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Bin Laden and the Evolution of the Web

May 2nd, 2011 by Chris Strauber

On September 11th, 2001 I was working as a sales analyst for a tool company in Columbus, Ohio. When the initial reports of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center began circulating in the office I went online to confirm it and discovered that the web was broken. Specifically, CNN.com was down. And nytimes.com. I branched out to national newspapers: LA Times, Chicago Tribune, down. I went to smaller cities, TV stations, then smaller TV stations, newspaper sites from tiny towns, all down. I began checking British sites the same way, all down. I finally confirmed the news via the website of a small TV station in Provence. I had a dim recollection of this last night when ESPN mentioned the news about Osama Bin Laden and New York Times mobile took 30 seconds to load instead of the usual 2, but it didn’t crystallize for me until I read this analysis of how search engines handled the news last night and today by Danny Sullivan, my favorite search engine guru. Sullivan points out that Google was incapable of doing realtime search in 2001, or of searching news specifically, but can do both now. And the web has enough horsepower to handle live-streaming a royal wedding or the World Cup. Or the partial conclusion to a story which started ten years ago on a clear September day.

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