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eBay outage a one-two punch

The auction site went on the blink yesterday afternoon, wreaking havoc for bidders and sellers and giving the company a massive customer-support headache.

Person-to-person auction site eBay went on the blink yesterday afternoon, wreaking havoc for bidders and sellers and giving the company a massive customer-support headache.

eBay's system suffered a one-two punch. At 4 p.m. PT yesterday, a hardware glitch caused one of the company's database servers to crash. Then, nearby construction knocked out the eBay's T-1 line.

The hardware failure caused the site to stop functioning. The T-1 failure affected only email and the server on which credit card numbers are stored, without affecting site functionality, eBay said today.

The outage, first reported by Wired News, only lasted for 45 minutes, according to Mike Wilson, eBay's vice president of product development and site operations. Throughout, users took to eBay's customer-support message board to complain of difficulties with the service that persisted for hours.

While Wilson did not refute users' accounts of spotty service after the 45-minute outage, he did express some confusion about the reports, noting that bids came into eBay at the normal rate of 6.7 per second following the outage.

In at least one instance that eBay confirmed today, a user accessed the personalized eBay homepage of another user and was able to see what sales the other user had to offer, as well as what bids the other user had made.

The eBay outage demonstrated the hazards auction sites and their users can encounter as a result of technical glitches. As with online stock-trading sites, the combination of time-sensitivity and transactions that involve significant sums of money can turn a simple outage into a serious financial liability.

eBay is offering two types of refunds to users affected by the outage. It will refund both its insertion fee, a flat charge of between 25 cents and $2 for initiating a bidding session, as well as its transaction fee, which ranges from 1.25 percent to 5 percent of an item's final sale price.

Auctions scheduled to close during the outage were given an extra three hours to run. Auctions begun yesterday were given an extra day.

But frustrations ran high on the customer-support message board during the outage, leading to about ten disciplinary suspensions, according to eBay. Users yanked for making defamatory statements have been temporarily suspended from using the site's message boards, though they still are permitted to use the rest of the service.