With phone lines down and broadcast signals knocked off the air, New Yorkers relied on the Internet, logging on to send messages to loved ones and check Internet sites for information on the attacks.
But accessing information was difficult in the early hours of the attack, according to Keynote Systems, a company that analyzes Internet performance. CNN.com, ABCNews.com and NYTimes.com were all unavailable between 9 and 10 a.m.; MSNBC.com was available 22% of the time, and USAToday.com was accessible 18.2%. Performance ratings improved as the day wore on, thanks to a combination of additional server capacity and streamlined Web pages.
ABCNews.com attracted seven times its normal daily users and served six-times- normal page views, according to Steve Jones, executive producer and vice president of programming and operations.
Peak usage of the streaming material, he says, was around 10:45 a.m., when 35,000 concurrent streams were served (the site handled the demand by using RealNetworks' servers typically dedicated to Major League Baseball). Interestingly, Jones says, some viewers were using the PC to watch national network coverage and the TV to watch local coverage.
"Several people have said the stream has been a benefit to them," he explains, "because, in some local markets, they weren't able to watch the network feed because of local coverage."
For the 24-hour news cycle after the attacks, MSNBC.com ran about 10 times above normal load capacity, which translates to 300,000 to 400,000 simultaneous users coming to the site at any moment. Says Director of Communications Peter Dorogoff, the site is estimating 12.5 million unique visitors during the 24-hour period, nearly twice the previous high. On the streaming side, nearly 6.5 million live streams were served; 6 million on-demand clips were served as well. The previous high for streaming was 1.5 million served during the Seattle earthquake on Feb. 28.
Under a contingency plan, MSNBC.com goes into "lite-site" or "ultra-lite-site" mode in cases of heavy traffic. "It strips all the heavy graphics ... and gets down to a bare-bones, text-only mode," Dorogoff says.
CNN.com also experienced record traffic, with 162.4 million page views on the day of the attack, 6% more than previous viewer totals.