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Visit the official inaugural site for live video and audio of Clinton's swearing-in and speech.

With the above site swamped by users, try live coverage at the site of Graham Technology Solutions.

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On the Web, Inaugural Overload

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 21, 1997; Page A20

Many computer users who tried to view the first-ever broadcast of a presidential inauguration on the Internet yesterday were shut out because planners underestimated demand.

By midmorning, millions of users had overwhelmed the computers of an Internet service provider in New York that maintains the official inaugural site, which offered live audio and video of the festivities. Many who signed on later in the day were turned away with blank screens or error messages.

The "Webcast," on the Internet's graphics-oriented World Wide Web, was intended to be another historic test for the new medium, akin to Samuel Morse's transmission of President James Polk's inaugural address from Washington to Baltimore in 1845 on the electric telegraph.

A testament to both the Internet's popularity and its unpredictability, yesterday's deluge marked the second time in three months computer users have swamped political sites. On Nov. 5, a surge in Election Day users trying to get voting returns, along with technical problems on a major nationwide data line, choked many news organizations' Web sites.

From 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. yesterday, the inauguration site recorded 4.3 million to 5.2 million specific requests for information, or "hits," an hour, said Philippe Stessel, a producer at Kaufman Patricof Enterprises Inc. in New York, which designed and operates the site for the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

Although a single user generally generates several hits when calling up a single Web page, Stessel estimated that at least 5 million people connected—or tried to connect—to the site.

Stessel, however, had been expecting a whole lot fewer. He said the company had designed the capacity based on estimates of Clinton's campaign Web site, which generated 2 million hits all day on Election Day.

"We were really overwhelmed by the popularity of this site," Stessel said. "We were swamped."

On the relatively new Internet, industry watchers said it's difficult to predict demand. "There's very little historical data," said Kate Delhagen, an analyst at Forrester Research, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. "The exponential growth has taken a lot of people by surprise."

At the inaugural committee's office in Washington, even Lynn Reed, the Web site coordinator, had trouble connecting yesterday. "I've experienced the same difficulty," she said. "I feel it's like a live radio contest, and there are a few lucky people getting through."

Among the more popular offerings was a live video and audio broadcast of Clinton's oath of office and inaugural address. That feature—provided by Sun Microsystems Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., and Graham Technology Solutions Inc. of Cupertino, Calif.—was meant to allow users to watch a television-like broadcast without having to use special software.

But the broadcast computers were configured to handle only 5,000 users at a time and quickly became saturated, officials of both Sun and Graham said. "A hell of a lot more people than anybody anticipated tuned in," said Anil Gadre, a Sun marketing vice president.

Even those who got through weren't always rewarded for their good fortune. Several Internet connections established from The Washington Post directly to Graham's Web site during the inaugural address resulted in slow-moving video and brief bits of intermittent sound.

The site's designers believe that a surge of last-minute publicity from popular Internet services such as Yahoo contributed to yesterday's torrent of users.

"We might have done too good of a job getting the word out," Reed said. "We were trying to push the envelope on technology, and every now and then, you run into bumps on the information highway."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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