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Feburary 2004

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Terror and the Web Part II

December 14th 2001

<< Terror and the Web Part 1 - September 2001
Terror and the Web Part 3 - September 2002 >>
Terror and the Web Part 4 - September 2011 >>

More than three months have passed since the events now commonly known as "September 11". It's possible to see now what some of the impact on the web was in broad statistical terms.

eCommerce Traffic
Firstly, what happened to web and eCommerce traffic? Dynamoo measured the volume of visitors going from Dynamoo.com to Amazon.com over a four month period:

September 11 trends

The graph shows the volume of traffic being passed to Amazon.com over that period, corrected for underlying growth. It's clear that there's a two-week dip in traffic after September 11, but the attacks on Afghanistan and the Queens Air Crash fail to have the same effect. There's a dip evident before Thanksgiving too, as traffic started to drop off.

Other access and traffic figures show a similar drop for about the same period - in effect, web traffic to Dynamoo was down by up to one third during that period. The figures are interesting in that Dynamoo was suffering the vacuum effect from the concentration on news sites, some of whom were still struggling with demand on key dates, especially after the Queens air disaster.

Indeed, Queens was almost a rerun of September 11 terms of web traffic. Almost all news providers had difficulty keeping up, although this time they switched to low-graphics low-bandwidth modes much earlier.

World Trade Center on the Web
The WTC had many web sites relating to it. One of the most popular was www.wtc-top.com "Top of the World Trade Center" which had a tourist-orientated guide to the building and it's attractions. Needless to say that site is no more - however the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine at www.archive.org has preserved the site for posterity here. Indeed, the Archive has a special collection of pages archived relating to the unfolding events of September 11 and is well worth a visit.

Another sombre site is Top of the World at the New York City Tourism site, a different guide to the WTC. The text on this site starts:

In the wake of this tragic event, it is important to remember what we lost. I believe it would be foolish to just remove this PhotoTour of one of our landmarks and pretend it was never there. We want to let people around this country and around the world see what it was or remember their visit here. If you have children, take this PhotoTour with them so that they can see a World Trade Center as it was and what it can be in the future. God bless.
Derek Hyde, NYCtourist.com

These are fine words which maybe start to address the difficult question that has been vexing the television and film industry since the attacks, namely: is it better to pretend the WTC was never there and to blank out the disaster, or come to terms with it? The image of the WTC on any TV program featuring New York is often jarring.


It would have been hard to guess that any humour would come out of September 11, but humor sites on the web soon started to turn on Osama bin Laden and the Taleban. These sites became very popular, with a number of somewhat rude and violent cartoons and flash animations.


Nostradamus hoaxes appeared quite quickly, followed by "the arab with the wallet" chain letters. Peoples shock and disbelief at the events of September 11 generally seemed to make them open to suggestion, and sometimes even the most ridiculous hoaxes. These are all debunked at The Register's excellent article, The World Will End Tomorrow - Official. This includes a debunking of the now infamous fake of a tourist on top of the World Trade Center just before the crash.

The content of the web is a reflection of society's concerns. Just over three months ago the name of Osama bin Laden wasn't very well known. The World Trade Center was just another place to work or visit. The idea of US, UK and allied forces fighting a war in Afghanistan would have seemed bizarre. We can see that by the dip in general traffic that people were just too horrified to surf the web as they concentrated on the grim realities and shock of September 11. Shortly after, hoaxes and rumours started to circulate, reflecting people's fears and concerns. The next stage was the appearance of hundreds of humour sites in an act of defiance. Maybe in another three months, our interests will have changed again.

<< Terror and the Web Part 1 - September 2001
Terror and the Web Part 3 - September 2002 >>
Terror and the Web Part 4 - September 2011 >>

Further links:
Top of the World at the New York City Tourism site.
Archive of Top of the World Trade Center

The World Will End Tomorrow - Official - The Register





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