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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 14:10 GMT


Ten days down and counting, one of the year's most-touted Internet site launches, remains down 10 days after the encyclopedia intended to make their entire content freely available online.

The crash was caused by by huge worldwide demand and insufficient hardware and software.

Britannica's CEO Don Yannias told BBC News Online that they were working round the clock with IT companies Sun and Oracle. The aim is to quadruple capacity by the weekend and then allow user access by Monday.

Even then not all users will be able to access the site, but the capacity will continue to be steadily ramped up.


The company has now published three apologies on its website to the estimated 10 million people who have been trying daily to access the site.

But a Britannica executive acknowledged the problems will take weeks to fully fix. While many users should be able to get in by next week, redesigning the system to increase capacity several-fold will take longer, said Jorge Cauz, senior vice president for sales and marketing.

The company says only 100,000 people have managed to reach the site's first page and admits it underestimated the early public response.

"No one in his right mind would have built an infrastructure capable of handling the initial demand we had," Cauz said.

Poor planning

But analysts have criticised the company for poor planning.

"For this to be your core site, you can't make a mistake like this," said Rob Enderle, a consultant for the Giga Information Group in California. "If they were a start-up company, we'd probably be talking about them going out of business."

Still, the rocky debut may not be harmful over the long haul because of Britannica's prestigious brand name.

"I think consumers will give them a few more chances than they would some nameless, unheard-of Internet startup with a premature product launch," said Emily Meehan, analyst for the Boston-based Yankee Group.

High demand

"There are too many educational institutions out there that want to get their hands on a free Encyclopaedia Britannica that are willing to wait."

Sales of Britannica's printed sets have fallen off by an estimated 80% since peaking at about $650 million in 1990 as knowledge-seekers turn to computer versions, mostly Microsoft's Encarta.

Britannica is counting on advertising, sponsorship and e-commerce to make the venture pay off.

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