Video sharing website YouTube recently announced that it now gets more than two billion hits daily, and social media site Twitter looks set to process two billion tweets in May. Increasing volumes of web traffic coupled with demand for more interactive online services is having a significant impact on website performance.

Users lose interest fast

Studies have shown that response times of less than one second are necessary to retain a user’s train of thought. For sites like YouTube which capitalize on keeping their visitors interested, it is particularly critical that high volumes of web traffic do not result in painfully slow loading times. People will only remain loyal to a site as long as it provides a great user experience. There will be numerous competing social networks waiting to be the next big Twitter or YouTube should these platforms frustrate users with downtime.

The danger of downtime or #failwhale 

Not only does downtime damage confidence in a brand, it can be a PR nightmare. The growth of social media means that as soon as a site is unavailable there is criticism across the web. The huge of amount of coverage generated when organizations suffer downtime highlights how many people rely on online services day-to-day. Ironically, the rise in popularity of sites like Twitter means it doesn’t take long for the world to know when a site is experiencing an outage. The #failwhale hash tag (referencing the blue whale image on the Twitter error page) appears as soon as there is any glitch or downtime on the site.

Advice from Stephen Fry

It’s great to see some genuinely helpful traffic management advice on Stephen Fry’s website, The New Adventures of Mr Stephen Fry. A prolific tweeter and new media guru, Fry often retweets requests from charities or event organisers, and this inevitably leads to his one and a half million followers visiting the tweeted site. He fully understands the consequences of his popularity however, and the contacts section of his website suggests that:

“If you wish to ask Stephen to Tweet about a charity or special event which points to your/a website, it must be capable of taking 1200+ calls per second to the website’s server in order to be able to stay live once Stephen’s Tweeted. Please check with your website server provider. Many providers will simply say “Yes it is”. You must double check with a technician for your website.”

Software to the rescue

Sites cannot always predict when they will experience peaks in traffic (just think of the unexpected success of the Susan Boyle video on YouTube) and so website providers must make sure that they have a flexible solution that can easily be scaled up or down.