A Queensland researcher says more powerful hardware would help prevent the sort of problems experienced by several websites covering the death of Steve Irwin. He blamed the problem on “Flash Crowds”.

 News sites across the country crashed on Monday as exclusively reported by SHN because of the problem known as flash crowds. That is when unexpectedly large numbers of people access a website, causing it to freeze or shut down.

Queensland University of Technology IT researcher Lindsay Bradford says bigger hardware can fix the problem, but there is a catch. “The trouble with that is, of course, is that it is quite expensive,” he said. “Really what you find is that people will only specify a certain size of machine to deal with a certain number of people and they’ll always pick something that is less than what they’d [need] for a really special event, like a flash crowd.”

Websites hit hard by the surge in traffic included ABC Online, Ninemsn, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and News.com.au, which is owned by News Limited, publisher of The Australian.
According to the Australian newspaper the ABC stripped graphics from its homepage and offered a low-bandwidth version of its site to cope with demand.  “It’s a very big news story. It’s probably the biggest Australian news story we’ve had this year,” said ABC New Media and Digital Services’ acting head of systems and technology, Craig Preston.

Mr Preston said traffic levels compared to those generated in the wake of the London bombings in July last year. Demand was primarily driven by Australian readers and the ABC experienced only a small rise in hits from international visitors.

Ninemsn also confirmed the response to Irwin’s death had slowed its website to a crawl. It could not give figures but a spokeswoman said recent stories that had evoked a similar response included the Beaconsfield mine collapse in April and the Schapelle Corby verdict last year.

News Interactive spokeswoman Kate McQuestin said the News.com.au website had received 500,000 hits yesterday on coverage related to the death of Irwin. News stories typically received about 25,000 hits.

More than 2000 comments and tributes were posted by visitors to the site in less than four hours.

Videos linked to the story received 40,000 hits.

Telstra, meanwhile, played down the effect of the story and sheeted blame for the website crashes back to media companies.

A Telstra spokeswoman said international and domestic traffic across its network had been no higher than on Father’s Day and said the company had not experienced any problems with its systems. “There’s no issue with the network,” she said.

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