Net users focus on war news

Study shows that site traffic to news outlets swelled this week

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 visitors to e-commerce sites slipped.

The MSNBC.com 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 percent Monday compared to the average for the four Mondays ending March 16, totalling almost 4.4 million visitors.

The Microsoft Corp. and the National Broadcasting Company Inc. venture wasn't the only online news outlet experiencing spikes, however, as comScore reported that traffic to Time.com rocketed 228 percent Monday, while traffic to Reuters.com jumped 383 percent.

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 war-time traffic over the past several months.

Christopher Gruber, development director for Reuters Group PLC's Reuters.com 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. [See, "News sites add content, capacity in preparation for war" March 19.]

According to comScore, major U.S. new sites experienced an average 80 percent 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 British Broadcasting Corp.'s  site (http://www.bbc.co.uk) saw a 41 percent jump in worldwide traffic Monday, while global traffic to the International Herald Tribune site (http://www.iht.com) flew up 85 percent, comScore said.

What's more, worldwide traffic to the Al-Jazeera Arab television network site at http://www.aljazeera.net increased 679 percent Monday, while U.S. traffic to the site jumped 2230 percent.

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, www.aljazeera.net. 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 Inc.'s auction site slipped 3 percent in the week ending March 23 over the average day in the previous four weeks, while Amazon.com Inc.'s traffic fell 7 percent.

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

Indeed, Internet users attention to the war even landed the term "war on Iraq" as Internet network 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'sBostonbureau.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.