Fans turn to technology to show grief for an icon

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NEW YORK --- "Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Jackson has just died," the woman called out breathlessly upon boarding a Manhattan bus, moments after the news had broken. Not a word was spoken in response. But nearly every passenger reached for a BlackBerry, a cell phone, whatever device was at hand.

"People are already texting about it, putting it up on Facebook, remembering his greatest moments," noted Delmar Dualeh, sitting in the back. At 17, he confessed, the news didn't really move him emotionally. He was too young to recall the 50-year-old entertainer in his prime. But he was fully engaged in the cultural moment. He hurried the conversation along so he could get back to texting.

In Iran, people speak of a Twitter uprising. Was this the first major Twitter celebrity death? Because it wasn't just HOW lots of people first learned of Mr. Jackson's demise, but what they did once they found out.

"Once you knew the news, there wasn't so much more to know -- the rest is all comment," said media critic Jeff Jarvis. So, he said, maybe you'd go to your friends instead of the news: "You might care more what your friends say than some analyst."

Mr. Jarvis himself tweeted the moment he heard of the death: He noted that Iran's spiritual leader should be grateful to Mr. Jackson because the story wiped Iran off the day's news agenda.

"That was re-tweeted a lot," Mr. Jarvis said.

The company said news of Mr. Jackson's death generated the most tweets per second since Barack Obama was elected president, and more than twice the normal tweets per second from the moment the story broke.

Plain old texting, Mr. Dualeh's choice, had its largest spike on AT&T's network in history. Nearly 65,000 texts per second were sent, the company said -- more than 60 percent over normal volume.

And on Facebook, "sharing of all types went up -- including wall posts, comments, notes, posted links," wrote spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin in an e-mail. "Status updates in particular saw an increase of more than three times the amount than usual."

Facebook said there were no internal reports of the site slowing from too much traffic. But there were slowdowns or outages on other sites. Google said the spike in searches related to Mr. Jackson was so big that Google News initially mistook it for an automated attack.

Wikipedia, meanwhile, had trouble with traffic, with people getting intermittent error messages, said Jimmy Wales, the founder of the online encyclopedia. He also described an online debate between users and regular editors over whether Mr. Jackson's death should be added to his entry before the news was officially confirmed.

Finally, editors intervened and prevented entries about Mr. Jackson from being modified for about six hours, Mr. Wales said.


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