flash crowd
n. A sharp and often overwhelming increase in the number of users attempting to access a Web site simultaneously, usually in response to some event or announcement.

Example Citations:
Among other problems, the approach deals with events like ‘flash crowds’ on public Internet sites. This is where incidents, such as the US lingerie firm Victoria Secret’s Webcast fashion show, or a surge of stock market activity, generates unforeseen activity levels.
—Alison Classe, “A Question of Balance,” Computer Weekly, June 24, 1999

Also, epicRealm can help a Web site offer certain customers priority service, just as an airline lets its frequent travelers board the plane first. In the event of a “flash crowd” — a sudden storm of usage that leads to a burst of traffic — a site can direct people completing purchases to be served before those who are still browsing.
—Alan Goldstein, “Richardson firm finds niche in handling e-traffic,” The Dallas Morning News, July 12, 2000

Earliest Citation:
“Free services like those on the Internet can’t continue indefinitely,” said Alexis Rosen, the president and founder of the Panix service. Because informal news about events on the network flows so quickly through electronic word of mouth, what Mr. Rosen called “flash crowds” are beginning to appear with increasing frequency to instantly clog computer systems.
—John Markoff, “Jams Already on Data Highway,” The New York Times, November 3, 1993

This phrase was coined back in 1971 in a novella called "Flash Crowd" by science fiction writer Larry Niven. (If you want to find it, either look for the story collection called The Flight of the Horse, or the collection called Three Trips in Time and Space.) In the story, flash crowds occur when thousands of people teleport to the same place to witness a current social or political event:

The mall riot was the first successful riot in twenty years. "The police can get to a riot before it's a riot," said McCord. "We call them flash crowds, and we watch for them."
—Larry Niven, "Flash Crowd," 1971

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