BRUSSELS (AFP) — The EU's new Europeana digital library has swiftly become a victim of its own success, forced to shut down for weeks within hours of its launch due to the enormous amount of interest.
The Europeana digital library, an online collection of Europe's cultural heritage, was launched to great fanfare on Thursday.
Immediately after the europeana.eu website got up and running it was swamped by an unexpected 10 million user hits per hour, swiftly bringing the system to a crashing halt.
Less than 24 hours later the situation had not improved and a message posted on the website said: "The Europeana site is temporarily not accessible due to overwhelming interest after its launch."
"We are doing our utmost to reopen Europeana in a more robust version as soon as possible. We will be back by mid-December," it added.
"We launched the European.eu site on 20 November and huge use, 10 million hits an hour, meant it crashed."
Inspired by ancient Alexandria's attempt to collect the world's knowledge, the Europeana project will use the latest technologies to allow users anywhere access to films, paintings, photographs, sound recordings, maps, manuscripts, newspapers, and documents as well as books kept in European libraries.
Users will be able to find major literary works like Dante's "Divine Comedy", or masterpieces such as Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" or the manuscripts of composers including Beethoven.
With 14 staff members and at an annual cost put at around 2.5 million euros (3.15 million dollars), Europeana -- which can be found at www.europeana.eu -- has more humble beginnings, despite the massive interest.
The prototype which was launched, briefly, Thursday contains around two million digital items, all of them already in the public domain, as the most recent items are plagued by problems linked to copyright and their use online.
By 2010, the date when Europeana is due to be fully operational, the aim is to have 10 million works available, an impressive number yet a mere drop in the ocean compared to the 2.5 billion books in Europe's more common libraries.
The system's creators had set up the site to handle five million visitors an hour, just half of the rate of cyber traffic it attracted Thursday.
After the immediate surge on Thursday the team doubled the number of servers the system had from three to six and it had been working again, albeit slowly in the afternoon.
Now the team have decided a more radical refit of the new technology is required before it can share Europe's cultural treasures with a wider audience.
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