events as they actually happen. If you visit the site of a major network, there’s almost no way to avoid big-time Olympic spoiler headlines. Even if you wanted to. “So what, just don’t go to any major news sites for the entire 15-day duration of the Games, Brendan.” I would, but it’s not that easy. I am completely addicted to news. As a result, I can’t tell you how many events were ruined for me during the Athens Games by sites like CNN.com.
So why should any sports fan, casual or borderline-psychotic (like me), settle for the Twitterized version of the Olympics? We shouldn’t, quite frankly. Modern media has too much technology on its hands to let this happen. There are two fairly straightforward solutions that come to mind. The first is the easy fix: take all results off the heavily-trafficked network news websites. Create an “Olympics” section of the site and spoil nothing. The second solution is a little more complex: the social network-ization of major news sites. Not just network sites, either. ALL news sites would follow suit – sports, business, you name it.
It’s simple. Users create personal profiles on the news site. Users then program the site to display all the news they want to see and none of the news they don’t. Not only would sports spoilers no longer be a problem, but you’d also get a huge network of news-hungry users who have made the news their own. Imagine the Wall Street Journal, Digg, and Facebook all rolled up into one personalized news feed. The possibilities are endless. But there’s a problem that emerges from such a system: if everyone personalizes their own news, then news organizations which collect, filter, and present the news in the first place will have to fundamentally change in order to stay in business. (Possible names for new news sites: “The You York Times,” “MeNN,” “WeSPN,” “M-us-NBC,” etc. OK, maybe not that last one).
News organizations (in some incarnation) will always be around, that’s a given. But wouldn’t it be more satisfying to read the news on your own terms?