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News flash

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, February 4th, 2004

Blogs had a huge traffic surge Sunday night minutes after Janet Jackson’s breast-baring. Traffic on Blogcritics went up 50-fold in minutes. As blogger Adrian Holvaty noted, it was impossible to get this news “flash” from traditional outlets:

…I saw it — live. Er, I thought I saw it. I wasn’t sure. The camera cut away so quickly that I couldn’t really tell what’d happened. So I did what any self-respecting Internet-junkie would do: I flipped open my laptop and hit the Web. CNN had nothing. MSNBC had nothing. Neither did the New York Times, Washington Post or Chicago Tribune. Google News didn’t say anything about it, either. I checked a bunch of other big-media sites but couldn’t find any coverage. [Via Jeff Jarvis]

In part, this was a question of those outlets decency standards. They couldn’t show the actual event.

But, as we sort through the logs and aftermath, it appears that much of this traffic was, actually, driven through search engines. Search engine Lycos reports

Prior to this week, the most-searched event in the history of the Lycos 50 over a one-day period was the September 11 attack on America. Although it is very difficult to compare searches for the two events, it looks like the Super Bowl halftime show was the equal of September 11 when it comes to Internet attention. That is, to put it bluntly, mind-blowing.

Why is it difficult to compare? The Super Bowl halftime show was a single event. Searches revolved almost entirely around two phrases, either Super Bowl halftime or Janet Jackson. Everybody knew exactly what they were looking for.

On September 11, however, nobody really knew what they were looking for. Confusion about what had happened, not to mention multiple attacks, caused Lycos users to search for a huge number of different terms, from the places attacked (World Trade Center, Pentagon, New York City) to those attacking us (Osama bin Laden, Taliban) to a hoax about a prediction of the attack (Nostradamus).

Now, when you add all those different terms together, you get less than half as many search requests as we received on Monday for Janet Jackson and the Super Bowl halftime show. However, you also have to consider the massive rise in searches for terms like breaking news and latest news on September 11, and searches for news organizations from CNN to FOX.

There was no similar rise in searches for news organizations on Monday, with one exception: The Drudge Report, which posted pictures of the exposed breast, received 30 times the searches it gets on a normal day.

Add the increase in news searches on September 11 to all the specific searches for September 11-related topics, and the total is roughly equivalent to the number of searches for Janet Jackson and the halftime show. Still, the fact that a single breast received as much attention as the first attack on United States soil in 60 years is beyond belief.

I’d say this trend doesn’t say so much about American interest in the two events as about American consumption of news in the 25 months since September 2001. Here’s my post about how September 11 turned me into a rabid blog reader.

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