"It's really been surprising how quickly the word got out," said Mark Holmes, vice president of programming and content development for National Geographic.com. "Within two hours yesterday we were getting pounded."
The launch of the Map Machine coincides with the release of National Geographic's new world atlas. The book form of the atlas sells for $125 (£75). Map Machine is free of charge. Despite the seeming conflict of interest, National Geographic's chief cartographer Allen Carroll says offering the information both online an off-line is actually complementary.
"Even with widest bandwidth connection, you're still going to get small maps with poor resolution," Carroll said. "If you're holding the atlas in your hands you can get so much more. But, with the Web site, you can get constant updates and more interactivity."
Map Machine features all of the information offered in the book form of the world atlas. It features maps focusing on more than a dozen different themes, including vegetation, population and earthquake epicenters. In the next few weeks, a feature will be added for owners of the print atlas, which allows them to download updates that can be added to their book. "We're looking to expand, if not revolutionise what an atlas is all about," Carroll said.
Holmes expects the site's slowdown to be fixed by Thursday evening. The site is adding additional servers to handle the unexpected demand. "Geography is more than finding a direction from one place to another," Holmes said when explaining the importance of the site.
"It's about how man is impacting the land and how cultures have developed. There's a lot more to a map and a place than interstates. This tool empowers the end user to bring to light the kinds of information that really bring a place alive for them."
The map feature launched just days after Encyclopaedia Britannica moved to put the entire encyclopaedia contents online, leading to a similar deluge of traffic.