Four years may not seem like a very long time, but in technology terms, they’re equivalent to several lifetimes.
In 2006, social networking was just hitting the big time: MySpace was still big, and Facebook had opened its doors to anyone in the world. YouTube was also rising in popularity. Bluetooth and 3G internet were slowly beginning to be incorporated into lower-end phones. The Motorola RAZR was the most popular phone of the year.
Fast forward to 2010. Social media sites are everywhere: even though MySpace is on the decline, Facebook is inching closer to half a billion users, while Twitter has a following of 190-million who collectively post 65-million tweets each day, as of June 2010. Smartphones, high-definition TV and uncapped broadband have become commonplace. You can watch TV on your cellphone, on your computer or in 3D on your 3D television.
This explains why internet news sites had their busiest day to date on June 11, the opening day of the World Cup. According to Akamai, which operates the world’s largest content-delivery network of computers, traffic increased by almost 240% from the normal demand. Akamai hosts many of the biggest news organisations, including the BBC, CNN and NBC. It registered a peak usage of more than 12-million visitors per minute to their news sites at around the time the opening match between South Africa and Mexico finished in Johannesburg.
But the high-traffic volumes were not solely due to fanatical interest in the tournament; “This increase is [also due] to the availability of HD streams of the matches and coverage, which can quickly gobble up bandwith,” explained software site Softpedia.com.
The record of seven million visits per minute — during the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany when the United States lost to Ghana — was broken two years later. There were eight million visits per minute on November 4 2008, when Barack Obama won the US presidential election.
The first two weeks of this year’s tournament also saw a record amount of traffic to the official website Fifa.com. On June 15, about 10-million visitors accessed 265-million pages. The occasion was Brazil beating the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the second match of their group. “This builds on the total of 1,6-billion pages accessed by nearly 53-million individuals on Fifa.com in the first two weeks of June — a record in itself,” according to Fifa.
In contrast, during the World Cup in 2006, only 48-million unique users visited Fifa.com over the four weeks of the tournament’s duration. The single day record was set on June 22 when Italy played the Czech Republic and generated 250-million unique views.
Micro-blogging site Twitter has also seen a record spike in traffic during the World Cup. The site, which didn’t even exist during the last World Cup, has seen its normal average of 750 tweets per second jump to about 2 000 tweets per second during this World Cup, and in particular, while matches are being played. When Japan scored against Cameroon on June 14, the number of tweets per second hit the record mark of 2 940. World Cup-related topics, including “Bafana” and “vuvuzela”, regularly feature on the list of popular topics being tweeted across the world.
This spike in usage has also led to a record amount of downtime on the site. If you tweet during World Cup matches, it is practically guaranteed that you will experience the “Fail Whale”, Twitter’s “over capacity” message, at least once. But according to its engineering blog, Twitter has acknowledged the problem and is working on it.