As the news of Michael Jackson's fate unfolded, sites around the Web felt the strain of spiking interest.
On Twitter, the volume of Jackson-related messages – up to 5,000 per minute at peak – put such a demand on the site that it slowed considerably.
"We saw an instant doubling of tweets per second the moment the story broke," Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote in an e-mail response to our inquiry. "This particular news about the passing of such a global icon is the biggest jump in tweets per second since the U.S. presidential election."
"Regarding performance," he added, "there were reports of slowness following the spike in activity. It highlighted an opportunity for improvement which we'll be acting on right away."
Online chatterers reported slowness at other social hubs, including AOL's popular instant message system and at the blog site LiveJournal.
The Los Angeles Times website creaked beneath the weight of the story as well, with nearly 2.3 million page views in one hour, more traffic than during any single hour last Nov. 5, the site's highest-traffic day.
Facebook saw a frenzy of activity, too. A spokeswoman for the company said the number of status updates during the hour after the Jackson news emerged was triple the average. She said Facebook remained free of performance issues.
Traffic to the leading online news sites throughout North America was at least 20% above average, according to Akamai's Net Usage Index, which monitors online news consumption around the world.
The intense interest among Web users was evident on sites that track which terms are most popular among users. Phrases such as "Rip MJ," "King of Pop" and "Thriller" were among the most frequently used on Twitter, and on Google.com, "Michael Jackson died" became the most popular query.
Updated, 7:27 p.m.: A statement from AOL noted the following: "At AOL our AIM instant messaging service was undergoing a previously scheduled software update which should normally prove routine. It proved not to be. There was a significant increase in traffic due to today's news and AIM was down for approximately 40 minutes this afternoon."
The statement also noted that, "Today was a seminal moment in Internet history. We've never seen anything like it in terms of scope or depth."
-- David Sarno