Journalists like to cite numbers of tweets or Facebook posts as an indicator of a story’s popularity, but social media traffic is only a subset of the broader Internet. To understand how big an event really is, it’s worth looking at other metrics.
Akamai, the Internet connection and monitoring firm, is out with its latest State of the Internet report covering January through March. And some of the most important news events of the year were correlated with astonishing spikes in traffic.
Take the election of the new Pope. As soon as the Papal Conclave signaled that it had come to a decision, Akamai’s real-time traffic monitor took off. Akamai had been moving video traffic at a rate of 610 Gbps right around 2:10 p.m. Eastern, according to an Akamai spokesperson. By 3:25 p.m., that figure had jumped to a high of 2,197 Gbps — 3.5 times what it had been just over an hour prior.
Hugo Chavez's death
Here’s what Internet traffic to Venezuela looked like in the moments after the country’s president, Hugo Chavez, died. (It’s no small irony that Akamai measured traffic relating to the flamboyant leader by looking at “media and entertainment” activity on the Web.)
The first quarter of the year was also marked by a massive Internet outage in Syria. While it’s not conclusive, experts think the Assad regime deliberately shut off Web access in an attempt to disrupt rebel communications. For at least three periods on New Year’s Day, traffic to and from Syria fell to zero.
Correction: This post originally said that the Pope's selection tripled global Internet traffic. In fact, the Akamai study found that the Pope's selection tripled traffic through Akamai's Internet video streaming platform. We regret the error.