Historic Obama Win Also Sets Web Traffic Records

At 11:00 pm Eastern time last night—when the polls closed on the U.S. West Coast and most TV news outlets called the election in favor of the new President-elect, Barack Obama—Internet users streamed to news websites in unprecedented numbers, according to Cambridge, MA-based Akamai. The company, which has been measuring Internet traffic to news, retail, and music websites since 2005, said traffic peaked at about 8.6 million visits per minute, besting the previous record of 7.3 million visits per minute—set on the day Ghana eliminated the U.S. in the 2006 World Cup—by 17 percent.

The traffic record obviously reflected the enormous global interest in the U.S. presidential election and in Obama’s history-making triumph. But it’s also a sign that more people around the world are consuming news using several media at once—surfing the news sites and political blogs while also watching the electoral maps light up on TV, for example.

“This is the first noted news peak that occurred during the evening hours in North America, meaning Internet users would have accessed likely from home,” Jeff Young, Akamai’s director of corporate communications, told me today. “All the other peak events listed on our index occurred during the work-day hours, when you would expect more people to be at their computers. This shows the significance of the Internet to election coverage.”

Akamai Net Usage Index - News, for 11/04 and 11/05, 2008The third, fourth, and fifth biggest traffic records Akamai has measured came at mid-afternoon on the first day of U.S. college basketball’s “March Madness” in 2008, 2006, and 2007 respectively. The next highest politically-oriented traffic day was the day after the 2006 mid-term elections in the United States, which ranks 15th on the list. As TechCrunch noted in a story earlier today, Akamai’s Net Usage Index aggregates such data continuously, based in part on page-view requests at the more than 100 major news portals that use the company’s global network of Web servers to speed delivery of their stories to readers.

Last night’s record wasn’t just a brief spike, either. Traffic to news sites built gradually starting around 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, surpassing 6 million visits per minute shortly after 7:00 p.m. and boiling over at 8,572,042 visits per minute shortly after 11:00 p.m. In fact, any single minute sampled between 7:00 p.m. and midnight would have registered among Akamai’s top five traffic peaks. “If you were to compare against the previous peak, the World Cup game, that was much more of a short-term spike—a lot of traffic, but in a relatively short period of time,” says Young.

Traffic is also very high today, he points out—averaging about 4.6 million visits per minute. As a result, November 5 will enter Akamai’s record book somewhere around the number 10 slot.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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