Michael Jackson dies. Did the Internet almost go with him?

CNN would like you to think so.

The biggest showbiz story of the year saw the troubled star take a good slice of the Internet with him, as the ripples caused by the news of his death swept around the globe.

“Between approximately 2:40 p.m. PDT and 3:15 p.m. PDT today, some Google News users experienced difficulty accessing search results for queries related to Michael Jackson,” a Google spokesman told CNET, which also reported that Google News users complained that the service was inaccessible for a time. At its peak, Google Trends rated the Jackson story as “volcanic.”

As sites fell, users raced to other sites: TechCrunch reported that TMZ, which broke the story, had several outages; users then switched to Perez Hilton’s blog, which also struggled to deal with the requests it received.

CNN reported a fivefold rise in traffic and visitors in just over an hour, receiving 20 million page views in the hour the story broke.

Twitter crashed as users saw multiple “fail whales” — the illustrations the site uses as error messages — user FoieGrasie posting, “Irony: The protesters in Iran using Twitter as com are unable to get online because of all the posts of ‘Michael Jackson RIP.’ Well done.” The site’s status blog said that Twitter had had to temporarily disable its search results, saved searches and trend topics.

Of course, Twitter fails if you blow two farts in their general direction. The fact that Google News had a couple of slow patches is still better than crashing on their own – once a month – for hours at a time.

Practicing moonwalking together
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

But did the internet actually buckle? Well, there was some strain – but it seems to have come through well.

In the United States, a company called Keynote, which monitors internet performance, says popular news sites showed marked slowdowns for three hours from about 2230 BST: “The average speed for downloading news items doubled from less than four seconds to almost nine seconds,” said Shawn White from Keynote. “During the same period, the average availability of sites dropped from almost 100% to 86%.”

But guess what: in Europe overnight, there was no spike in internet traffic. Interoute, which operates Europe’s largest fibre optic voice and data network, sent me graphs showing traffic through the three key internet exchanges in Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London. At all three exchanges, traffic was either around the same as normal overnight, or, in London’s case, actually a little lower.

So what’s going on? Well for one thing, the kind of people who were online late at night may well have decided to leave their computers and turn on the television for the breaking news.

Since America “owns” the Internet, I guess whatever happens to the Internet in America is all that counts.

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