Looking Back on My 'Tsunami Week'

It started one year ago today.

No, I’m not talking about the actual Tsunami. That anniversary was yesterday. I’m talking about what happened to me a year ago. You see, I was one of the first bloggers to post amateur video of the destruction that occurred when Tsunami waves made landfall in Southeast Asia. Personal accounts of the tragedy hit the blogosphere before being broadcast on television, and the world rushed to the web to view these first hand reports.

And that’s how I got caught up in the Tsunami. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I often take vacation time during the last couple of weeks of December, not to fly to some exotic beach, but to stay home with the family. Being a relatively new blogger at the time (PunditGuy started in October 2004), I was interested in blogging as much as I could during my days away from the office. On December 27, 2004, I received an email tip from someone containing a video clip showing a resort being flooded and destroyed by a Tsunami wave. The minute I viewed the footage I knew it was huge. I wasted no time. I uploaded the clip to one of my web servers and posted it to this blog. I did some poking around and found more video clips of Tsunami destruction. I posted them, and in no time, I had a large collection of personal video of what turned out to be a significant piece of history. You can click here to see what the actual post looked like.

Having obtained access to these videos, and knowing how important they were, I wanted everyone to be able to see the destruction so they could realize the enormity of the situation. So, I did what every blogger would do. I sent out link requests to my blogger friends. Well guess what? They linked back to my videos. And then the people came, and came, and came.

Up to this time, the most visits I had ever logged in a single day was 5000. After a two days of Tsunami videos, I was averaging around 100,000 visits a day. Links pointing back to my post were everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. For a new blogger, this was amazing, and I was running on a level of adrenaline I had never felt before. It was great.

And then the roof caved in.

It was 11:30 PM on December 29th, 2004. I was posting Tsunami news, answering email from readers and reviewing my stats for the day. Everyone was viewing my streaming Tsunami videos. It was at that moment when a cold slap of reality hit me.

Everyone.Viewing.Videos.

My web hosts limits the amount of bandwidth I’m alloted each month.

Uh oh.

You know the camera effect used by Alfred Hitchcock, sometimes known as the “Hitchcock Zoom”? It’s actually called the “Dolly Zoom”, and here’s how it is defined:

The dolly zoom is commonly used by film makers to represent the sensation of vertigo, a “falling away from oneself feeling”, feeling of unreality, or to suggest that a character is undergoing a realization that causes him to reassess everything he had previously believed.

I’ll say.

I suddenly realized that the Tsunami videos I was hosting were eating up huge amounts of bandwidth. I quickly went over to my web hosts support pages to read their bandwidth policy. Here’s what it read:

If you exceed your plan for the month, you will be billed at the overage rate of US $10 per GB (gigabyte).  At the end of the month, you will be charged your base monthly recurring cost, and any bandwidth overage fees.

My hosting plan allowed up to 10 gigs of data throughput (bandwidth) each month. As panic reached new levels inside me, I rushed to my hosting account to see what how many gigs I had served. The number was terrifying.

98 gigabytes, and counting.

I grabbed a calculator next to me and started doing the math. I did it over and over again, and each time I did, I saw that ugly dollar amount – $980. You see, I was used to paying $14.95 per month for my web hosting, and now, I’m looking at no less than $1000. That’s a grand I didn’t have. Needless to say, I freaked out. Remember now, this is 11:30 PM at night. I’m the only person awake in my house, and I’m in a terror filled panic attack. I immediately took down the links to the videos, thinking that would stop the bandwidth bleeding, but it didn’t. It was now 12 midnight, but there were still thousands of people on my site, downloading and viewing Tsunami videos. And there I was, staring back at the stats, watching as my bandwidth bill grew larger and larger.

Turns out that in my linking frenzy I failed to account for the various websites that hotlinked the videos from my server to their web pages. What’s hotlinking?

Bandwidth theft or “hotlinking” is direct linking to a website’s files (images, video, etc.). An example would be using an <IMG> tag to display a JPEG image you found on someone else’s web page so it will appear on your own site, journal, weblog, forum posting, etc.

