How to Break the Internet

How Jennifer Lopez in a Versace dress broke the internet & revolutionized search queries.

In 2000, Jennifer Lopez appeared at the annual Grammy awards sporting a dress that dropped jaws worldwide: an intensely low cut, emerald silk chiffon Versace piece seemingly held in place below the bellybutton by a sole clothespin. She rocked it. She rocked it so hard, in fact, that it literally altered the internet as we know it.

Jennifer Lopez’s outfit, often referred to as “the first viral dress”, became the most popular search query Google had seen at the time. Unlike other queries, however, people were searching for more than just text and article results; people wanted pictures. Thus, Google was prompted to build a search engine specifically for images, giving birth to Google Images.

When you type something into the Google search bar and hit enter, you are sending an HTTP GET request to Google’s server. This means that your search query, say “Jennifer Lopez Versace dress”, is sent to Google’s server, who is responsible for sending back the necessary information and displaying it on your computer. In Google’s case, this information was relevant articles and links related to the query. However, when too many people are searching “Jennifer Lopez Versace dress”, Google’s server can overload, meaning it is being given far too many tasks at once.

When a server is overwhelmed and unable to deal with all of its HTTP requests, this can cause its website to slow down, thus process requests at a slower rate. This primarily damages the user experience, as it can cause people to become frustrated at the site and resort to other methods of searching (Bing?). In fact, increasing a user’s waiting time by just three seconds raises the rate of users “bouncing”, or leaving your site, by 29%. Oof.

This is exactly how the internet, accidentally and without any malicious attack, manages to break. Following the JLo + Versace query overload, Google developed an search engine specifically for images, not only to best cater to what users are looking for, but also to better deal with an abundance of HTTP requests. So, instead of sending everything to google.com, search queries for images are instead sent to images.google.com.

This was not only a big step for Google regarding being able to return images instead of solely articles and text, but it also propelled the accessibility of fashion, as finding pictures of runway shows, red carpet appearances, and retail items became easier than ever before. So, not only did Jennifer Lopez influence technological and internet innovations, but she also revolutionized the way that fashion, and high-fashion designs, can be accessed by curious users worldwide.

If anything, for an industry often perceived as “superfluous”, the effect of JLo in Versace demonstrated fashion’s monumental and worldwide influence, as well as sparked consideration on how two juxtaposed fields — fashion & technology — exist so closely linked.

One small step for JLo’s career, one giant step for mankind.


Still stuck on how a servers & server requests work? Here’s a little something I wrote that can help you with that.