NEW YORK (CNNfn) - Problems with a routine software upgrade caused a temporary system outage at American Online Inc. Monday morning, preventing thousands of would-be Web surfers from logging on to the site for an hour.
The system breakdown coincided with the broadcast on major cable networks of the opening portions of President Clinton's videotaped testimony before Kenneth Starr's grand jury.
The Sept.11 unveiling, via the Internet, of Starr's 445-page report on the Monica Lewinsky investigation, triggered a surge of Web surfers that many Internet analysts viewed as a watershed event.
On Monday, the Internet faced a second momentous challenge with Starr's release of four hours of videotaped testimony by Clinton, along with 2,800 pages of additional evidence in text format.
AOL, the nation's largest online service, with 12 million subscribers, said Monday's temporary breakdown had nothing to do with Clinton's testimony.
Tricia Primrose, an AOL spokeswoman, said the outage occurred when problems arose during regular system maintenance. Primrose did not specify the nature of the malfunction.
For one hour, beginning at around 9:45 a.m. ET, users logging on to their accounts were greeted by a prompt stating that access was temporarily unavailable and that they should try again in 15 minutes. Subscribers who were already online were not affected.
At AOL, members with video capability on their computers were given the option of loading video of the testimony from other Web sites. Within its own service, AOL offered an audio-only feed of the testimony, which Primrose said had registered 225,000 hits by 4 p.m. Monday.
Earlier in the day, as broadcast of the Clinton testimony got underway, Primrose said the online service had recorded a 10 percent surge in usage over week-earlier levels. By contrast, 47,000 subscribers viewed the video offered by AOL.com.
"We wanted to be able to give consumers information on demand, and that they would be able to use in conjunction with other activities while they are on line," Primrose said, referring to chat rooms and message-board discussions.
The Internet, analysts say, is a natural magnet for those who want to disseminate large amounts of textual material in a single mass forum, under tight deadline.
But the Internet's nascent technology is still clumsy when it comes to handling video images, which requires far more data to transmit than a simple text message. Downloading a video image, even for those with the capability, is a time-consuming, often frustrating process.
For that reason, some analysts contend, television retains an upper hand over the Internet when it comes to information of a visual nature.