Web Tallies Shine (But Can't Predict Prez)

America's Election Day was the Internet's time to shine, a chance for the medium to enlighten voters and observers in ways television could not.

But ultimately, the Net faced the same pitfalls as television: Web sites could not say for sure who will be the next U.S. president.

Scores of news organizations continued updating sites in the early morning hours. Many prematurely declared Texas Gov. George W. Bush the winner over Vice President Al Gore, even after TV networks rescinded projections for Florida and its key 25 electoral votes.

At ABC News, the headline "Campaign continues" linked to a page that says "Bush Elected President." Only later was the inside page replaced with "Gore Refuses to Concede." The New York Times site also backpedaled early Wednesday after declaring Bush the winner.

The Net had detailed election results, with breakouts by state and county and exit polling to track voting by income, education and other variables. Many news sites posted returns as fast as they got them. TV viewers got highlights at most.

But when it came to what Americans cared most about -- the presidential winner -- the Internet was as powerless as anyone else. Web sites gave viewers the same seesawing that television did.

Still, sites broke records Tuesday as millions of Americans followed the nail-biting elections online. Many sites, including that of The Associated Press, added equipment to meet demand.

"This is a high point," said Christopher Hunter, who analyzes political sites for NetElection.org. "It's been one of the most exciting races, and the Web is a part of it."

Allen Weiner, an analyst at Internet measurement company NetRatings Inc., called Election Day "the first monster event on the Web."

He expected heavy traffic Wednesday as well because some newspapers, particularly in the East, missed deadlines to print late results.

On Tuesday, visitors viewed more than 23 million Web pages at ABC News, more than doubling the old record of 10 million. CNN estimated 75 million page views, breaking the previous record of 40 million.

A page visit is recorded whenever a user pulls up a new page or updates an old one. So someone frequently updating a page of election results would be counted multiple times.

MSNBC.com, which tracked traffic by number of users, estimated a record 5 million visitors for the day. Fox News, Yahoo! and AP also reported record traffic.

Mike Sims, director of news and operations at CBSNews.com, said: "While exact figures are not available, it is clear that it was a record day for CBSNews.com. Because of the closeness of the race, traffic went far beyond what anyone could have expected."

News organizations and state election officials updated sites frequently with election results for national, state and loca races.

CBSNews.com and other sites featured chats and video clips, while C-SPAN's site had continual coverage from campaign headquarters. The Washington Post site allowed viewers to track projections from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox simultaneously. The Post and other sites also highlighted electoral maps.

Several Web sites experienced delays because of the heavy traffic. According to Keynote, a company that measures Internet performance, some sites took eight or more seconds to load at times, more than double the industry average of less than four seconds.

"It has been worse than I anticipated," said Dan Todd, spokesman for Keynote Systems Inc., which monitors Web site performance and found a long list of sites from Nader's to USA Today's that were taking over 20 seconds to update Web pages at peak usage times.

"There was clearly some degradation in the site performances," said Todd. "They are certainly not meeting all their visitor expectations."

Election Day 2000 started with the Web site for the Republican National Committee featuring a tirade again the party's presidential contender George W. Bush, thanks to a hacker, apparently a Democrat, who had broken in.