• United States

‘Net users focus on war news

Mar 27, 20033 mins
Enterprise Applications

As the U.S.-led war in Iraq stretches into its second week ‘Net users are continuing to turn to the Web for information and updates on the conflict, keeping traffic to news sites high while visits to e-commerce sites slipped.

The news site, for example, posted a message to users Thursday saying that personalized news has been moved to a separate page due to high site traffic.

Indeed, comScore Networks’ comScore Media Metrix research division reported that traffic to the MSNBC site swelled 114% Monday compared to the average for the four Mondays ending March 16, totalling almost 4.4 million visitors.

The Microsoft and NBC venture wasn’t the only online news outlet experiencing spikes, however, as comScore reported that traffic to rocketed 228% Monday, while traffic to jumped 383%.

But unlike the unexpected traffic surge that news sites experienced following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S., the current traffic rates were anticipated by the news organizations.

Many sites bolstered their networks following Sept. 11, while others geared up for the wartime traffic over the past several months.

Christopher Gruber, development director for Reuters Group’s site, reported last week, for instance, that the news agency added an extra Web server and application server to its system in anticipation of the traffic spike.

According to comScore, major U.S. news sites experienced an average 80% increase in traffic levels Monday compared to the average of the four Mondays ending March 10.

But international sites have also been affected, as the BBC’s site saw a 41% jump in worldwide traffic Monday, while global traffic to the International Herald Tribune site flew up 85%, comScore said.

What’s more, worldwide traffic to the Al-Jazeera Arab television network site increased 679% Monday, while U.S. traffic to the site jumped 2,230%.

All the Al-Jazeera Web sites came under sustained distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks beginning Tuesday, however, shortly after the network published photos of U.S. soldiers who had been taken prisoner by Iraqi forces in Iraq over the weekend.

Al-Jazeera’s troubles continued on Thursday, after a hacker hijacked the network’s Web domain, Visitors to that Web address found themselves, instead, at a site that displayed a pro-war message.

While ‘Net users focused on breaking war news, attention to e-commerce sites waned, according to comScore. U.S. traffic to eBay’s auction site slipped 3% in the week ending March 23 over the average day in the previous four weeks, while’s traffic fell 7%.

Travel sites were even harder hit, according to comScore, as U.S. traffic to the site slipped 22% and traffic to fell 17% as the international conflict weighs on travelers’ minds.

Indeed, Internet users attention to the war even landed the term “war on Iraq” as Terra Lycos’ number-two searched term for the week ending March 22, although it didn’t manage to unseat leading search term “NCAA Basketball” as the network’s number-one search term for the week. The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s tournament, often dubbed “March Madness,” apparently served as a popular respite from the rest of the Web’s craziness.

(Additional reporting by Paul Roberts in the IDG News Service’s Boston bureau.)