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september 11-12, 2001

On the World Wide Web we can read text, look at images, play interactive games, exchange music files, listen to live radio broadcasts, watch steaming video, download files, upload files, and, of course, search for a wide variety of information - much of which would have taken many hours to find (if it could be found) only eight years ago. With its growth and the growth of its user base, the World Wide Web has transformed the way millions of people get information - especially news. The terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 saw people scrambling to find news from many different mediums: TV, radio, telephone, Internet - but it was the Internet, and many of the major news Web sites that succeeded in yoking together the different mediums in one unique attempt to get information out to the viewers and create for the users an experience as close to reality as possible.

A problem, however, was that in the immediate hours after the attacks many people could not get to the news Web sites they so desperately wanted to view: "43% of Internet users say they had at least some trouble accessing the Web sites they wanted to consult for news about the attacks - 15% say they had a lot of trouble in the first hours getting to a Web site" (Rainie 13). Pamela Parker and Christopher Saunders of report that " saw a staggering increase in users between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. webHancer's panel, which normally registers a few hundred users on the site at any given moment, spiked to a level of 11,000 page requests shortly after the initial attack on the World Trade Center; then to 22,000 page requests. . . "(1). The effect of the rapid increase of requests took its toll on download speed: "Shortly after 9 a.m., the firm reported that median page load time on spiked from 3 seconds to 27 second - which is often greater than most browsers will tolerate without timing out. Atlanta based, likewise, saw an increase from a median nine-second page load to more than 30 seconds" (Parker 2). These findings support the data supplied by comScore Networks, "a research firm in Reston, Virginia, that provides Internet usage intelligence to the public" (Rainie 3), which reported that "on September 11 and 12 traffic to grew 680% to 11.7 million unique visitors, [and] traffic to grew 236% to 9.5 million unique visitors. . ." (Rainie 9).

What is perhaps most interesting about these numbers is that while the use of the major news Web sites went up in the first hours after the attacks - "Immediately after the attack, some 6000 users per minute used Goggle to find CNN" (Wiggins 3) - "130 million people around the world used the Internet, [which was] down 18% from 159 million on the immediately preceding Tuesday, presumably reflecting heavy TV viewing of the events of the day" (Rainie 8). Slow page loads and a dearth of fast-breaking, up to the second information, was blatantly missing from the Web in the hours after the attacks, but was present on both television and radio, where newscasters struggled with finding information and corrected mis-information, viewers could see and hear the voices of the witnesses to the events, and could sit in a room without having to wait for anything. The event was given to them; it did not require their immediate participation. In the immediate wake of breaking news, the Web could not dislodge TV from its top spot as news-provider: "It is important to stress that for all of the online activity that focused on the terror assaults, this was not a breakthrough moment for use of the Internet compared to other technologies, as some have suggested. There was not a flight to new technologies from TV as a news source, or from the phone as a communications tool. Indeed, there was heavy reliance on TV and the telephone even among the most committed and active Internet users" (Rainie 3). Internet use and reliance would change over time as people began to drift away from TV, which became somewhat repetitive in its coverage, and could not offer people the ability to interact either through email, chat rooms, video, and audio.

But the news sites, in giving people the ability to interact with the event were effectively attempting to re-create the event for the user, and provided users with the ability to continue creating the event themselves. As they searched, read, and posted, the attacks became not just about the attacks themselves, but about peoples' reactions to the attacks. It was in attempting to show what really happened in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, that we saw remediation beginning, because the "real" event was no longer just planes filled with people hitting buildings and killing the people who were in them. It was about how people reacted to the event, as well.

According to Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin, "It is easy to see that hypermedia applications are always explicit acts of remediation: they import earlier media into a digital space in or to critique and refashion them" (53). The goal of hypermedia to "get past the limits of representation and to achieve the real. . . . [Here] the real is defined in terms of the viewer's experience; it is that which would evoke an immediate (and therefore authentic) emotional response" (Bolter 53). In discussing the terrorist attacks, we are forced to discuss the mediums in which we learned information about the attacks, because the majority of us were not in New York, D.C., or Pennsylvania, when they took place. And for those who got their information on the Web - who read transcripts, saw videos, listened to radio broadcasts, the reality of the event became the experience of the medium which we were using: "The excess media becomes an authentic experience, not in the sense that it corresponds to an external reality, but rather precisely because it does not feel compelled to refer to anything beyond itself" (Bolter 53-4).

By looking at the Web page screen shots in this section, we will see that news sites, while attempting to display "facts" about "what really happened" in such a way that would blend the actual experience with the remediated one, could not actually succeed, if only because there was no "real time." What we saw on the Web was "post time" - post in the sense that fragments of "reality" were being posted often well after they took place - and "lost time" - lost in the sense that initial Web pages and stories were often lost when the news organizations updated their pages. Because viewers could only see posted information that might be gone in the next few minutes, they could never completely gain a full understanding of the event - no matter how many images, video, diagrams, and first hand accounts could be linked to. Viewing the tragedy online was ultimately a fragmented attempt at capturing reality which could never be attained, for the surfers' reality of the attacks was just that: in the safety of their environment, looking for information about soot-covered people who were dead, dying, or frantically trying to help.

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download printable version of introduction to web sites section

Image map showing times of remediated web sites from CNN, Fox news, ABCnews, CBSnews, and MSNBC. Times range from no time given, Sept 11, 2001, to 12:27 pm, Sept 12, 2001.  All links go to new pages with analysis of news screen shots. no time givem CNN no time given (2), CNN 10:15 am CNN inner page 10:16 am, ABCnews front page 10:21 am, CNN inner page 10:57 am, CNN inner page 11:20 am, CNN home page 11:20 am, MSNBC home page 1:50 pm, CNN inner page 1:50 pm, CNN inner page 2 2:28 pm, CNN inner page 2:37 pm, CNN test page 2:40 pm, CNN inner page 3:30 pm, CNN home page 3:39 pm, FOXnews home page 4:43 pm, CNN home page 4:37 pm, CNN home page 4:17 pm, MSNBC home page 4:33 pm, CNN home page 5:14 pm, CNN inner page 5:42 pm, CNN home page 6:09 pm, ABCnews home page 6:32 pm, ABCnews home page 6:33 pm, CNN home page 7:36 pm, ABCnews home page 7:59 pm, CNN home page 8:59 pm, CNN home page 9:38 pm, MSNBC home page 11:08 pm, CNN inner page 11:35 pm, CNN home page 2:00 am, sept.12, CBSnews home page 12:27 pm, sept.12, CNN inner page