30 June 2009 | Tanya Goodin

The Internet is not dead… and neither is Jeff Goldblum

To paraphrase Mark Twain: “Reports of the Internet’s death have been great exaggerated”. Unlike poor Michael Jackson.

Here on the Tamar blog we’ve remained relatively quiet on the subject of Michael Jackson up until now – mainly because we wanted to let the dust settle before looking for any trends or interesting outcomes. Now that the internet has had a few days to get back to normal, it’s clear that the claims that Jackson’s death had “brought the internet to its knees” were a little overexaggerated to say the least. So how well *did* the internet cope?

Google: After an initial “hiccup” which saw the Google News systems mistaking the increase in search volumes for an automated attack (quickly rectified, according to the official Google Blog) the big G seemed to cope quite well – Google news is never the most real-time of search services, but this is mainly due to the sources it gets its information from, rather than their infrastructure. Google also reported a big spike in search on mobile devices, which nicely illustrates the changing way that people are accessing information in these days.

One thing Google didn’t quite get right was user-intent. Google Trends was reporting (on the Friday) that the most popular search term at the time was “Michael Jackson Died” – but as you can see from the screenshot below, the top result being delivered for this search wasn’t particularly useful for fans of the late singer:


Another interesting “quirk” that Google trends (now) highlights is the propensity for false rumours to spread quickly. As any Twitter users last week will have seen, less than 24 hours after MJ had died, rumours of Jeff Goldblum‘s death were making both the trending topics and Google trends own “hot list”. If you’re looking at Google Trends today you’ll see that Rick Astley has also suffered the same unfortunate effect (neither are dead by the way, as of the time of writing this post!). Thankfully the same sites that helped spread this mis-information also helped to clear it up fairly quickly – the actor Kevin Spacey was quick to post on Twitter that he’d spoken to Goldblum’s agent and all was fine. I suppose this highlights the power for “bad” that social media has, as well as the power for spreading news quickly and effectively. Still, I’m sure Rick Astley’s album sales won’t have suffered as a result!

Anyway, back to the internet. The guys at Bing don’t seem to have released any official word on how well they coped with the Jackson surge, though as of today a search for “Michael Jackson” gives a wealth of useful results on Bing. The search term “Michael Jackson” is also ranked #1 on Bings “xRank” search popularity radar.


Yahoo report on their search blog that they also saw some interesting trends after Jackson’s shock death. According to the blog: “searches for his legendary music surged. “Thriller,” “Man in the Mirror,” and “Billie Jean” were among the top lyrics, songs, and videos that people looked for on Yahoo! Search. As details of Jackson’s death emerge, searchers are looking for details on prescription drugs including Demerol, the hospital Jackson was taken to after he collapsed (UCLA Medical Center), and other lingering questions (”why did Michael Jackson die”).”

So no great problems to report with Yahoo! then – though they do add that their news story “Michael Jackson Rushed to Hospital” was the highest clicked story they’ve ever had. But that’s not a massive surprise really – with the internet growing at a huge rate every day, records like that are going to keep coming with big stories like this. I find that sort of “stat” very similar to when weather forecasters tell us that we’ve just had “the hottest day of the year so far!”… in mid March…!

The internet as a whole didn’t see the “spike” that many people claimed (aside from the site that broke the news, TMZ) and Rory Cellan Jones has a very good explanation for this in his blog on the issue:  Unlike other recent news stories that evolved online, such as the Obama inauguration, most people were looking to sites like Twitter for their updates on the story, and Twitter (being mainly text based) doesn’t eat up a lot of bandwidth. The Obama inauguration saw a lot of people watching streaming video online, but due to the lack of video available, most people who heard the news about Jackson would have most likely turned to their TV news station for coverage.

So it looks like the internet didn’t suffer quite as much as the headlines would have you believe. But then again, “Internet not affected much by Michael Jackson’s death, all seems to be coping” doesn’t make quite as good a headline does it?!

Tanya Goodin

Tanya Goodin

Founder of Tamar