Europeana goes online and is then overwhelmed

A new digital library of Europe's cultural heritage crashed just hours after it went online and will be out of operation for several weeks. (From The New York Times)

BRUSSELS--A new digital library of Europe's cultural heritage crashed just hours after it went online and will be out of operation for several weeks, the European Commission said Friday, attributing the embarrassing failure to overwhelming public interest.

Europeana, a Web site of two million documents, images, video and audio clips, opened on Thursday with international publicity and acclaim from researchers. But by Friday, those trying to log on were greeted with a message telling them that the service may not be running again until mid-December, while computer capacity is upgraded.

The designers of Europeana had expected a maximum of 5 million hits an hour. But there was as much as three times the predicted traffic, an unusual phenomenon for any Web site associated with the European Union.

Europeana was a "victim of its success," said Martin Selmayr, spokesman for the European commissioner responsible for the project, Viviane Reding.

Selmayr did not apologize to disappointed users but regretted that the site had failed.

It was, he added, caused by thousands of users searching simultaneously for famous cultural works like the Mona Lisa or manuscripts of literature by Kafka, Cervantes or James Joyce.

Many European cultural institutions in Europe had been hesitant about offering digitized items to Europeana because they did not think there was enough interest, Selmayr said. "Well, we have the answer," he added.

The system's three servers in the Netherlands, where the site is based, were unable to deal with the number of hits, the commission said.

The most interest came from Germany, at 17 percent, followed by France, at 10 percent, Spain at 9 percent, Italy at 6 percent, the Netherlands at 5 percent and Belgium and the United States at 4 percent.

Entire contents, Copyright © 2008 The New York Times. All rights reserved.

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