HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: BuzzFeed and The New York Times play Facebook’s ubiquity game
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.
Newsonomics: BuzzFeed and The New York Times play Facebook’s ubiquity game
The ubiquity game has different rules for digital startups than for legacy businesses. But for both, figuring out the right relationship with Facebook is key to their audience strategies.
Jeff Israely: Good content marketing benefits from a smart publisher’s touch
Our startup correspondent, building Worldcrunch in Paris, on the thinking behind its operation’s pivot: “The smart brands know they’ll lose your attention if they use this new publishing power simply to push their merchandise.”
How a hobby foreign affairs blog became a paywalled news destination — and a business
World Politics Review has grown from one man’s side project to a small news operation supported by a niche paywall.
What to read next
2481
tweets
Millennials say keeping up with the news is important to them — but good luck getting them to pay for it
The new report from the Media Insight Project looks at millennials’ habits and attitudes toward news consumption: “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”
926The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists
News companies have moved from print dollars to digital dimes to mobile pennies. Now, with the highly anticipated launch of the Apple Watch, the screens are getting even smaller. How are smart publishers thinking about the right way to serve users and maintain their attention on smartwatches?
729A wave of distributed content is coming — will publishers sink or swim?
Instead of just publishing to their own websites, news organizations are being asked to publish directly to platforms they don’t control. Is the hunt for readers enough to justify losing some independence?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
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 ➚
Voice of San Diego
Yahoo
Gawker Media
Hearst
The Ann Arbor Chronicle
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Kickstarter
Plaza Pública
The Seattle Times
I-News
Associated Press
NBC News