Michael Jackson's death sparks Internet crush

Users flock to Twitter, Facebook, news sites to get information and share feelings

The unexpected death of pop icon Michael Jackson last night sent people rushing to the Internet to read news updates and share their feelings.

Web sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google all saw spikes in traffic in the hours after Jackson, the self-proclaimed King of Pop, was pronounced dead at 5:26 p.m. Eastern time.

Akamai Technologies Inc., which tracks online traffic, noted that traffic to the hundreds of news sites it monitors, including those of CNN, Reuters and the BBC, jumped to more than 4.2 million visitors per minute. That was up from 3 million visitors per minute in the hours before Jackson died.

The spike in traffic to news sites, while notable, didn't make Akamai's list of top 15 spikes over the past four years, according to Jeff Young, a spokesman for the Cambridge, Mass.-based Internet company. For instance, shortly after U.S. Airways Flight 1549 landed safely in New York's Hudson River, news site traffic leaped to 4.96 million visitors per minute. And late in the day of the 2008 presidential election, traffic peaked at 8.57 million visitors per minute.

"It didn't make the top 15, but it happened later in the day so East Coast people weren't still at work," said Young. "If you're at home when news breaks, we still largely turn to television. If you're at work, you turn to the Internet. This is still a big spike though."

Akamai reports that news site traffic remained about 18% higher than normal late this morning.

Traffic to social networking sites was also heavy following news of Jackson's death.

A Facebook Inc. spokesman said this morning that the status updates of its users tripled within an hour of news that Jackson died and stayed close to that level for several hours.

Several Facebook pages devoted to Jackson and his passing popped up last night and attracted significant audiences. For example, the "RIP Michael Jackson page" has so far drawn more than 234,000 fans since it was created last night. And a new page called "Michael Jackson RIP" already has more than 98,000 fans.

The performance of Twitter Inc.'s site was slowed last night, and its search feature was unavailable at times. Company officials did not respond to request for comment on the reasons for the slowdown.

Over at Google Inc.'s search site, more than 50 of the top 100 searches were related to Jackson, according to Anne Espiritu, a Google spokesman.

"Millions of users around the world have been conducting searches related to Michael Jackson, and we saw a volcanic spike in Michael Jackson-related search queries," she added.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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