One question that ought to be always on the minds of crisis managers is how much traffic can your website take? As it becomes more clear the critical role that the internet plays in emergency public information (such as Hurricane Ike), understanding the traffic limits on the internet is of great importance to emergency response planners. So, how much can it take and how can we know?
The Michael Jackson death will serve as a benchmark for some time to come, as 9/11 did for some time after that event. According to the article in the July 6 NYT, traffic on news websites at around 6 pm (ET) hit around 4.2 million per minute. Yes, per minute. If that traffic were sustained, that would be 250 million hits per hour. I was conducting training with a group of PIER users at our offices in Bellingham and when the first hint came out (someone was checking email during training of course) immediately everyone hit TMZ and whatever news sites we could find. It was fascinating for this group of senior communication managers to watch the events unfold (Twitter Breaking News On beat the LA Times by half an hour with the news of his death). But we were a roomful of people crowding the news sites with our smart phones and laptops.
The impact of this kind of traffic was substantial. Wikipedia broke the record for visits to a single article in a one hour period (one million, plus the quarter million who went to the misspelled entry “Micheal Jackson.”
AIM went down for 40 minutes according to the NYT article and a number of sites experienced significant slowing. Some search terms on Google News were significantly slowed.
This kind of internet traffic reminds me a little of a greeting card I saw this weekend while strolling the streets of Anacortes, Washington. It had a picture of a cruise ship on its side with the caption something like: “The captain knew it was a mistake when the cruise director announced a sighting of Elvis Presley off the starboard side.” What will it take to capsize the ship of the internet. The overall message is, it will take a lot. The resilience of the internet as a communications channel is truly remarkable owing ultimately to its fundamental design as a spider web of connections. Still, it has its limits. Almost every site has its limits, every application, every web service. Knowing those limits, preparing to deal with them–even while building capacity needs to be the concern of everyone in crisis communication or emergency response planning. While some may think the passing of a pop star is the biggest, most important thing to ever happen, I can think of a few more items that could bring even this resilient means of communication to its knees.