Technologizer

This Time for Sure: AltaVista to Die

A once-mighty search engine is about to become history. Again.

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AltaVista in 1996, when it was celebrating its first birthday

When I read the sad news today that Yahoo is preparing to terminate AltaVista–the most important search engine of the pre-Google era–I got all misty. And then I had an odd sense of deja vu. It turns out that there was a false rumor back in 2010 that AltaVista was about to go away, and I came to terms with its impending doom and wrote about it at the time. And then it didn’t die, and I didn’t notice it was still around–which is a sad commentary on the site’s utter irrelevance right there.

In 2013 as in 2010, I’m happy to pause and remember the era when AltaVista introduced us to the possibility, astonishing at the time, that it might be able to use the web  to learn almost anything, almost instantly. But I’m not sorry that Yahoo is shutting it down, since it’s long been a slight variant of Yahoo Search which nobody uses and nobody cares about.

(O.K., there must be someone out there who uses AltaVista–but I wonder who, and why?)

Assuming that the site does indeed vanish from the web–I imagine that altavista.com will then redirect to yahoo.com or search.yahoo.com–we can remove it from the list of once-mighty websites which live on only in greatly diminished form. That’ll free up time to wonder about a related question: Why on earth does CompuServe still exist, in a version so archaic that it refers to Windows XP as “the latest Windows operating system?”

16 comments
marchingguy
marchingguy

In 1995 while on sabbatical at Stanford, I met a grad student who was working on a new search engine. I was a big Alta Vista user. This PhD student described how his search engine differed from the simple keyword search of Alta Vista and Inktomi. His engine ordered the returned searches depending on the "popularity" of the sites. He called the system Backrub. I recall advising him: "Why waste time on a search engine when we already have Altavista"

I'm glad Larry Page didn't listen to me.

scheyst
scheyst

Alta Vista is still the only search engine that does a decent proximity search with general internet searches. I will miss the ~~ operator....

walisheikh
walisheikh

I used babelfish.altavista.com, and now it just redirects to yahoo. it was one of the earlier translation programs. google is responsible for the death of so many different websites, but I have no problem with that. somehow it does not strike me as the sort of evil empire, scooping up hefty margins through its branding efforts (read: apple)

Obbop
Obbop

No Alta Vista???!!!


How will I ever find the GeoCities neighborhoods and my favorite sites within the neighborhoods???

mindtosight
mindtosight

Back in the late '90's, I was hired as a technical writer for a company called Shopping.com, a fledgling e-commerce company that operated out of the basement of a bank near Fashion Island in Southern California. The company was bought by Compaq, which in turn was owned by CMGI, which also owned Alta Vista. Someone there had the bright idea to turn us into a portal called Alta Vista Shopping to compete with - you guessed it - Yahoo! I suppose Yahoo is having it's ultimate revenge against the search engine that thought it could compete with it.

IsaacRabinovitch
IsaacRabinovitch

"(O.K., there must be someone out there who uses AltaVista–but I wonder who, and why?)"

That's easy. There are a ton people who *never* change their home page. That's the only reason Yahoo still has so many users, despite it's utter lack of utility. 

therealdude
therealdude

AltaVista was my first homepage when I entered the "internet" age. I'm very sad to see it go for sentimental reasons but honestly, I haven't used it in at least a decade because now there are so many better alternatives and I thought it died a long time ago too.

rayebersole
rayebersole

Geez, CompuServe is nothing close to the service I used on a 2400 baud modem with ProComm Plus.

SteveBozell
SteveBozell

Altavista was great back in the day.  Does anyone remember Dogpile?  Netscape Navigator? 


Yes, there were a lot of these types of legacy search systems and publishing too.  Many knock-offs were acquired by infospace.   Yes, Altavista was good at FTP search, and finding documents.  But Google really did a better job.  Then, Facebook made it easier to properly cite and attribute research papers and documents.

BIGELLOW
BIGELLOW

I always checked, in this order, Yahoo, AltaVista, WebCrawler and HotBot. Then, after regularly seeing the Google logo on Yahoo whenever the results were most relevant, I moseyed on over to Google.com and have used it since.

Craig.Herberg
Craig.Herberg

Back in the day, I used Altavista a lot.  Of course, my web browser was Mosaic.


RobertSmythe
RobertSmythe

I still remember webcrawler.com being by first search engine in the mid 90's. Today that search engine is just a shell of what I used to be like Altavista will be and northerlight have become. In spite of what the commercials say, for me, Bing is still one of the worst for results every time I have tried it when compared against google. 

scophi
scophi

I haven't heard about AltaVista since Google came on the scene. I just checked and many of the old search engines, directories, and web portals are still up and running: HotBot, Lycos, Excite, WebCrawler, DogPile, DMOZ, Ixquik...although many of them are now Yahoo! or Google based. Ahh, the memories.

synergywizardry
synergywizardry

I used CompuServe for a time, lo those many years ago.  Then I realized that the only reason I was using it was to look up solutions to problems involving Compuserve.  I also noticed that 90% of the utilities concerned changing the look of Windows or Compuserve.  I had forgotten when it was the online center of the universe.

RobertSmythe
RobertSmythe

@rayebersole 2400 baud? You were screaming compared to the 300 baud I had on my Commodore 128 when I first got into BBS's.

JimBuchanan
JimBuchanan

@RobertSmythe @rayebersole I had a 300 baud modem on a VIC-20 before I got my C64. I never got a 128, I switched to the evil PC. I did start using Linux *very* early into its existance (and still )