The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict dominated the news this weekend, with the internet no exception. Case in point: a petition on the NAACP site urging the U.S. Justice Department to file federal civil rights charges against Zimmerman attracted so much attention that their servers couldn’t handle it:
The group’s website crashed for several hours Sunday between 11 a.m. ET and 1:30 p.m. ET because of the crush of people trying to respond.
I checked the petition page source code to get a sense of the tech they’re using, and it looks like the pages are being served from NAACP’s own site but plug data into a Blue State Digital API (BSD features their work with the organization on their own site). I’m assuming that the architecture of a company like Blue State could handle a burst of attention like this one, since it has to be built to handle many clients’ online actions at once. NAACP’s servers? Probably not so much, since they organization’s likely only paying for what they usually need, and their hosting provider no doubt had to rush in extra capacity. The burden of success! One other point, again judging from the source code — NAACP seems to be using Optimizely to A/B test its landing pages.
Getting out of the technology weeds, this petition is in general a great example of taking advantage of the moment: plenty of people were really pissed off over the weekend about Zimmerman’s acquittal, and NAACP (600,000+ signatures as of this writing, according to the CNN piece above) gave them an outlet. And of course, signing it put them on the organization’s list, making it an excellent supporter-acquisition opportunity.
I signed the petition as a test, and the landing page was share-oriented, with Facebook/Twitter links and a tell-a-friend email template. No opt-in/opt-out feature, though, so I’ll be watching to see which NAACP messages the test identity starts receiving. Also note that NAACP mirrored the petition on MoveOn’s SignOn platform, which exposes it to a big activist community and should also help with list growth. Lots of good lessons here, for those of us in the online advocacy biz.