News sites weather Starr storm

Sites that published the full Starr report are rewarded with record-breaking traffic numbers, but they manage to hold up under pressure.

3 min read
For all the jabs President Clinton has been taking since Friday, Web sites that published Kenneth Starr's report about the White House sex scandal have been glad to take the hits with him.

There is no question that the Net played a key role in disseminating the 445-page report, which accuses the president of lying about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, among other accusations. And sites that slapped up the full report within minutes of its online release by the House were rewarded with record-breaking traffic numbers on Friday alone.

Many sites said the Starr report and the White House rebuttal helped to double--even triple--their traffic compared to their past record day, which in most cases was August 17, the day Clinton testified before the grand jury about the relationship.

RelevantKnowledge reported that 24.7 million unique visitors hit the Web on Friday. It bases its estimate on the surfing habits of 8,000 Net users.

"The frenzy to see the Starr report is like nothing we've ever seen before," Jeff Levy, the company's chief executive, said in a statement. "The government sites, which were less equipped with bandwidth to deal with the sheer volumes of visitors, sent many Web users to the major news sites and portals."

Net users turned to sites such as the New York Times, Netscape Communications' Netcenter, Yahoo, and Broadcast.com when they encountered jammed servers at the government's sites.

Only one in ten attempts by Internet users to access the House Web site succeeded on Friday, according to Keynote Systems, a Silicon Valley firm that monitored the performance of the site.

Even today, the House Web site was getting 100,000 to 200,000 hits per hour, said a spokesman for the House Oversight Committee. He added that the site continued to remain stable.

"We expect our final numbers to be two to three times our average daily page views--which is about 2 million," said Erin O'Shea, a spokeswoman for WashingtonPost.com.

Other sites fared just as well or better.

CNN wracked up 34 million page views (or impressions) on Friday, up 56 percent from its record traffic day--August 17, when Clinton testified. MSNBC also blew past its record with 1.9 million unique visitors who accessed the report.

ABCNews.com (a CNET News.com partner) reported 12 million views.

"The medium's global reach, efficiency, immediacy, and ability to host vast amounts of data proved the viability and importance of the Internet," Katherine Dillon, ABSNews.com's vice president, said in a statement.

When the masses showed up to get the report, the boom perhaps validated what many Net users have known along--that those with access have a direct line to important information on demand without censors or editing.

For many of the Starr report hosts, however, the traffic spikes translate into something else: revenue.

"We found that when there have been big news events, there is a bump in traffic and a lot of the people stay," WashingtonPost.com's O'Shea added.

As the day wore on, the networking backbones of the Internet held up despite crushing traffic.

"On the dial-up network, we experienced an 18 percent increase in usage over [normal usage]," said Mara Radis, a spokeswoman for UUNet.

"It is often double that when Microsoft puts out new software," she added. "This was not that major of an increase."

But Web publishers contend that it was a major day for the Net.

Regional and national news sites had a 95 percent increase to more than 7 million unique visitors on Friday and portals saw a 7 percent increase in traffic, according to RelevantKnowledge.