Britannica.com site shuts out first-day surfers

Hours after Encyclopaedia Britannica announced its new, free Web content yesterday, the site went down.

Some visitors to Britannica.com reported they couldn't reach the site at all, while other reached the site but found it wouldn't accept searches. It's not known how many users were turned away. The company is calling the problem a "temporary slowdown".

"Our servers have been overrun with traffic," said a Britannica.com spokesman.

Today, visitors to the site will see a letter from CEO Don Yannias, who apologised for the outage. "In many ways, we have truly been victims of our own success. We knew that the site would attract a significant number of users in its first days of operation, but we had no idea that this volume of traffic would be achieved so quickly," Yannias said in the letter.

Yannias also pledged to have the outage resolved "shortly".

Encyclopaedia Britannica began offering the free Web content yesterday as part of a spin-off of its online and digital products into a separate business unit. Until now, Britannica.com charged a $US5 monthly subscription fee and the fee-based Web site contained only encyclopedia content.

The new site plans to feature encyclopedia text plus news articles from 80 newspapers and magazines, and links to related Web sites.

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