Kosovo crisis brings barrage of Web activity



Heavy World Wide Web traffic has become a fact of life for U.S. Air Force and NATO Webmasters since the March 24 launch of the U.S.-led NATO bombing mission in Yugoslavia as thousands of people have turned to the Web as their primary source for information.

The two sites dealing with the most traffic these days are the U.S. Air Force's Air Power Over Kosovo site, which can be found at www.usafe.af.mil/kosovo/kosovo.htm, and NATO's main public information page, at www.nato.int/latest/home.htm.

The crisis in Kosovo holds special significance for Air Force personnel and their families, primarily because more than half, or 210, of the total number of combat aircraft flying missions over Yugoslavia belong to the United States.

The Web has become a place for Air Force families concerned about their loved ones to get the up-to-the-minute information. In just one week, Web traffic on Air Force Link, the main Web page for the Air Force, jumped by 300,000 hits, according to Capt. Bryan Hubbard, a spokesman for the Air Force Print News Service.

"We reached new highs that were significantly above recent weeks and recent records for Web traffic that are generally attributable to Kosovo," Hubbard said. The Air Force has seen increases in Web traffic during other crises as well, Hubbard said. "Just as Desert Storm was the catalyst for CNN, the Kosovo crisis will be the stimulus for online news."

Air Force Tech Sgt. Joe Bela, the online editor of Air Power Over Kosovo, which is maintained from a Web server at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany, has had 18- to 20-hour work days administering the site since Operation Allied Force began. Bela said in one instance he tracked as many as 16,484 hits in just 17 hours, amounting to nearly 1,000 hits per hour.

Bela and his assistant have been stocking the Web site with news and pictures that detail the activities of the Air Force units taking part in the Kosovo mission. Visitors also can view video clips of aircraft operating out of Aviano Air Base, Italy.

Bela also maintains a classified site that enables commanders and other policy-makers to view video clips taken from gun cameras attached to aircraft as they fly bombing missions. Because of the sensitive nature of the information provided by these video clips, they will not be made available on the public Web site, Bela said.

Bela has no formal training in Web site administration. "This is not only a job, this is my hobby," he said. "The Air Force does not teach this. This is all self-taught. However, as long as this operation is going on, we will be filling the image galleries."

Paul Magis, the Webmaster for NATO's Integrated Data Service in Brussels, Belgium, has been working 12-hour days for weeks. He also had to deal with a cyberattack against NATO's Web server and e-mail systems, which are now under control, he said.

Before Allied Force began, NATO's public access site averaged 126 hits per day, Magis said. Lately, however, Magis has been managing more than 100 hits every four to five hours plus a huge jump in the amount of data being downloaded from NATO's servers.

"The video footage is clearly very popular," Magis said. "We have also noted a dramatic increase in the number of people subscribing to our [listserv], which we use to distribute all textual information," such as transcripts of press briefings, Magis said. Listserv subscriptions have jumped from 1,700 to more than 3,500, he said.

Magis said his priority is providing visitors with as much high-quality information as fast as possible, instead of developing "fancy features" that would only appeal to a small number of users. With no dedicated Web editor or automated Web management tool, Magis and his staff of two update their site "by hand," using text editors.

"Until now, the Internet was considered by NATO as a 'nice-to-have' [tool]," Magis said. "We really hope that with this crisis, things might change a bit and that people [will] start realizing that a lot of people use the Internet as their main source of information and that maybe it is a 'need-to-have' [capability]."


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