Ever been Oprah'd?

A mention on Oprah Winfrey's talk show brings a huge surge in visitors to a company's website, much more than being dugg or slashdotted. Many turn to cloud computing or SaaS vendors to be ready for the spike.

One of the measures of success for a tech website or blog is getting TechCrunched, Dugg or 'slashdotted' — the sudden surge of visitors that comes as a result of being highlighted by one of these big-traffic sites, often crashing the target site (it happened to one of my sites once). But such visitor surges look like mere ripples when compared to the tsunami effect that assails consumer websites when they get Oprah'd.

I'd never heard the term until this week, when I had the phenomenon described to me on two separate occasions, first in conversation with Bert Armijo of data center virtualization vendor 3Tera and then during a meeting the following day while attending SaaScon. The effect of getting a mention on Oprah Winfrey's 8-million viewer talk show is overwhelming for most websites. Ken Harris, senior VP of natural nutrition company Shaklee told me his company's website has survived five separate appearances on Oprah, despite peaking up to "ten months' worth of average daily volume in one day."

It turns out that the ability to handle the peak traffic loads that hit when a consumer brand gets Oprah'd is a big selling point for cloud computing and on-demand application providers, because they have the infrastructure in place to cope with the peaks. Rod Boothby, VP of platform evangelism for cloud computing vendor Joyent told me later in the week that one of its customers had come on board just to be ready for the expected traffic surge after an upcoming feature on CNN and in the New York Times.

Handling those surges is especially important for consumer sites. In the tech world, it's embarrassing when your site falls over but it's not a huge loss — various studies, anecdotal or otherwise, show that visitors sent from such links are mostly transient, never returning again and rarely clicking on your ads or affiliate links (which, remember, is your payback for getting lots of traffic).

But for consumer sites, those visitors are all potential customers — they wouldn't be taking all the trouble to go visit the site if they didn't have at least some interest in buying. So surviving an Oprah surge has huge commercial value, and in a few short hours can amply repay the effort of migrating to a cloud computing or SaaS provider.

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