Election night tech observations

Well, it certainly was a night to remember, and not just for the results.

Well, it certainly was a night to remember. I stayed up until 1 a.m. EST, glued to the TV and to my laptop. It's hard to say which delivered more information or the most digestible information.

From the TV perspective, I was actually pretty impressed with CNN. The "hologram" stunt was interesting, even if it wasn't really a hologram. Using a number of high-speed tracking cameras and compositing, CNN made it seem as though Wolf Blitzer was talking to a hologram image in the studio, when in fact he was talking to thin air, and the composite images were superimposed on the screen. They even included a little blue border around the "hologram", but the image was pretty choppy. That said, Will.I.Am's little dance drew a laugh.

The value of this technology is somewhat debatable. It was unique, for sure, but I don't really see too much value to it yet. What it promises holds much more interest for me -- actual holograms used to connect multiple people in disparate locations into a single frame, but with the images actually presented in the studio, not superimposed. All we need is for someone to finally build a functional R2D2 and we'll be all set.

On the other hand, John King must have been practicing with that Microsoft Surface board for ages. I was really impressed with the fluidity and seamlessness of that medium, and he drove it like a pro. He used it to present a ton of information clearly and completely. It was probably the best public example of this form of interactive multitouch technology to date.

On the Internet side, there were a ton of interactive maps floating around showing current results for all contests, but the best one that I saw was the Electoral Scoreboard from DailyKOS. I had it up all night as it continually refreshed with new information, and dug the simple drill-downs into all national and gubernatorial races. It even played a little cheering audio clip when Obama exceeded the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the election.

And Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight.com deserves lots of credit for calling this race almost to the letter so far. We'll know exactly how prescient he was when all the results are tallied, but his models and predictions based on aggregate polling are nearly perfect. My guess is that we see a lot more of Nate and FiveThirtyEight.com in the future.

As far as electronic voting systems and their problems yesterday, I kept an eye on 866ourvote.com, which had a live feed of problem reports running. There were many, but none that seemed over the top. Of course, when the race is decided by over 7 million votes (as of this writing), small irregularities of even a few thousand votes are almost immaterial.

But not all races were such blowouts. There are still congressional races that are only a few hundred votes apart, such as in Minnesota, where Stuart Smalley is just a pink-sweater thread behind the incumbent. That one's due for a recount, and it'll be interesting to watch how it plays out, especially if there are any questions about the validity of electronic voting systems.

Overall, this was easily the most technologically advanced election in American history, with the leveraging of SMS messaging, Web sites, Internet donations, and the bazillion commentary/polling/discussion sites that were running hot for the past few months. Add in the tech used by the news organizations to corral and present all that data, and we were definitely riding the cutting edge.

Now if only we could convince everyone on the panels and the talking heads on the news shows to close those laptops. It really does look kinda ridiculous, and they're all probably looking for deals on eBay or watching "South Park" reruns anyway.