Online news services braced for war


21 Mar 2003

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As the first shots were fired in the US/UK-led attack on Iraq, news and military websites on both sides of the Atlantic have been experiencing substantial if not massive increases in traffic.

In Ireland, Irish Times website Ireland.com recorded a 400pc jump in traffic after the first strikes were reported early yesterday morning.

However, because the first strike came during teatime in the US when people were at home rather than in front of their computers at work the expected massive surge did not materialise.

Major online news services such as CNN, ABC, Sky and BBC News are said to be the main beneficiaries of the war-related traffic surge.

The Yahoo! news site experienced three times as much traffic in a typical hour after the announcement by President Bush that a war had begun.

Yahoo! spokeswoman Joanna Stevens said consumers were also using more targeted search terms since President Bush’s speech.

The internet is expected to be people’s primary source of information on the war on Iraq, particularly since the major role it played in reporting the 11 September attacks.

This is the first major conflict when mass penetration and usage could even reasonably be claimed. Although the 1999 war in Kosovo did see the internet play its first real role in terms of communications on the ground, the internet was at that time really only beginning its journey towards mass penetration.

Editor in chief of the internet branch of cable news network MSNBC, Dean Wright said that web traffic was between two and two-and-a-half times usual levels after war started.

There were also some problems reported after government and military websites in the US and UK saw an unexpected surge in traffic.

Eric Siegel principal internet consultant at Silicon Valley’s Keynote Systems Inc, which tracks major sites, said: “Some of the major government sites are having a very difficult time… the government hasn’t necessarily experienced this before.”

It’s reported that the site (www.army.mil) is taking as long as 80 seconds to upload because of the levels of traffic.

Meanwhile in the UK most people trying to access the Home Office site (www.homeoffice.gov.uk), which gives information and advice about terrorism, failed to get through.

Industry experts say many sites have readied themselves for an increase in traffic with service providers in Europe expecting a surge in traffic early during a workday predicting that most of the strikes will take place while people are asleep.

The internet is not the only electronic medium that is experiencing surges in usage since war began. There has also been an increase in text messaging with online news services in China signing up thousands for the short messaging service (SMS) version of the breaking news service, with users expressing opposition, fear and black humour.

And one SMS message doing the rounds in Manila in the Philippines asked, “Have you heard that when the US takes over Iraq it’ll divide the country into three zones? Premium, regular and unleaded.”

By Suzanne Byrne