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Outage strikes AOL home page area

America Online confirms that some users may have suffered a service outage over the last few days because of a software problem that interferes with accessing or updating Web pages hosted by AOL.

America Online confirmed today that some users may have suffered a service outage over the last few days because of a software problem that interferes with accessing or updating Web pages hosted on the company's "Members.AOL.com" area.

"In performing some routine maintenance we encountered a software problem where we needed to go back and restore information in the [Members.AOL.com] area," AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato said. "We are in the process right now of completely restoring that information."

D'Amato said he expects service to be completely up and running by this evening. AOL plans to post an update on the service outage, but D'Amato could not yet say where on AOL's proprietary service the announcement will be posted.

Many members affected by the glitch had service restored last night. But the problem serves as another example of how network outages can block access or hinder sales throughout the Internet.

At least a dozen AOL users contacted CNET News.com to report the problem. The total number of users affected is still unknown, but one user who contacted an AOL service representative about the problem was told that roughly 50 percent to 75 percent of all users with AOL Web pages were affected.

D'Amato called the statement an unauthorized estimate but could not say how many people were affected. AOL has two home page-building services: the Members.AOL.com area and AOL Hometown pages. The members who use AOL Hometown pages were not affected, according D'Amato.

The issue of service outages is not new for AOL. The online giant has suffered multiple network outages that have infuriated users and sparked criticism about AOL's quality of service. The most significant outage occurred when AOL introduced flat-rate pricing in 1997. The subsequent upsurge in demand overtaxed AOL's capacity, and many members found it impossible to access their accounts.

But to its credit, AOL has since invested billions of dollars to upgrade its server and modem capacity. Today, AOL's network operations center supports the network for the AOL proprietary service, CompuServe, AOL.com, AOL Instant Messenger, and ICQ.

The Members.AOL.com area affected by the outage this weekend allots 2MB of disk space to members looking to build their own Web sites hosted by AOL. AOL calls this space the "FTPspace."

Upon building these sites, users can conduct e-commerce transactions, post pictures and links, or simply publish online information about their interests.

Users reported they were unable to update their pages beginning Thursday. They also said Web visitors could not view anything on their sites.

"Someone told me there was an expired link on my site, so I took it down," said Luanne Pruesner, a user who says she was affected by the outage. "But then I couldn't put it back up."

Bill Jelen, a financial analyst from Akron, Ohio, was posting new images on his son Josh's site, which sells popcorn for his Cub Scout pack. Soon after Jelen made his changes and tried to repost his son's site, he received a warning that he had exceeded the 2MB of disk space allotted to him.

In reaction to the warning, Jelen tried to free space by deleting some of his files. But when he tried reposting the site he got the same warning and realized that his new changes did not go through.

Jelen said he was unable to make changes until Sunday at 7:30 p.m. PT. He also said he felt neglected after waiting 45 minutes for a response from AOL technical support and receiving no updates until his site went back up.

"I run an e-commerce site and for 36 hours I didn't have a page up," Jelen said. "People will look at this and say, 'It's just an eight-year-old kid selling popcorn. Big deal.'"

Other members, who direct pictures and images of products they sell on online auctioneer eBay to their AOL sites, said that since the servers were down, buyers on eBay were unable to view images of their products.

"I'm certain AOL's mistake has cost me money," said Elisabeth Allore, who said she noticed eBay users could not view pictures of items she was selling. "If the photos had been available my items would have received more bids."