Unexplained Traffic Surge?

OTB is experiencing significantly higher-than-normal traffic for a Saturday morning. Most oddly, the vast majority of the referrers are given as “Unknown” in SiteMeter, meaning they’re not coming from a search engine or another website but rather just typing the URL in their browser or using a bookmark.

The surge started around midnight. Did OTB get mentioned in some major newspaper or television show that I’m unaware of?

Update: It’s been “explained” more or less. There’s a sudden and substantial resurgence of interest in Angelina Jolie and, particularly, photos of her tiger tattoo. The referrals are coming from all over the place but not showing up as search engine or site links. Most odd.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. joe says:

    Call me paranoid and I will yield to those with greater knowledge but is the beginning of a denial of service attack a possibility?

  2. Kathy K says:

    Looks like search engine bots, judging from your ‘latest visitors’…

  3. joy says:

    Well, Kathy’s looking at your true site logs, but sitemeter shouldn’t be picking up bot hits.

    Taking a quick look at sitemeter, it looks like maybe it’s the Angelina Jolie tattoo pic that is bringing in people.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Yeah, not sure why the sudden resurgence in interest in that old post. But they’re search engine referrals. I’m getting 1/3 to 1/2 of my referral from “unknown,” which is very unusual.

  5. joy says:

    two words: Brad Pitt

    Oh, and she probably has a movie coming out and her publicists are trotting out the tired old “wow look at her she’s wild and crazy and gives her brother creepy kisses on the lips, etc. etc.”

  6. dw says:

    My first guess is that there’s some messageboard post linking to the picture, but it’s not getting picked up in the referrer logs (or else Sitemeter isn’t picking them up). That seems somewhat unlikely (that Sitemeter wouldn’t pick that up), but the pattern is a good fit for that.

    My other thought is that it’s a stuck spambot. However, spambots need open proxies and zombie computers to function, and they use ones from all over the world. All the hits are from US ISPs.

    Wait, wait, wait. I think I have it. Follow along.

    1. Apparently, Jolie and Brad Pitt were captured on film frolicking in Africa. Whatever that means, I don’t give a damn about what passes for “entertainment news” or US Weekly.

    2. There have apparently been references to her tattoos in the photos. I guess she’s nekkid or something. I don’t know, since again, I don’t give a rip. The tiger one is mentioned at least in one Chicago Sun-Times commentary I found.

    3. Given that Jolie’s name is consistently among the top ten in Internet searches, and given that her tattoos have been mentioned a lot (apparently) in the last 24 hours, that would mean “angelina jolie tattoo” is going to be a really hot search string.

    And here’s the Google Image search.

    I don’t think that explains the exact source, but it does explain the overall reason for the surge in traffic. The only way to know for sure on where the source of the hits is coming from would be to look at the actual log records unfiltered through Sitemeter to see if you can determine a pattern. It’s possible the referrer is there, it’s just on a different request record.

  7. Jay says:

    I discovered I was getting a ton of Google image traffic when I noticed our bandwidth usage had gone higher than I might have expected, even with the baby pictures posted daily. Turned out some were for an image apparently mentioned on a Japanese messageboard site, and then when I turned off hotlinking, all the Google Images hits started to register in Site Meter.

    I retrofitted the most popular images with our domain and started adding it to anything new. After the traffic died off most of the way, I turned hotlinking back on to see what would happen.

    Usually my bouts of “unknown” hits seem to be coincidentally grouped traffic from family, friends, and whatever people have us in their bookmarks rather than clicking from a link.

  8. James Joyner says:

    Interesting. I certainly get my share of Google Image hits showing in SiteMeter. My site host’s logs don’t differentiate Google from GoogleNews from Google Images, so it’s hard to tell what’s what.

  9. James Joyner says:

    Joy–You’re right that even the “unknowns” are going to the same page, not the site.

    Oddly, I’ve managed to screw something up now so that all my permalinks are 404’d. Bizarre.

  10. joy says:

    Just a note on hotlinking, even if James couldn’t see the precise referrer, the IP address requesting the image (i.e. the server where the a href is) would be the same.

    In this case, he’s getting hits from all sorts of IPs, so I don’t believe it’s hotlinking.

  11. Kathy K says:

    If it’s coming from Google Images, it’s not hotlinking. What they do is thumbnail the image, and pull up your whole page with ‘image in its original context’– not really hotlinking.

    I could block google images from that page if you want. Or even block google images. I did that for someone who was getting their bandwidth absolutely eaten by the Google Images site.