This summer can’t come soon enough—and not just for the usual reasons. We are only two months away from The Olympic Games, the 17 day event that glues us to the TV (or if you are lucky enough, to an actual sports arena) to cheer on country, favorite athlete, or just the most obscure sport. Feeling full to brimming with the Olympic spirit and with little to do with it until the July 27 opening ceremony, I decided to take a look at its most recent social effort.
As is being practically shouted from the mountaintops (or, less dramatically, simply mentioned in many places) London 2012 will be the first ‘Digital’ or ‘Social’ Olympics. To encourage this notion, the International Olympic Committee has created its own social network. That’s right; we can now stalk our favorite Olympic athletes in real time. Just a few clicks can connect any fan to the Twitter and Facebook accounts of participating athletes.
That is all well and fine, you are saying, but how do I find out where Michael Phelps is right now? The Athletes’ Hub is not actually a new platform, but a central location where athletes’ social accounts are collected. You could seek out Micheal Phelps on Twitter without it, but you couldn’t instantaneously pivot to Johny Akinyemi, Nigerian Canoe/Kayak hopeful or Mariana Pajon, Columbian Cycler. Central compilation is one of the main attractions of the Hub, another one being discovery. A visitor to the hub can search athletes and teams by name, but can also just type in a sport, a country, or browse through top profiles. This is not only limited to current athletes– there is also access to winter sports and all kinds of past competitors. There is a lot of potential on the hub for finding new events or lesser known athletes and it will surely grow even more exciting as the games approach. Imagine watching a live Olympic event and being able to simultaneously check out a competing athlete’s Twitter stream or Facebook page where they may have shared their thoughts pre-race! In today’s must-know-everything-now culture, this urge comes suddenly and it is good to know that it will be easily satisfied.
Interested? You can get started in three easy steps:
- Begin by pointing your browser to hub.olympic.org
- Next, sign up by linking either (or both of) your Twitter or Facebook accounts. This is not necessary if you just want to look around the site, but if you plan on following or friending while there, linking accounts makes the process faster.
- Now you are free to search and stalk to your heart’s content. But wait, what’s with all this “rewards” stuff? For those of you that like a competition (and, hey, that’s all of us– it’s why we watch the Olympics) the act of logging in and following Hub athletes pays off in badges, points, and access to exclusive content. You also get bragging rights on the site’s Global Leaderboard. As of now, that exclusive content seems to be tips from past athletes. The Global Leaderboard is visible to all participants and it would definitely be exciting to see your name up there—although I was unable to click through and see how exactly these leaders gained their points.
Now that I’m in the game, as it were, I will track how the hub goes and report back. I am very excited to watch what happens as the games approach but did notice some fundamental issues with the site that may affect its usefulness unless they change. The biggest is that athletes need to have Twitter or Facebook accounts to participate. I assume the hub is set up in this way because it is far easier than building an entire new social network, but it results in a heavily western skew which takes away from (in my opinion) the entire point of the Olympics’ global community. I could find very few athletes from Asian and African countries and only a handful from various South American countries. Also frustrating is that one can’t simply browse through all athletes. This makes it hard to randomly discover new events or teams and it also makes it difficult to see how many athletes are enrolled in all.
The Athletes’ Hub benefits from the very concept that makes social networks so exciting and that will be great about this ‘digital’ Olympics. Social keeps everyone in touch—whether you are separated by continents or social circles (how else could I so dependably see what celebrities are eating or what their pets are wearing?). The Athletes’ Hub will bring those of us that have always dreamed of attending an Olympic Games that much closer. Theoretically, you could follow along as your favorite athlete works out, preps for the games, travels to London, and then see the Olympics through their eyes. We can’t all be Olympians, but now we can be their “friends”.