The BBC’s Olympics commentary went awry when social media spiked its GPS service.
If you’ve been following the Olympics obsessively you may have noticed some confusion during the Men and Women’s cycling competitions. The television commentators didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves, when a GPS failure kept them from reporting live on the race. The International Olympic Committee has since identified the culprit as Twitter, and asks users to please only send urgent Tweets while the competition is on.
According to the Committee it was a sudden spike in Twitter use that overloaded the system and caused the communication breakdown, which prevented GPS data from reaching the commentators. What made it doubly unfortunate was that, as the problems began to interfere with coverage, angry viewers started Tweeting about the lack of coverage and that further added load to an already overworked system. Fortunately this did not affect race timing, as the cyclists’ GPS signals were collected by separate fixed timing units at the start, finish and midway points of the race.
“Of course,” a Committee spokesman said, “if you want to send something, we are not going to say ‘Don’t, you can’t do it’, and we would certainly never prevent people … It’s just – if it’s not an urgent, urgent one, please kind of take it easy.” The IOC spokesman said one oversubscribed network in particular was to blame, and that the problem was being worked on.
In preparation for the Games BT, the official Olympic telecom provider, has laid enough extra cable to stretch a line between London and New York. This still isn’t enough to protect the network against sudden spikes in demand. Incidentally, for those who wish to follow the IOC or the BBC you may do so via Twitter.