Michael Jackson's Death Causes Web Traffic Surge

Twitter, Facebook, AIM and a number of news sites all experienced slowdowns or loss of certain services as they wrestled with increased online traffic following reports of Michael Jackson's death on June 25. At its peak, some 3.5 million people in North America were visiting news sites every minute, an astounding number but not enough to take the number-one spot in that category, occupied by Barack Obama's election.

Traffic to both news and social-networking sites spiked following the death of Michael Jackson on the afternoon of June 25.

The Los Angeles Times reported that its Website experienced a massive inflow of traffic, with some 2.3 million page views in one hour; simultaneously, the number of "tweets," or 140-character messages posted on the social-networking site Twitter, increased twofold.

Facebook's traffic reportedly increased threefold as news of Jackson's sudden death by unknown causes spread online; and at the New York launch party for the new Nokia N97 smartphone, guests stayed glued to their mobile devices while complaining that sites such as CNN.com and The New York Times were experiencing massive slowdowns.

At its peak late on June 25, some 5,000 Jackson-related messages were zinging around Twitter, which temporarily disabled its Search and Trends features. The death of Farah Fawcett added additional pressure to the system.

"Stepped off a 10hr flight to discover Twitter is essentially a wake for recently departed Michael Jackson," Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, tweeted on the evening of June 25.

Unlike the thousands of music fans who were rapidly gathering at that moment for impromptu memorials, however, Stone seemed relatively unaffected by the King of Pop's moonwalk into the Great Beyond, at least if his next tweet was any indication: "A nice dinner at home and I'll go to bed as soon as I catch up on 'True Blood.'"

Executives at AOL were probably less relaxed about the situation; the unexpected flood of traffic, coupled with a scheduled software update, knocked its AIM instant messaging service offline for 40 minutes during the afternoon.

"Today was a seminal moment in Internet history. We've never seen anything like it in terms of scope or depth," said a statement from AOL.

According to net usage monitor Akamai, global visitors to online news sites spiked at more than 4.2 million visitors per minute between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. EST on June 25, with 3.5 million of those visitors from North America.

However, those numbers were far below the highest peak for online news consumption, which came on Nov. 4, 2008 at 11 p.m. EST, when 8.57 million visitors per minute were tracking Barack Obama's election.