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The highs and lows of so much great attention

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
I’m not sure, but perhaps the answer is “Yes” when we’re talking about DonorsChoose.org web traffic and The Colbert Report!
We worked hard to prepare our site infrastructure to handle the increased attention of the Blogger Challenge that started on October 1. The Blogger Challenge got off to a roaring start and we’ve been amazed and humbled throughout by the incredible support of the blogosphere, which has come together to provide so many students with access to the classroom resources they need to learn.
For the first 2.5 weeks of October, we were gracefully handling many new site visitors, lots of donations, and tons of views of our challenge thermometer “widgets” (which are being featured on some of the web’s highest-trafficked blogs).
But our site was flat-out overwhelmed by the massive traffic that resulted from Stephen Colbert and Craig Newmark’s announcement around midnight on Thursday, October 18.
As we scrambled to increase capacity, we continued to receive big spikes in web traffic from the re-airings of that Colbert show on Friday, October 19 in the morning, afternoon, and early evening, and across US time zones.
Since no new Colbert episodes were airing last week (October 22-26), Comedy Central re-ran the previous week’s episodes! These additional re-airings generated many more big spikes in web traffic, mostly in the 24 hours starting on last Wednesday at midnight: between daily re-airings and the staggered showings across time zones, we think the Colbert show that introduced DonorsChoose.org may have aired between 3 – 9 times during that 24 hour period. Amazing.
This was GREAT news for the teachers who use DonorsChoose.org to get much-needed resources for their classrooms. But not so great for our web servers.
The DonorsChoose.org tech team has been working like crazy to handle this huge increase in web traffic. For example, if our servers are temporarily overwhelmed, the site will now remain available but show a “Sorry!” message if users try to make donations or post new projects. We are also caching the site much more aggressively.
However, yesterday one of our changes to increase server capacity didn’t sit well. The result was the inconsistent availability of DonorsChoose.org from 8:45pm ET yesterday evening – 9:30am ET this morning. (We thought we had the problem licked at around 1am ET and called it a night, only to find out that our fix didn’t stick.)
We have since stabilized the site, are monitoring it carefully, and quickly making improvements behind the scenes.
All of us at DonorsChoose.org are deeply appreciative of your patience while we beef-up our site to smoothly handle all this great attention!
OliverCTO, DonorsChoose.org

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