Earlier this week, President Obama addressed the Nation about the debt crisis we've all been hearing so much about in Washington D.C.. President Obama encouraged Americans to contact their representatives in Congress to let them know how we would like for the problem to be resolved:
...The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn't vote for a dysfunctional government. So I'm asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know....
And Americans did. In droves. All at the same time.
And what happens when a bunch of people go on line all at once to a website? According to a report by NPR, on Tuesday, about 140 Congressional websites were affected, brining some, Like Speaker John Boehner's site down completely.
Last night immediately after the speeches, we saw a tremendous increase in traffic to www.senate.gov. These peak loads resulted in many constituents experiencing timeouts and "server not found" errors when trying to load Senate websites. These errors were primarily due to the need to build each page every time it was requested due to the lack of caching. During the event(from about 9:45PM to 11:30PM), we did whatever we could to tweak server configurations, move databases, and work with vendors to provide more caching, in an attempt to make the sites as accessible as possible. By 11:30PM, the individual sites on www.senate.gov were responding better.
We are again experiencing peak loads today and many sites are sluggish and may at times receive errors. We are continuing to monitor and take all the actions we can control to keep www.senate.gov operational. We are directing the website vendors to implement caching on webpages, as this is the most effective means of making sure your constituents can reach your site without errors. Repeated queries to the databases for the same information are by far the largest source of traffic. Caching queries and webpages will result in some small delay between when you post new information and when it is available to be viewed, but doing so will enhance the performance of your site and enable your constituents to have the experience you desire.
That's right - the law of unintended consequences prevailed and soooo many Americans contacted the Capitol that it has the same affect as a distributed denial-of-service attack. It made the websites unavailable to the intended constituents for a long period of time. Oops.
An important thing for all webmasters to remember is that when you ask people to respond to you, they just might, and you need to check with your web host (WebRevelation customers can use this form) to make sure you can handle the expected influx of traffic.
Also see Mashable: Obama's Call to Contact Congress Takes Down Capitol Websites