How a legal blog survived traffic tidal wave after court's healthcare ruling

03. Juli 2012
When a blog that typically attracts 30,000 visitors a day is hit with 5.35 million, its operators had better have been prepared for what seems way too big to be called a spike.

The popular SCOTUSblog, which provides news and information about the United States Supreme Court, was put to this test last week after the historic healthcare ruling and it passed with flying colors, thanks to months of planning and a willingness to spend $25,000.

"We knew we needed to do whatever it took to make sure we were capable of handling what we knew would be the biggest day in this blog's history," says Max Mallory, deputy manager of the blog, who coordinates the IT.

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The massive traffic spike was somewhat of a perfect storm for SCOTUSblog, which Supreme Court litigator Tom Goldstein of the Washington, D.C., boutique Goldstein & Russell founded in 2002. Not only is the site a respected source of Supreme Court news and information, but in the days leading up to the ruling, buzz about the blog itself began picking up. President Barack Obama's press secretary named SCOTUSblog as being one source White House officials would monitor to hear news from the court. When the news broke, two of the first media organizations to report it -- Fox News and CNN -- got the ruling wrong. Many media outlets cited SCOTUSblog as being the first to correctly report that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 decision.

But even before "decision day," as Mallory calls it, the small team at SCOTUSblog knew Thursday would put a lot of strain on the blog's IT infrastructure. The first indications came during the health care arguments at the Supreme Court in March, when SCOTUSblog received almost 1 million page views over the three days of deliberations. The blog's single server at Web hosting company Media Temple just couldn't handle the traffic. "That was enough to crash our site at various points throughout those days and it just generally kept us slow for a majority of the time the arguments were going on," Mallory says.