By Eric Auchard
It's debatable how big a deal any specific news event is compared to all the other human mayhem that occurs each day. Journalists, editors, historians and the guy at the end of the bar could probably never agree.
A news mapping service introduced on Thursday by Akamai Technologies Inc. promises to give unprecedented insight into the relative hunger that millions of Internet users have to learn of breaking events minute-by-minute.
Akamai, which helps speed delivery of 15 percent of the world's Internet traffic over its network, is looking to count the sum of page requests across 100 major news sites it serves to rank interest in major events on a scale never seen before.
The Akamai Net News Index provides a map of six global regions and measures the current appetite for news relative to average daily demand in terms of millions of visitors to news sites per minute, per week, within each geographic region.
Spikes in traffic can reveal the next wave of news demand.
"You have never really been able to look at big news events in this way," Akamai Chief Executive Paul Sagan said in a phone interview. "When you can get down to the minute of a day and correlate spikes in news site traffic, you can really begin to see what was going on at that moment," he said.
This aggregate news site data -- the company stresses that it does not track individual surfing habits -- is now available publicly on the Web atIn two-and-a-half months of testing before the index introduction, Akamai found the biggest Internet news events were the London bombings on July 7, Hurricane Emily July 15, the combined effects of the Space Shuttle launch and monsoon in India on July 26. The fourth most popular recent Web news event was the June 13 Michael Jackson verdict, Akamai data showed.
Sagan says his Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company plans to make the data available to its customers and members of the public to see what ways they put the information to work.
The news index is in the spirit of the Internet Archive's WayBack Machine, which provides snapshots of vast reaches of the Web in order to preserve online history, or the various Internet Weather Reports, which give Web surfers a glimpse of how essential networks on the Internet are functioning.
IN A PLACE TO KNOW
Because its computers serve up billions of pages of news to Internet readers each day, Akamai is in the unique position of being able to track news consumption on a global scale.
Akamai believes it is in a unique position to be able to track news consumption on a global scale. At any point in time, millions of PC users (and growing numbers of Web-connected mobile phone users) are viewing news on the Internet.
Some of the 100 participating news sites include the U.S.-centered NBC, XM Satellite Radio and ESPN, LeMonde in France and the global audiences of CNN.com and Reuters.com.
Other major sites in the Americas, Europe and Asia cannot be named, Sagan said. "We think we have a pretty representative sample" of the world's major Internet news sites, he said.
When news breaks, studies show that the Internet is displacing television and print media for instant information. Sagan said the index could act as early warning system on major news events, or for retrospective trend research later.
"How do you measure an event of a certain magnitude?" Sagan asked. "No one know what that means really," he said, adding that: "We are going to let people draw their own conclusions."
Sagan hopes the service can be used to help reveal geographic and sociological trends in public spectacles. Data generated by the index could be used by advertisers and investors to map social patterns and make buying decisions.
"How much did it grab public attention? What economic effect did the news have?" Sagan asks. "We can get a real-time, exact view of the data."
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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