Crashed But Not Burned: Mojo Takes a HUGE Hit

Story by David Bradbury//
July 1 2008

Originally, this article was going to be an introduction to our new web site. However, in the midst of launching the new site, something much more interesting happened. Before we discuss that, let’s go back to the beginning.

I’ve been Motorcycle Mojo’s web developer for over five years. Everything you’ve seen on the site since 2003 has gone through my hands. Since its inception, the site has grown and changed, but this time–the site’s third major overhaul–it needed to evolve into something so much more.

Development of the new site spanned several issues of the magazine. We needed to decide what kind of site we wanted to become. What features would we include now and which would be saved for a later launch. How much of the magazine would become visible online and what it would look like. Countless ideas were tossed about, but the technical decisions were left up to me. I threw around terms like HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SSI, Perl and Ajax just to baffle everyone in the office (and it worked!).

We launched the new site to coincide with the release of the May/June issue of the magazine. It was important to ensure the magazine was in the hands of the public before going live because the site included a very special story. Of course, at the time we didn’t know how special it would become.

The Uno story burst like a dam. Before we knew what was happening the new web site had crashed. I frantically looked for a technical reason why. There was none. The only answer was that we were overloaded with traffic–we were on the autobahn and crashed hard. We knew The Uno would be big, we just didn’t know that it would be this big. Using our new Web 2.0 features, the web sites Digg, Reddit, Engadget and Gizmodo had all linked to our web site.

Tens of thousands of people were all trying to see The Uno. When that many viewers come at once, no one gets to see anything. The site was down and it was up to me to find a way to get it back online. Should I strip out the graphics or simplify the code in some way? The answer turned out to be much more simple than that. By moving parts of the article onto separate servers, I was able to reduce the stress that all of those visitors were causing. With our main computer serving up the code and our secondary servers dishing up everything else, we were back on the road and the hits just kept coming. Viewers from all over the world were anxious to see The Uno.

Over the next few days we received nearly 200,000 page views, comprised of ten million hits, and transferred over 90 gigabytes of text and image data. This is unprecedented in my history as a web developer and in the history of Motorcycle Mojo as well.

Dozens of other sites attempted to rip us off–claiming our photos and parts of our article as their own–but our draw was powerful enough to leave them all in the dust.

Shortly thereafter it came to our attention that The Uno story was becoming a big hit in the UK where vehicle size and energy efficiency are paramount. It was featured in several national newspapers. We were contacted by international news outlets for more information and photos. Sky News and ABC News used our photos in stories about The Uno.

We weren’t the only ones surprised by the traffic. Our current web advertisers also had no idea the volume of viewers the May/June issue would pull in.

The huge amount of traffic also opened us up to offering a new online digital download version of the magazine. We wouldn’t expect readers world-wide to order a copy of the issue and wait for delivery to read the entire article. For the same price as buying a copy at the newsstand, visitors to the web site could download a digital copy of the magazine and read it on their computer screens. It is this type of future thinking we are implementing throughout the website.

With this issue, July/August 2008, we’re still seeing a huge increase in traffic to the web site and expect to see it continue into the future. In such a short time we’ve learned so much about high-traffic web site management. The next time we break a story like The Uno, we will be more than ready.


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