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Blair's petition website suffers too much love

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Updated: Ten Downing street has had to stop showing signatories on its "E-Petitions" site - not this time because of daft petitions but apparently because it was overloaded with people protesting against software patents.

The petition calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to "make software patents clearly unenforceable" seems to have caused the problem. At around lunchtime yesterday the names of signatories to the petition were replaced by an error message.

Later in the afternoon the petition reappeared but instead of showing signatories it showed the message: "Due to heavy load, the list of signatures is currently not being displayed."

Links to the software patent petition appeared on several public fora/forums but, according to the website only 639 people signed up - hardly an enormous load.

The error message now appears below all the petitions on the site.

Although still in beta the site has had problems before from dubious astroturf campaigns to the more sensible demand that Blair devote more time to standing on his head and juggling ice-cream. There is even a petition calling on Blair to: "Stop wasting money on pointless "e-government" websites such as this one."

Tom Steinberg, director of MySociety which is responsible for the petitions website, emailed us the following: "In answer to your question, we took the names off to keep the pageserving rate up yesterday afternoon when we started getting some load problems which seem to have stemmed from a simple need to do more optimisation with the site configuration: classic beta teething stuff really.

"The system has been developed to cope with way, way higher loads than this, and so it counts as our mistake. We'll continue fixing and even bring online some new hardware today. And of course, we'll continue to release the improved code under the Affero GPL, if anyone out there wants it.

"By the way, whilst I'm personally very sympathetic with the petition on software patents as the director of an non-profit open source organisation, I'm afraid that the main load wasn't anything to do with that. It was the more-than-ten-times-as-many people signing up to this http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/traveltax ."

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