Michael Jackson Memorial Impacts the Web

Today’s memorial to fallen entertainment superstar Michael Jackson may well have been one of the most viewed online events in history. Reports of Jackson’s death on June 25 caused shockwaves across the Internet as fans scoured the Web for the latest updates, traded gossip and grief on social networking sites and flocked to e-commerce sites in search of his music.

The rush of activity the day the news broke briefly put some Web sites out of commission while others slowed to a crawl. This time, site owners could better prepare for the onslaught of visitors and video Webcasts from the memorial, but there were still problems.

“Overall the Internet held up, there were no major outages,” Imad Mouline, CTO of Gomez, a site that specializes in Web traffic management, told InternetNews.com. “But while there was no meltdown, specific sites had issues. We saw, for example, response time drop at the major sites.”

Gomez, which measures
across a wide range of Web sites and user settings, offers what it calls “On Demand Web Experience Management” services.

Tweets on hold

Social media sites took a measurable hit. For example, Gomez said that between 9 and 10 a.m. ET, it took Twitter users in the U.S. 3.8 seconds to get to the home page to log in. But after memorial started, from noon to 1 p.m. ET, it took almost a minute (54 seconds) to get to Twitter’s home page.

Mouline said availability and response time dropped slightly at major news sites. Where it normally takes between 3.5 to 7.3 seconds for those sites to load, Gomez said the range jumped to 6.5 to 18.5 seconds during the memorial.

Following the memorial, Mouline said response time seemed to be returning to normal at the news sites but there were still significant delays at some of the social network sites with users busy posting and responding to the events of the day.

A broad impact

Not that many years ago, a site might have to buy new servers to prepare for a significant spike in traffic. But advances in Web hosting and content delivery networks have brought a new, more flexible world.

“Very little that you look at at most sites comes from that company’s infrastructure,” said Mouline. “A single URL could be going out to thirty different hosts. Being prepared makes all the difference in the world and how most of them handled today shows how much can be done with very little notice.”

But Mouline also stresses that the Internet is one big shared resource and that the spike in traffic generated by today’s memorial could easily affect sites that had no relation to coverage of the event.

“The issue isn’t just the congestion of a billion people watching the video, but all the ancillary functions,” he said. “There are a lot of shared components on the Web like analytics so when there’s a huge spike in traffic, the sites that use those same parts of the infrastructure are going to feel the strain as well even if they have nothing to do with Michael Jackson.”

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