Diana 1961-1997: The tragedy - Palace breaks news on Internet

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The news of the Princess's death spread so rapidly over the Internet that by 8.30am yesterday, one Australian user said, "Everyone knows about Di's death by now."

But it took Buckingham Palace another hour to re-jig its official Web page (at http://www.royal.gov.uk/) to include the news. The normal crest and picture of Buckingham Palace were replaced with a sombre black background and an image of a smiling princess carrying a bouquet of flowers with the simple caption: "Diana, Princess of Wales 1 July 1961 - 31 August 1997". It also included an official, if brief and bowdlerised, biography, and a page on which users could pass their condolences on to the Royal Family.

The former 165 pages of notes about the family was cut to fewer than 10, all about Diana. As soon as the changes had been made, the site was overwhelmed with "hits" from users all over the world logging in for news and to pay their respects.

Set up in May, the Royal Family's web site - operated and maintained by the Government - is already one of the most popular sites on the World Wide Web. In one week, it was visited almost 1.3 million times.

News sites such as that operated by CNN (http://www.cnn.com/) also carried comprehensive coverage of the accident in Paris, updating it through the day as pictures - including that of the princess's coffin - became available.

But in the Internet's discussion groups, the reaction ranged from mixtures of horror and sadness, to conspiracy theories, to a cynical shrug from those who felt that the accident was a small event in a distant country involving people they did not know. "Call me paranoid if you like," began one, who then suggested that landmine manufacturers and the Royal Family were "none to [sic] happy with Diana interfering with affairs they'd rather like to be untouched by such a high-profile figure."

Others felt it was a routine car accident. "The driver was just going too fast for the conditions," said one bored American. And one cynical poster suggested the lesson was: "Don't drive a mercedes at high speed into a concrete tunnel. Much better to slow down and smile at the photographers."