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Websites and News Aggregators Struggle to Handle Traffic Related to Jackson's Death

After the first reports of Michael Jackson's demise surfaced online last week, the Internet struggled to keep pace with the record number of queries and traffic as people sought out the details. Entertainment website TMZ, which broke the story, experienced several outages as word spread. Popular gossip blog also toiled to process a staggering number of requests.

Major news sources were quickly overwhelmed soon after. Between 2:40 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. PST, Google News had trouble processing queries related to the King of Pop's death, as the number of searches was so massive that Google initially mistook them for an attack on its service. Once the misunderstanding was cleared, Google Trends, which measures the most popular queries around the web, classified the story as "volcanic."

Meanwhile, CNN, which published reports that Jackson was in a coma but not deceased, also saw massive spikes in traffic, reaching 20 million page views in the hour the story broke. The LA Times, the first news organization to confirm the death, experienced outages and slowdowns as well as people sought to unravel the conflicting details of Jackson's status. In addition, AOL was taxed and became unavailable for about 40 minutes, prompting the organization to state, "Today was a seminal moment in Internet history. We've never seen anything like it in terms of scope or depth."

Social media was not spared a barrage of technical problems, either. The Twitter "fail whale" appeared as fans began to tweet the news, which quickly eclipsed the steady stream of activity from Iranian protestors and supporters. At one point, Jackson's death was responsible for some 30% of all tweeting activity. Eventually, Twitter had to temporarily disable its real-time search results and trend topics to deal with the outpouring of messages.

Wikipedia, with almost 500 edits made to Jackson's entry in less than 24 hours, hardly fared better. The site became temporarily overloaded that day, and eventually Jackson's page had to be locked from further edits due to misinformation, including one erroneous report that Jackson had been strangled to death by his brother Tito.

In an explanation of the melee that stemmed from the event, AOL Consumer Adviser Regina Lewis told CNN that the scale of the response to Jackson's death was unprecedented but that the pattern of reaction was typical. "With the advent of social networking, we saw a sequence that we traditionally see around the death of celebrities," Lewis said. "One, people clamor for the latest news; two, they share it; three, they react; and then the next stage, which we're seeing alive and well on video sites...are tributes. In the case of Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett, [people have] a lot to work with in terms of images and video."

-Amanda Richter


Jun 29, 2009