EBay, the boisterous online auction "community" and one of the signature successes among Internet commerce firms, was felled by a technical problem late Thursday that lasted about 22 hours.
The popular auction site was back online by 8:45 p.m. yesterday.
Investors, however, were not pleased by the disruption. Shares of eBay Inc., one of Wall Street's highest Internet high-flyers over the last year, fell $16.81 1/4 yesterday to close at $165.87 1/2.
The San Jose company had notified customers throughout the day about efforts to fix the problem. "We're sorry, but the eBay system is temporarily unavailable," it had said on a portion of the site that still worked. At about 8:30 p.m., it said: "We believe we isolated the problem, and we will keep a vigilant watch." Shortly after that, service was restored.
But that was small consolation to eBay's more than 2 million participants -- purveyors of Beanie Babies, pink can openers, antique candy boxes and an array of items culled from the nations' attics. EBay typically has more than 2.2 million items up for bid at any given time.
When the site first crashed at about 11 p.m. Thursday, Sharon Doney of Severn was auctioning 10 vintage jazz and classical music LPs on eBay. Doney sells $600 to $900 a month at online auctions, making such sales a primary source of her household income. But in recent weeks Doney has grown frustrated with frequent crashes at eBay. The site went down for six hours Wednesday, seven hours May 20 and four hours May 3. Because of eBay's problems, Doney said she has "diversified" her online selling by using other online auction venues such as Yahoo and Amazon.com. "If I were only selling on eBay, I would be panicking at this point," Doney said.
EBay remains by far the largest online auction market. Amazon.com, the online book-selling powerhouse that started auctions in March, holds about 125,000 auctions at a given time. Analysts said that eBay's run of breakdowns could be especially harmful with the advent of new competition, and at such a formative time in the Internet's evolution. "EBay has to get its infrastructure in order or this could really hurt in the long run," said Bill Whyman, an Internet analyst at Legg Mason Precursor Group in the District. Technical failures, Whyman said, can be particularly maddening to eBay users because auctions are time-sensitive, unlike the online process of buying books or other merchandise.
Similar crises occurred earlier this year when online stock-trading services such as Charles Schwab & Co. and E-Trade Group Inc. experienced service interruptions. EBay said that because of the technical problems, designated ending times for all outstanding auctions would be extended by 48 hours. It also said it would refund fees for all active auctions occurring Thursday and yesterday.
"Everything is moving right along," eBay said on its World Wide Web site yesterday at 4:30 p.m. "It shouldn't be terribly much longer." A few minutes later came a revision after it became clear that service would not be restored soon. "Folks, we do apologize," eBay said.
"It's can get pretty frustrating," Doney said.
CAPTION: Sharon Doney has had to branch out to other auction sites because of eBay's problems. "If I were only selling on eBay, I would be panicking at this point," she said.