There were mixed feelings on the WordPress VIP team last week when a joke about one of our customers went viral.
Reports of obsessive refreshing of the US election predictions on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site, hosted on WordPress VIP, began to appear in late October. As Election Day got ever closer, things reached a fever pitch.
I'm doing this great new workout where I press the refresh button on fivethirtyeight constantly throughout the day.
— Gwen 🔙🔛🔝🔜 (@msgwenl) November 7, 2016
Tomorrow I'll release a new website that tracks the probability of how many times per hour I will pointlessly refresh FiveThirtyEight.
— Joseph Scrimshaw (@JosephScrimshaw) November 7, 2016
One of the campaigns even felt the need to send an email to supporters, urging them to “stop refreshing FiveThirtyEight” and focus on getting out the vote instead.
Things really went into overdrive when the team fired up their Election Day liveblog. The first calls were made at 7pm Eastern; traffic surged as visitors looked for guidance on the clues each new result gave to the final, surprising outcome.
By midnight, FiveThirtyEight had posted—in a single day—the kind of traffic numbers we would usually expect of the most popular, mass-appeal sites we host… over the course of a week. Not bad for a nerdy site all about statistics.
We’re absolutely delighted to see a customer doing so well, but the WordPress VIP team were all too aware of the responsibility on our shoulders. We knew our systems and practices would face their sternest test ever—even if constant refreshing hadn’t become a new national pastime.
It wasn’t just FiveThirtyEight, of course. With so many WordPress VIP customers in the news business, many of the sites we host saw significant traffic spikes on Election Day, or for those addressing audiences living several timezones away (like News.com.au or Indian Express), the day after. Follow-up coverage on Thursday saw at least one major site post a new record number of page views.
I’m happy to say that we coped admirably. Independent monitoring by Pingdom shows 100% uptime for the week, and barely a blip in terms of average response time.
Part of WordPress VIP’s appeal is that we ensure you’re ready for high-traffic events like this: the ones you can predict, and the ones you can’t. With so many sites, from so many places, covering so many subjects, we simply have to be prepared for the most extreme scenarios.
WordPress VIP customers share the same high-capacity global infrastructure as the WordPress.com platform, consistently ranked as one of the web’s busiest properties. And our engineers work with each site’s developers to ensure their code is as efficient and performant as possible.
Customers are often anxious about traffic spikes. But really, they should be something to look forward to: these are the times your website truly earns its stripes.
A vibrant Fourth Estate will be more important than ever in the next few years—and it will need to be fast and performant for readers around the world. If WordPress VIP can deliver for FiveThirtyEight, the national focal point on one of the most dramatic election nights in history, you can be confident we can deliver on your big night too. We dare you to put us to the test.