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Feburary 2004

   Dynamoo 2004





Terror and the Web

 - The Impact on the Internet of 9/11

September 15th 2001

Terror and the Web Part 2 - December 2001 >>
Terror and the Web Part 3 - September 2002 >>
Terror and the Web Part 4 - September 2011 >> 

Tuesday September 11 2001 will stand as a dark day in the history of the civilized world.

Beyond the horrors of the destruction in New York and Washington DC, a different story was developing. This was the first true test of the Web and the rest of the Internet to deal with a massive global news story.

In technological terms, the world has moved on since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in August 1997. Fours years of development of the web have led to a a huge growth in the number and quality of news sites, plus the availability of broadband access and streaming video.

So it was quite natural for many people to turn the the web as their first source of information. Initially, news sites coped with demand but as the shock waves began to spread around the world many news sites became overwhelmed.

Some sites faired better than others. For a long time it has been the case that when the world wants news on global events, the world turns to CNN. The CNN website was almost overwhelmed by demands - technical staff did an emergency redesign of the site just to strip out all the extraneous information and just to concentrate on the bare facts. 

In the UK it was the middle of the afternoon. One of the first sites to be overwhelmed by traffic was BBC News. The BBC site was essentially unavailable for the rest of the day. Other sites that struggled to cope with demand were ITN and the Financial Times . One of the few sites that managed to keep going was Ananova, the news site of the Press Association (note: Ananova is now run by the mobile phone operator Orange - 1/04). 

Most news providers have enormous backup capacity, but often it was the communications capability of the Internet itself that came under strain. Email messages that would normally take a few minutes took up to two hours as network capacity was overwhelmed. Web search engines such as Google took to caching the pages on their own servers to try to spread the load. 

My own personal experience was that most people gave up on the Internet and found whatever televisions and radios they could and just watched and listened in collective shock. This pattern was repeated around the world as work ground to a halt.

In every chat room, bulletin board and newsgroup people came together in horror. Every online community focussed on the events as they unfolded. People said how they were worried about friends and relatives, while others tried to comfort them. People spoke of revenge, some tried to make sense of the events and background of it all. In effect, these virtual communities became real communities sharing their grief and anxiety.

However, one of the knock-on effects was that general traffic across the Internet was actually down sharply. Dynamoo.com's traffic was at only one third of normal and most other websites and merchants reported similar huge drops. The reasons are simple - most people who had Internet access were interested in news, background information and emailing friends and replatives. It took two whole days for traffic to return to near normal levels.

Many corporate sites too became grim reading. Financial firm Morgan Stanley had 3700 people who worked in the twin towers. 

I close with this sombre text from the Morgan Stanley web site:

The shocking events of this week at the World Trade Center have not posed a financial problem for Morgan Stanley but a deeply human one. What dominates our concerns are those people who may not have escaped the explosion and fires as the twin towers collapsed. 

We can report that we have been in touch with most of the people who worked for us at the World Trade Center complex. But a number are still unaccounted for, and it is clear that we have lost friends and colleagues. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those who died or are still missing, and these people remain the immediate focus of the Firm.

Terror and the Web Part 2 - December 2001 >>
Terror and the Web Part 3 - September 2002 >>
Terror and the Web Part 4 - September 2011 >> 

Further links:
CNN: Internet proves vital communications tool
BBC: UK surfers swamp news sites
Open Directory: 2001 World Trade Center and Pentagon Attack




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