Woodward Case: Internet fails to deliver as the decision is lost in Cyberspace

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The Independent Online
The weakness of using the Internet as a communications tool was revealed to a worldwide audience yesterday when British and American television screens were given over to an unmoving web page that failed to come up with the judge's decision hours after it was first expected.

The Web site where the judgement was to be announced, the Lawyer's Weekly Home Page, could not handle the demand from around the world, and its Internet service provider suffered a power failure just as Judge Hiller Zobel's ruling was due to go live. So many people wanted to see the news immediately that access to the pages slowed to a snail's pace.

Sky News in Britain had logged onto the Lawyer's Weekly site days before the judgement was due to make sure it would not be stuck in a queue. It diligently filled its screen with an image of the page, and waited for the result to come in at 3pm. It waited. And waited.

Eventually, at 3.08pm, CNN had an unconfirmed report from "court sources" that Woodward had had her conviction reduced to manslaughter. Within seconds, that report was picked up by news organisations around the world and they cut from the Web site to reporters on the ground.

Within ten minutes of the unconfirmed reports emerging, reporters were on screen reading from paper copies of Judge Zobel's 16-page judgement. "We had taken steps to have other sources in place in case the electronic stuff didn't work," said a spokesman for CNN. "We're very glad we did."

And the Internet? At 5pm a message box continued to appear on computer screens around the world - for those still interested - saying: "The attempt to load http://www.lweekly.com/ failed". Those already connected reported that nothing had appeared and it could be hours before the judgement was available on-line. Despite setting up so-called mirror sites to carry the judgement on different computers in America and Europe, the Internet proved it was not up to the task.