internet

I was 11 years old when I first received what the internet was. I’d been shown previously how to turn on a modem and then use a computer to play computer games, and at some point I joined Neopets because that’s what everyone in Year 7 did, but one lunchtime, I remember putting “Friends” into Ask Jeeves (intending the TV show), and being truly shocked at the mass of information that came back.

There were dictionaries, message boards, fansites of the TV show, informational websites on friendship, quotes pages, images – all the messy results you got back in 2001 before Wikipedia or systemic SEO were a thing.

The results were a mess, but I was left with the understanding that I could read about, talk to and hear from virtually anything and anyone, anywhere.

This was a serious lightbulb moment for an eleven year old, and I have a clear memory of heading to Maths and just sitting there, wordless and in a daze, pondering the enormity of what I’d just discovered.

That sense of wonder of the power of the internet to broadcast information and connect up people to talk about it has never left me. I think its a miracle. But lately, I’ve been meeting more and more people who seem to regard their online lives as somehow being a bad thing. I’ve been meeting people who dismiss social networking as inauthentic, or view having an online life as “no substitute” for having a “real” one. This is nonsense. When you tap something into your computer and hit send, your words are read by a flesh and blood person at the other end, who has an emotional reaction to it as valid as if you’d said it to their face. Maybe it’s subtly different but it’s there. It’s real. [click to continue…]

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I looked at my Google Analytics profile in some astonishment. 8000 visitors already? Woah. I looked at the global map to find out where they were all coming from and going to. They were all visiting the full chemical name of Titin, which is the longest word in the English language – as that page is the most popular on my website, I wasn’t very surprised. But the map of what country were visiting from was a bit more surprising. Like usual, the UK and America were roughly even in traffic – but there was a little speck in the heart of Europe that was a green so dark it was nearly black. Poland. 90% of my traffic for that day was coming from Poland. What the hell?

16,000 Poles visit in 24 hours

I ran upstairs to tell my mum, who looks after the technical side of my website. She messaged Pete, our friend who provides our hosting, but while we were waiting for him to reply, another 4000 Poles turned up. My bandwidth only allows for roughly 20,000 visitors, and with the same amount of traffic in a day then I usually got in a month, my website exceeded its bandwidth and was automatically taken offline.

At this point, Pete turned up and switched SarahMcCulloch.com back on. The insane number of visitors started up again and by midnight, 17,000 people had accessed my website. 17,000! Why on earth did 17,000 people from Poland all suddenly want to view this single page? Panic was setting in in my house. Pete was going to Iceland in the morning and wouldn’t be around to deal with the problem if, as seemed increasingly likely, I was going to exceed my new bandwidth limit as well. And if my website went down again, Pete wouldn’t be around to put it back on again – my entire website, and my blog, would be gone until Pete got back.

We were literally in a race against Poland.

My mum contacted another friend with unlimited hosting to see if we could move that specific page so my poor abused bandwidth could get a break. Meanwhile, I tried to work out what had happened in Poland that its entire population had suddenly taken an interest in English linguistics. Google Analytics was showing that most of our visitors had tapped the website into the url bar, with no referring link. We had no way of finding out what or who was sending thousands of visitors an hour to Sm.com. I started to look through the rest of my referring links, looking through the newer ones to find a clue to this mystery that was getting weirder by the second. But there was nothing obvious. I was baffled.

Eventually, after a message out of the blue from a Pole who had tracked me down on Facebook after viewing my website, I found out what had happened. Demotywatory.pl, a Polish equivalent of verydemotivational.com, had put up a poster with a picture of Titin, some Polish, and a link to my website underneath. I put the words into Google Translator and from the drivel that came out, it would seem that some wag had put up the longest word in the Polish language, Konstantynopolitańczykowianeczka, and a caption something along the lines of “Konstantynopolitańczykowianeczka can get lost”.

My dashboard for the month Poland visited

The mystery was solved, but the traffic was still coming. By the end of the second day, another 9,000 Poles had visited my website. I held my breath. A quarter of the new bandwidth limit had gone already in just 24 hours. Next day 5,000 people visited. The next day we managed to get the page hosted elsewhere and I breathed a sigh of relief. SarahMcCulloch.com was safe. Until the next traffic spike…

[Update December 2010]: After nearly six months of insane amounts of traffic from Poland, Poles remain among my biggest fans, though traffic levels have now fallen to something a bit more manageable. In the meantime, like all website owners, we have bandwidth to pay for. So, people of Poland, I welcome you, but if you or anyone else who has found this story amusing could make a donation in the tip jar below, I (and my mum) would be grateful. Thank you!

Love,

Sarah





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Hello Digital Economy Act, goodbye freedom…

April 8, 2010

With the passing of the Digital Economy Bill today, here is your final chance was watch a mash-up of the wash-up “debate”. No doubt my website will be banned and you will be disconnected shortly. This is perhaps a little scare-mongering, but there is a very real prospect that hundreds, if not thousands, of people […]

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