Demand clobbers government petition site on launch

A newly launched government site for people to lodge petitions became intermittently unavailable on Thursday due to the number of visitors attempting access it

Directgov's new e-petition site was intermittently unavailable at launch as it failed to cope with the number of people attempting to view it.

e-petition site

Some users were temporarily unable to log on to the government's new petition site when it launched on Thursday. Screenshot: Jon Yeomans

The e-petition site, opened to the public on Thursday, was overwhelmed by up to 1,000 unique visits a minute.

"It fluctuated in terms of people being able to access it... it was intermittently busy because of the sheer volume of people trying to get onto it," a government spokesman told ZDNet UK on Friday. "It slowed down to the point where for a temporary period people couldn't access it."

Visitors to the site are able to create, view and sign petitions online. According to the site, if a single petition gets over 100,000 signatures, it will be "eligible for debate in the House of Commons". The level of interest meant that from the midday launch to around 4pm the site was unavailable to many people, with site responsiveness then improving.

"What was going on with this is that it's not just an information site, there's a lot of interaction and a certain amount of moderation," a Cabinet Office spokesman said. "It's not a technical site in terms of the internet, but [it] is compared to what the government usually launches."

The site runs on a dedicated server hosted within a third-party datacentre with high-speed connectivity, ZDNet UK understands. It uses a content delivery network (CDN) to serve its static pages.

"The team that built this was a government skunkworks team and they're obviously going to take lessons from this," the Cabinet Office spokesman said.

The government expects the site will move to a "secure cloud environment" later in the year, a Government Digital Service spokesman told ZDNet UK.

The Government Digital Service is responsible for the technical underlay of the site, while the office of the leader of the House of Commons is responsible for the system overall.

As of midday on Friday the Petition to retain the ban on Capital Punishment was the largest petition on the site with over 9,000 signatures.

Other government websites have had trouble dealing with traffic spikes. HM Revenue & Customs was forced to extend the deadline for filing self-assessment tax returns online in 2008 after its website crashed due to the number of people trying to file their returns.

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