Web Sites Scale Up for Inauguration Traffic

Web sites and social networks are scaling up for today's inauguration, but there's debate over whether today's traffic will challenge Election Night 2008 as the record peak for Internet traffic.

Rich Miller

January 20, 2009

3 Min Read
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Popular web sites and social networks are scaling up for huge web traffic for today's inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president. But there's debate over whether today's traffic will challenge election night 2008 as the record peak for Internet traffic.

While many Americans will watch the event on television, a large number of Internet services are offering streaming video for those who need to be at their desk. The biggest impact may be seen at photo sharing and microblogging services, which can expect a blizzard of focused traffic around Obama's swearing-in at noon.

Kakul Srivastava, general manager of Flickr, told USA Today that he expects a healthy jump from its daily average of 3 million photos and videos uploaded to the service. Slide, the largest maker of widgets for social networks, said it expects a 60 percent spike in the use of its SuperPoke application. It's also likely to be a huge day for Facebook, which has become the web's largest photo sharing site, hosting with more than 10 billion photos.

Twitter is doubling its capacity to manage an expected surge in activity. But co-founder Biz Stone said he is not expecting the same kind of traffic spikes as on Election Night, when the site was flooded with 10 times the normal traffic.

"We’re always working to increase reliability but yes, the inauguration puts a finer point on it," Stone told ZDNet. "During massively shared events we normally see an increase in timeline views and tweets per second. Last week we significantly boosted performance with both hardware and software optimization."

Rory Cellan-Jones, who blogs about technology for the BBC, is skeptical of projections that the Inauguration will drive historic web traffic.  "One of my colleagues, who analyses our web traffic, isn't convinced that the inauguration will be a big online event, pointing out that it doesn't play to the strengths of the internet," Cellan-Jones writes. "Big web events involve a lot of data, like an election, or a lot of conflict, with people coming online to argue. With Barack Obama already elected and the sole focus of the event, there is not much information to digest - and not a lot to argue about. What this feels like is a classic television event. "

If there's a capacity bottleneck, it may be seen most acutely in the wireless networks, particularly in the Washington area. VeriSign estimates that a record of more than 1.4 billion mobile messages will be delivered nationwide today.

On Sunday, local cell networks suffered scattered outages during the pre-Inauguration concert at the Lincoln Memorial, as the volume of wireless calls, text messages, pictures and videos surged to 10 times normal volume. About 400,000 attended that event. City officials expect a crowd of at least 2 million for today's events. 

Will Internet traffic reach record levels? The best metric will be Akamai's Net Usage Index, which recorded an all-time high of more than 8.5 million visitors per minute on Election Night 2008.

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