Bandwidth refers to the amount of data transferred from a website to a user’s computer. When you view a webpage, you are using that site’s data transfer to display the files. Since web hosts charge based on the amount of data transferred, bandwidth is an issue. If a site is over it’s monthly bandwidth, it’s billed for the extra data or taken offline.

A simple analogy for bandwidth theft: Imagine a random stranger plugging into your electrical outlets, using your electricity without your consent, and you paying for it.

Yep. 

Beads of sweat pouring out of my forehead. I’m white as a ghost. I.Must.Stop.It.

I run my FTP software in the hope that I can simply delete the videos from the server. That’ll stop ‘em from being downloaded and viewed right? Wrong. You can’t delete files that are in use. Each time I clicked on a video and then hit the delete button, my FTP server refused. As a user, I wasn’t going to be able to override the server settings and kill the files. Only my web host could do that.

At 12:30 AM on December 30, 2004, I emailed my web hosting company’s support department, and pleaded…no, I begged for mercy. I asked them to immediately delete all the video files from my server. After sending the email ‘o desperation, I sat and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

2:58 AM, December 30, 2004. I receive an email from a friendly support person stating that he granted my request and deleted all the videos on my server space. With a tourniquet in place, my bandwidth dropped to a trickle. I then went to bed. I managed to sleep for about 45 minutes. The rest of the time, I looked just like this:

00590

At 6:15 AM, I got out of bed, went downstairs, turned on the computer and looked reality square in the face.

1100 Gigs of data transfer. $1,100.00 in fees.

I spent the next few hours in conversation with customer service people at the web hosting company, then management, then upper management. Again I begged. I explained everything. I confessed my mistake. I assured them that I wasn’t taking advantage of them, that I wasn’t actually hosting random p**nography videos. I was a blogger, and I was trying to let the world see the tragedy in a way they couldn’t see it on TV. Yet, over and over again, they repeated the same thing. Nothing could be done about my bandwidth ‘accident’. I read and accepted their web hosting policy when I signed up. I was responsible.

I could feel the ulcer growing inside my stomach.

About an hour later, I received an email from a vice president at the company. He said that they would not bill me right away for the overage fees, but that they would wait until everyone got back from the holidays before they made a policy decision regarding my case. I received a reprieve, at least for a couple of days.

All the while, I still had thousands of people coming to my blog looking for the videos that mysteriously vanished. I posted an explanation of what had happened, and placed a link to Jordan Golson’s site. Jordan was one of the other bloggers who posted Tsunami video, and he had been linked by Drudge, so millions of people were hitting his site. While he was having his own bandwidth problems, he had resources in place to help distribute the load, so it appeared he’d have his videos up for awhile. I emailed him about my experience, and told him that my readers would be moving over to his place. He wrote me back thanking me, and let me know that he put something on his blog about my bandwidth bill along with a request that anyone who felt like it could send me donations via PayPal.

It was a wonderful gesture, one that I will never forget.

Now that the world had seen Tsunami videos, a new story developed. The topic was video blogging, and the media picked up on how Blogs were the first to post the video evidence before the news media did. As an aside to this story, some mentioned the effects faced by the bloggers who decided to serve video – high bandwidth costs. My story became news, and I received mentions on MSNBC, The Wall Street Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

After all the attention, my web hosting company came to the realization that they could follow their own own policy and collect my money, or they could turn this around into a positive public relations opportunity. After all, they’re not stupid. They reached me with the news that they decided to give me a discount on the bandwidth charges. And the size of the discount? 100%. They waived the fee.

Two days later, they ran a promotion on their website for a new hosting service they had suddenly developed – a hosting service for video bloggers.

I learned a lot about blogging a year ago. I learned a lot about the power of link requests a year ago. I learned a lot about bandwidth a year ago. I learned a lot about the power of PR a year ago. Best of all, I gained a lot of friends that I still talk to today. 

And that’s the happy ending to my Tsunami story.

While the world will never forget December 26, 2004 (and rightly so), I will never forget December 27, 2004.

Comments

  1. Alan Kellogg says:

    Smart host. Saw the potential in the (potential) disaster and ran with it. Nice to see some people taking a long term view.

    (I wonder how many video bloggers they’ve signed up since then. 🙂 )

  2. THIS SUCKS i DIDN’T SEE A VIDEO

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