Is It Possible to Crash My Server Blogging About Michael Jackson?

June 28, 2009 · Print This Article · Email This Post

Even as word first came from TMZ that Michael Jackson had died, and long before CNN (and other networks) finally reported the death (supposedly out of a politically correct “abundance of caution” but really because they consider TMZ kind of sleazy, although TM and CNN are both owned by Time Warner), the Internet came to a crawl as traffic spiked to unprecedented levels. We began to wonder — if we posted a Michael Jackson story, could we crash our server? (We know, we know, curiosity killed the cat.)

Michael Jackson in Concert at the Super Bowl

The answer was. . Yes. While Google, Twitter, AOL, TMZ, Perez Hilton and the Los Angeles Times were faltering on the afternoon and evening of Jackson’s death, Pajamadeen’s crash didn’t come until the next morning. Suddenly, my hosting company called and emailed. Michael Jackson could crash our server. It wasn’t a difficult fix — the WordPress Super Cache plugin fixed the problem. But then Pajamadeen isn’t a mega-site; we’re small fry compared to the big boys who stumbled.

Twitter Fail WhaleGoogle reported that 7 out of 10 searches were for the phrase ““Michael Jackson Dies.” In fact, Google got so many Michael Jackson searches that it thought it was under attack. In addition to time outs and 404 error pages, some users told the BBC that they received a message reading something like “your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application.” We had difficulty logging into Twitter — since they were receiving 5,000 Michael Jackson messages a minute, this wasn’t totally surprising. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone reported that Tweets instantly doubled per second as soon as the death of the pop star broke, leading to a performance lag. Ultimately, Twitter received more than 100,000 tweets per hour about Jackson. The irony of it, as one Twitter user posted, was that protesters in Iran were unable to access Twitter because of the Michael Jackson overload. Twitter temporarily disabled its saved searches, search results and trend topics to help decrease the load.

AOLThe Los Angeles Times, the first “legitimate” website to report Jackson’s death, crashed several times from massive traffic spikes — and recorded 12 million page views. Facebook almost collapsed. Websites operated by ABC and NBC, the LA Times and AOL at some points turned away 90 percent of Internet users. AOL — sometimes referred to as AOHell by its subscribers — was down for about 40 minutes on Thursday, because they were doing a scheduled software upgrade to its popular AIM instant messaging service when the story broke.

Dan Berkowitz, a spokesman for Keynote Systems, Inc., a California-based company which measures Internet site traffic, told The Boston Globe: “We haven’t seen this kind of slowdown on our news index in quite some time.” “The Michael Jackson effect,” as the slowdown related to his death is now being called, reconfirmed the growing influence of social media — hundreds of fans got the news via TMZ and Twitter and rushed to the grounds of the UCLA Medical Center, where Jackson was being treated, seconds after the story broke and well before other print and television media reported the story.

Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times ColumnistTraditional newspapers and TV are confused (and nervous) about the emergence of the Internet, social media and “citizen journalism.” Tim Rutten, LA Times columnist, had an interesting take on events of the last few days. He wrote: “Whatever they say, many newspaper editors and TV news producers have begun to allow website hits and social media volume to function as a kind of sub rosa ratings system whose numbers dictate coverage and the play of news stories. What’s wrong with that? For one thing, it leads to the sort of irrational excess we’ve all been through since Thursday. No reasonable editor or producer should ignore the kind of public interest we’re seeing. But surrendering utterly to it ultimately undercuts what’s genuinely valuable about serious news media.

“A serious newspaper or broadcast news outlet must simultaneously be a mirror and a window to its audience — a look at themselves and an opening to the wider world.”

Want to read more about Michael Jackson’s death? You got it.

Photo credit: Kevin Mazur / Wirenews Image

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