HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Tied up at home? Have some Nieman Lab #BlizzardReads
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
June 28, 2012, 5:18 p.m.
Reporting & Production
supreme-court-scotus-cc

Anatomy of a spike: How SCOTUS Blog dealt with its biggest traffic day ever

Health-care decision day meant spending big money to keep the site from crashing at exactly the wrong time.

Ten-year-old SCOTUS Blog has been a go-to authority on the health care challenge since the beginning, which made today its Oscar night, Super Bowl, and Christmas morning all wrapped into one. But on the Internet, success comes with a darker side: server crashes. SCOTUS Blog was prepared. The traffic buildup was already intense on Monday:

To put that 500,000-in-one-day in context, it had nearly 1 million over the three days of oral arguments this spring. (Other sites were prepping too; just before the decision was handed down, New York Times developer Jacob Harris tweeted a graph showing a huge traffic spike.)

For SCOTUS Blog, preparing meant investing in server upgrades, even if they would only be used for a short burst of traffic.

To help offload the burden, SCOTUS Blog shut down its main site at peak times and redirected visitors to a dedicated page off-server. That was hosted on WPEngine, a server company that specializes in optimized WordPress installations. And the minute-by-minute liveblog was pushed off to CoverItLive, with an embed put on the WPEngine site. The liveblog page had its own special “Sponsored by Bloomberg Law” message in its header.

And for the moment of maximum interest — the seconds after the decision was announced — SCOTUS Blog publisher Tom Goldstein advised they’d be going to Twitter first. “As a purely formal matter, we will ‘break’ the story of the health care decision on Twitter. So you can follow @scotusblog, if you’d like,” he wrote in the liveblog. “But don’t follow us just for that reason, because we will have the news here on the live blog less than 5 seconds later.”

By 9:08 a.m., he said there were already 70,000 people reading the liveblog and that the site had already logged 1 million hits for the day. His guesstimate for the day’s traffic? “My best bet is 250,000 [concurrent liveblog readers] at the time of the decision.” Goldstein kept liveblog readers updated.

9:16 a.m.: “100,000 live blog readers.”

9:29 a.m.: “145,000 on the liveblog.”

9:33 a.m.: “The previous record for our live blog was 100,000, on Monday. The previous record for our daily hits was 500,000, also Monday.”

9:43 a.m.: “218,000”

9:43 a.m.: “We are at less than 1% of our own server capacity. We’ve shifted the principal processing to CoverItLive, which expects it can handle >3 million.”

9:56 a.m.: “FWIW, the count going into 10am is 344,000 contemporaneous readers.”

10:03 a.m.: “1,000 requests to the liveblog per second.”

10:06 a.m.: “520,000 contemporaneous readers.”

At 10:09 a.m., SCOTUS Blog broke the news on Twitter. At this writing, that tweet’s been retweeted 2,927 times and favorited 142 times. (Also, it was accurate.)

10:22 a.m.: “866,000 liveblog readers.”

That’s roughly the city of San Francisco.

From there, SCOTUS Blog switched into analysis, commentary, and smart aggregation of other sites’ analysis and commentary. But the traffic kept coming, if at a slower pace.

1:11 p.m.: “SCOTUSBlog just clipped over 3 million hits!”

2:17 p.m.: “Thanks to everyone for sticking with us this whole time. There are still over 80,000 people following the live blog.”

CoverItLive said it was the second most popular U.S. event they’ve hosted in 2012, behind only ESPN’s NFL draft coverage.

By 2:46 p.m., SCOTUS Blog staffers were ready to celebrate:

And by 5:09 p.m., they were really ready to celebrate:

Photo of the Supreme Court by Kjetil Ree used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     June 28, 2012, 5:18 p.m.
SEE MORE ON Reporting & Production
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
Tied up at home? Have some Nieman Lab #BlizzardReads
Many of our readers on the East Coast are cooped up in their homes. To rescue them from boredom, here are a few recent Nieman Lab stories you may have missed.
U.S. journalists, the clock is ticking: January 31 is the deadline to apply for a Nieman Fellowship
It’s a chance to spend a year at Harvard and change the shape of your career.
Newsonomics: How deep is the newspaper industry’s money hole?
Forget keeping up with the economy — what would it take for the newspaper business just to keep up with inflation? Even the “growth” areas are slowing down.
What to read next
2588
tweets
Don’t try too hard to please Twitter — and other lessons from The New York Times’ social media desk
The team that runs the Times’ Twitter accounts looked back on what they learned — what worked, what didn’t — from running @NYTimes in 2014.
728From explainers to sounds that make you go “Whoa!”: The 4 types of audio that people share
How can public radio make audio that breaks big on social media? A NPR experiment identified what makes a piece of audio go viral.
705Q&A: Amy O’Leary on eight years of navigating digital culture change at The New York Times
“In 2007, as digital people, we were expected to be 100 percent deferent to all traditional processes. We weren’t to bother reporters or encourage them to operate differently at all, because what they were doing was the very core of our journalism.”
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
ProPublica
Twitter
The Huffington Post
Futurity
La Nación
Global Voices
Texas Tribune
Ushahidi
Conde Nast
The Atlantic
Los Angeles Times
Gawker Media