Today I saw an article in the New York Times online edition about flightstats.com. This site is pretty cool. It gives you tons of information about the flights out of any airport, and any associated delays. The article also talks about the myriad of delays plaguing all airports during the summer travel season and highlights how annoying travel can be with late arriving, delayed, and cancelled flights. Flightstats.com helps with all that by giving you the latest info on any flight in or out of any airport in the world.
Of course upon reading the article, and being an avid world traveler, I immediately went to the site to check it out. I entered the URL and....waited....and waited....and waited....
I went to the bathroom and came back and it still had not pulled up.
It brought me back to a time when the team that designed the ads for the front page of Yahoo! used to report to me. We would deal with many clients and every time we talked to them we would ask them if they were technically ready to handle the traffic that exposure on the Yahoo! front page would bring.
The answer we would receive would always be an emphatic yes. But we would never believe them.
We would reply with an "are you sure?" and a "we're going to test your site to make sure it's ok" and a proposal to host a jump page which would look exactly like the target page but only be put up in case of emergencies.
Sometimes they would take our offer and sometimes they would not. Foolish mortals.
In the years that I helped out with Yahoo! front page ads, I think at least 8 out of 10 clients were technically not ready to handle traffic that the Yahoo! front page would deliver them. It was the equivalent of a firehosing of users to the site, and webmasters on the client end would almost never be ready to handle it. We've seen site slow-downs to virtual non-response conditions whereby too many users would attempt to enter the client's site. People outside of the Yahoo's of the world just didn't have the experience to handle that much traffic, and under normal operating conditions, never need to even deal with that.
But buying an ad on the Yahoo! front page isn't a normal condition.
In recent years, I have seen this gotten better. People seem to be doing better at building scalable solutions and being prepared for them.
I guess not everyone has experienced it yet.
Today, an article in Wired, a plug on the Today show, or a discussion in the New York Times is enough to send a ton of users your way. Obviously, Flightstats.com wasn't prepared for it. I went there and waited and waited for many minutes before the site came up. Then it was butt slow trying to retrieve data on LAX for today.
It just goes to show that building scalable web products is a necessary skill, and that even abnormal exposure in a news article is enough to make your site slow down or even stop responding.