A major news event with no advance warning is a potential major problem for website managers. But it appears the growth of smartphones helped make sure news sites could cope during the explosion of interest in the news of the death of Osama bin Laden.
Keynote Systems, which monitors the performance of websites during increases in traffic, says that about 60 percent of major news sites coped without problems, while the remaining 40 percent had outages.
To an extent the timing of the news breaking helped spread the load: the official announcement came late in the evening on the east coast of the USA, and the middle of the night in Europe. That actually led to the number of page views being slightly lower than for the Royal Wedding last Friday, and less than half the peak traffic during some games in the last FIFA World Cup.
But smartphones also played their role. With smartphone ownership on a rapid rise, it appears the proportion of people accessing sites through a phone rather than a computer has also risen. That’s good news for sites that have a special mobile edition that cuts the total amount of data a visitor requires to view a story, and thus cuts the demand on the site.
Backing up that theory, CNN’s mobile site briefly went down during the peak of interest and later became much slower, while the main site survived. Again, timing may have been an issue: the late-evening news may have come after people had already shut down computers for the night, meaning they immediately turned to smartphones to access news sites.
Ironically the Royal Wedding may also have played a role. Because it was a scheduled event with heavy interest anticipated, many sites put in temporary additional capacity to cope with demand. Keynote believes that some sites may have still had that extra capacity in place on Sunday night.