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9/11 and the Internet: Limits and opportunities

Did the Internet fail on 9/11 2001?

The answer to that question very much depends on your personal point of view. If you were affected by the unavailability of news reporting and certain government websites, then your answer certainly is yes. If you depended on the communications features of online services, then you may answer no.

The more important question, however, may be the 'what if': Five years after 9/11, just how prepared is the Internet and would it be able to provide a level of information and communication that leads us through a time of severe crisis?

For news reporting and web site performance overall, 9/11 was a dramatic event, but not the first and not the only impact that brought change. Take, for example, the series of Denial of Service attacks against Ebay, Buy.com, CNN, Amazon.com, ZDNet, Etrade and Excite in February of 2000, the rampage of the infamous "I Love You" virus in May of 2000 or the release of he 445-page report of Kenneth W. Starr about Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton on 11 September 1998 - all these events degraded Internet performance an triggered enhancements. Some of more recent ones were apparent during the reporting of the invasion of Iraq, which was frequently described as the "first war of the Internet age."

According to Keynote, some news sites were able to handle 100% more traffic without experiencing disruption. Besides technical and operational improvements, today's news sites are quickly changing in the way they provide information, how it is presented and how it is made available. Today's news sites aren't just about publishing texts anymore. Traditional articles are merging with images, videos and audio. They connect with databases and communities and increasingly count on readers to collect and publish relevant information. It does not need a lot of forecasting talent to predict that the Internet will more and more become the primary information source for any event.

A different issue may be the changing communication environment. Compared to five years ago, many of us depend much more on their cellphone and on their Internet connection - and begin to depend on Internet phone services. Greater dependability calls for greater reliability of such services and at least today we know that Voice-over-IP is a complementing communication tool that cannot replace a traditional phone connection just yet. As it was the case on 9/11 2001, some of these communication services will be unavailable under certain circumstances. From that perspective, little has changed and Email and instant messaging - perhaps with some voice support - could remain among the most reliable ways to communicate for some time.