The University Record, March 26, 1996

U-M's home page draws lots of interest when weather worsens

The harsh January snowstorms that hit the East Coast were a boon to the popularity of the U-M's Internet home page, according to a recently released survey of Internet traffic. The U-M's home page, with its links to weather-related services, ranked first among universities and eighth overall in "hits," or the total number of times that people accessed the site.

The research firm NPD Group used its new PC-Meter to track the Internet usage of 1,000 households in January. According to NPD, the survey provides the first estimates of numbers and demographics of people accessing various sites.

About 30 percent of households accessed university-based sites, though the survey did not say how many people visited the U-M's site. Of those visiting the www.umich.edu address, 70 percent went to WeatherNet, a central clearing house for weather information and satellite radar images from all over the world. This information was especially popular because of the rash of winter storms pounding the East throughout January.

The U-M's WeatherNet World Wide Web site was created slightly more than one year ago by Michael McDonald, a software designer for Citibank in New York City, working with U-M graduate students and atmospheric scientist Perry Samson in the College of Engineering.

Providing easy access to more than 300 data sites, including the National Weather Service, NEXRAD and the National Hurricane Center, it is the most comprehensive weather index on the Internet.

"WeatherNet usage doubled every three months until the end of 1995 and has been holding steady since then," says Jeff Masters, the U-M graduate student who manages WeatherNet. "On an average day, we transfer 250,000 files to individual, commercial, educational and government users around the world."

"Our record use occurred this January during the East Coast blizzards when over 600,000 files were transferred," Masters says. "It would have been a lot more, but I had trouble keeping the computer running due to the heavy load.&qu ot;

The U-M's page was the only university in the top ten on the list, with the other spots occupied by Internet access providers and Web search engines.

The report says that educational sites were the leading site types that did not provide services directly related to Internet usage. Carnegie Mellon University; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the University of Illinois, Champaign -Urbana; and the University of Chicago also placed in the top 25.

In the January sample, 68 percent of Web users were men, with the bulk of them in the 35­54 age group. Less than 10 percent were younger than 18 years of age.