Jackson News Claims Many Web Victims

Web traffic caused by the news of Michael Jackson’s death Thursday caused a flurry of crashes and slowdowns across the Internet.

According to The New York TimesMedia Decoder Blog, Akamai said traffic to news sites hit 4.2 million visitors per minute during the biggest spike at around 6 p.m. ET, after never topping the 3 million mark during the rest of the day.

As for Twitter, Biz Stone, one of its founders, told The New York TimesBits blog in an e-mail, “We saw more than double the normal tweets per second the moment the news broke—the biggest increase since the U.S. presidential election.” And according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s The Technology Chronicles, before Twitter’s servers crashed, TweetVolume reported that “Michael Jackson” appeared in more than 66,500 Twitter updates.

A spokesman for Google told Media Decoder Google News visitors “experienced difficulty accessing search results for queries related to Michael Jackson” between 5:40 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.

PC Magazine reported that AOL’s AIM instant-messaging service was down for about 40 minutes at about 5 p.m. Making things worse for AOL: AIM was undergoing a software update at the time. AOL’s statement: “At AOL, our AIM instant-messaging service was undergoing a previously scheduled software update, which should normally prove routine. It proved not to be. There was a significant increase in traffic due to today’s news, and AIM was down for approximately 40 minutes this afternoon.”

Facebook spokeswoman Meredith Chin told the Mercury News status updates were happening at three times their normal pace in the hour following the news of Jackson’s death.

Dean Takahashi summed up the industry’s worst fears on the VentureBeat blog, in a post titled, “Michael Jackson is a test. He is only a test of the emergency broadcast system.”

And that leads me to consider the future. As tragic as Michael Jackson’s death is, it’s only a small taste of what would happen in a true calamity. If the servers go down, how are we going to get our Gmail or Yahoo Mail? Who will be there to listen when we collectively Tweet for help? What will we do if the emergency plan is stored on the network? It’s a wake-up call for the Web, and for those who are building its infrastructure and plumbing for it.