Among all the things that we learned as a country and as a people yesterday, one of the more lasting (although less urgent) lessons was how important the Internet and the World Wide Web have become as a means of communication and for gathering information in time of emergency.
In the past, the Internet has always been regarded as
a minor player in the news world. But the way people used the Internet Tuesday and Wednesday showed that it has become one
of the public's most important ways - if not the most important in the 21st century - to get information on events. News sites were "hammered" by requests around the world from people desperate for more information on what had happened. They poured into national online media sites, and those of media outlets based in New York and Washington.
So great was the demand that many sites, such as The Washington Post, MSNBC, and CNN switched to greatly stripped down home pages in order to allow people faster access to the news they wanted. The Monitor did the same thing on our site, csmonitor.com. At one point we had 450 requests a second for stories online. The server that connects our site to the world can only handle 50 requests a second. Previously, we've never even come close to having this problem.
The numbers of people flooding online slowed the Internet across the world. Google, perhaps the world's best search engine, was being used to look for news so often, that the company took the unusual step of posting a note on its home page, telling people to use radio and TV to find the most current information.
Journalists were also sending messages, reminding each other that after the Oklahoma City bombing, some sites had used material culled from the Internet that later turned out to be false. "Above all, trust but verify," one journalist from St. Louis wrote.
Meanwhile, where phones failed, e-mail thrived.
For hours on Tuesday the phone systems in New York were either disabled or so busy that no one could get through to reach loved ones or friends. So they used the Internet instead. We even saw the results of this at the Monitor. One of the editors, who had a young relative who worked by the World Trade Center, received this message: "I can't get phone service out of New York so I'm sending this e-mail to notify you that Stacy and I are both OK after the WTC tragedy. Please keep the victims of this atrocity in your prayers and thoughts on this dark day."
The Internet showed that it has become the way people speak and listen all over the world in times of great turmoil and tragedy.