Internet Gone Wild! SCOTUSblog Explodes With Health-Care Enthusiasm

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The Obamacare decision brought hundreds of thousands of people to a site normally reserved for law junkies.

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Do you visit SCOTUSblog regularly? Did you visit it today?

If you answered no and yes, you're in good company. Today the respected Supreme Court news site -- normally a destination for law junkies and few others -- just about exploded with health-care-ruling enthusiasm. At the last update, nearly 900,000 people had visited the site (CoverItLive later said the number peaked at over 700,000),* obliterating its earlier records -- 100,000 concurrent visitors on the liveblog and 500,000 visits over the course of the day -- both set on Monday, just four days earlier. As people poured in early this morning, publisher Tom Goldstein wrote, "It's our Super Bowl. We're incredibly grateful that you've come to see it."

A run-down of the site's traffic numbers as reported on the liveblog:

  • For the day, the blog moved from one server to six that are "geographically dispersed" and "provided by two different companies for redundancy," but later Goldstein announced that they had shifted the primary processing to the liveblog host CoverItLive, which can handle upward of 3 million people at a time.
  • They hired two teams of developers to rewrite the code underlying the blog for stability.
  • The costs of keeping the site up and getting the decision out: About $25,000 for the 20 peak minutes, and "mostly for the first 30 seconds or so."
  • C-SPAN3 just showed the SCOTUSblog live blog as its coverage.
  • At 9:08, Goldstein made this bold (and, as it turned out, not-bold-enough) prediction: "70,000 live blog readers currently. My best bet is 250,000 at the time of the decision. 1 million hits on the blog today."
  • At 9:16 the liveblog hit 100,000 readers and the editors were receiving more than one question per second.
  • At 9:29 the number ticked up to 145,000. Fifteen minutes later at (9:43) it was up to 218,000.
  • Heading into the final countdown at 9:56, Goldstein said they had hit 344,000 "contemporaneous readers" and at 10:03 he said the liveblog was receiving 1,000 requests per second.
  • 10:06 AM: 520,000 readers!
  • 10:07 AM: "We have health care opinion."
  • 10:22 AM: 866,000!

As the SCOTUSbloggers pointed out in their live conversation, "There will be no video of the opinion announcement made, and therefore none will ever be released. Not today. Not ever." In a month or two, an audio recording will be available and those who want will be able to hear the words as they were spoken. But though those sounds preserve a historical moment, they weren't how Americans -- other than a small handful -- learned of the decision. The record of that is not going to come from the Court, but is already here for us, on the SCOTUSblog liveblog, and in the millions and millions of tweets that followed. (One note: It doesn't seem that the text of the liveblog is currently searchable with Google. Hopefully, SCOTUSblog will extract the text at some point and make a regular old post of it, for posterity's sake.)

SCOTUSblog is getting a lot of very well deserved credit right now for its Supreme Court tea-leaf reading skills. But when it came to Internet traffic, the SCOUTSblog team was wildly off. Even Goldstein's bullish predictions underestimated the interest Americans have in the health-care law and what will become of it.

Read The Atlantic's full coverage of the Supreme Court's health-care decision.

*This post has been corrected to reflect new official numbers released by CoverItLive this evening. There is some discrepancy between CoverItLive's numbers and those reported by SCOTUSblog. We will try to figure out why and will update the post again if new information becomes available. Thanks to reader Nick Catalano for the pointer to CoverItLive's report.
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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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