There’s an interesting study out from Akamai today that among other things, gives some sense of how the World Wide Web moves when the whole world, or a good chunk of it, is watching.
Akamai’s State of the Internet report for the first three months of this year devotes its last chapter to detailing Internet traffic during three specific events: The election of the new Pope, the death of Venezuela’s regressive (but apparently loved) Hugo Chavez, and civil war in Syria. All show that when news happens, increasingly, this orb looks to the Internet for coverage, events and commentary surrounding it.
I will let Akamai’s authors tell the next part of the story. I’d like to say this reads like an exciting novel. That’s not true. But it must be on one of the more exciting accounts of how world events trigger Internet use. Now, on to Akamai’s account (with one edit to eliminate a reference to a graphs you won’t see here.):
“On March 13, white smoke appeared at 7:06 PM local time (2:06 PM Eastern Time).51 Within minutes, live streaming traffic on the Akamai Intelligent Platform began to climb. Anticipation, and traffic, grew for the next hour, until the selection of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the newly elected Pope Francis was announced at 8:15 PM local time (3:15 PM Eastern time). Live streaming traffic continued to grow for a few more minutes after the announcement, reaching a peak of 2,197 Gbps (just under 2.2 Tbps) at 8:25 PM local time (3:25 PM Eastern time).”
The Washington Post calculated (apparently with some help from Akamai) that Internet traffic an hour before Pope Francis was named was just 610 Gbps. (The Akamai report, by the way, is worth looking at just to see a a graph with a notation that says, “White Smoke Appears.”)
Likewise, charting Internet use in Venezuela around the time of President Hugo Chavez’s death on March 5 was another vivid example of Internet traffic. The Akamai report shows a wild chart that skyrockets on that day. An hour after his death Akamai-delivered HTTP traffic in that country was an astonishing two-thirds higher than the hour before.
There’s some odd looking charts related to traffic in Syria, highlighted by the fact that apparently on Jan. 1, in the midst of the revolt against the Assad regime, Internet traffic in Syria fell to zero. Nada. Nothing. Three times. “It is also interesting to note that traffic levels showed a decline in the two hours ahead of the disruption,” the report states, “and remained below their normal range for approximately eight hours after the disruption as well.” More diplomatic than it probably needed to be, Akamai’s report says it theorizes the Assad regime was “blocking access to certain customer content.”