Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How the Web Survived Michael Jackson’s Death

weightThe “fail” meme is one of the digerati’s least pleasant contributions to pop culture. Wouldn’t be accurate, anyway. Instead, let’s just say that the Internet was…challenged yesterday by the crush of people who flocked to it when Michael Jackson died. And that it seemed to do a pretty good job in the end.

We’ve already seen the requisite “Twitter is down” stories, but in my experience, the service seemed to hold up reasonably well, and certainly it performed exponentially better than it would have just a year ago when it was a fraction of its current size.

And after the first crush of users started to slow Twitter down, the service calmly went into triage mode, disabling the search bar on the homepage that few people use anyway. Later that evening things were back to normal.

This seems to have been the pattern across the Web: Sites and services struggled with the initial burst of traffic–roughly from 5:30 pm through 7:30 pm Eastern time–then regained their footing. I’m told that AOL’s AIM service, for instance, had an outage around 5:30 pm Eastern that was likely related to Jackson chatter, but it was back up again shortly after that.

Meanwhile, the BBC has tallied up other services that had slowdowns or outages:

  • Google (GOOG)
  • Time Warner’s TMZ (TWX), which broke the story
  • Time Warner’s AOL, which put the TMZ story on its front page within a couple of minutes of its initial publication
  • Time Warner’s CNN, which was much more cautious about the story, and only reported that Jackson had been hospitalized until non-TMZ sources confirmed the story
  • Yahoo (YHOO)
  • MSNBC

I assume the list is longer than that, so feel free to add others in comments below. But I spent a lot of time surfing to various sites yesterday evening and was struck by how well many of them held up.

The good/bad news: Media fragmentation means that Michael Jackson is likely the last global icon, so we’re unlikely to see a repeat of this. If you want to get really macabre, you can think up other events that might put the Web under strain all over the world, but that’s no fun.

This is, though:

[Image credit: Eccentric Scholar]


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work