Death of AltaVista – The Neglected Search Engine of the Past

Date Published: 5-Aug-2013 | By: lynda S White

Did you use Internet in late 1990s? If yes, you would have definitely used ‘AltaVista’. But many of our friends of this generation do not know much about this popular search engine.

We see many web-based products coming and disappearing, but why are we talking about so specifically about AltaVista. Because industry experts say AltaVista was the Google of its time. Let us see what’s so unique and worth knowing about this Search Engine.

altavistaAltaVista – Pioneer of its time
Introduced in 1995, AltaVista was the first search engine to use a fast, multi-threaded crawler that could index many web pages that were believed to exist at the time. It was able to index 20 million pages, when indexing 2 million pages was a big thing. It gave tough competition to all the existing search engines like Excite, Lycos, Infoseek, etc. by finding pages that others didn’t. It was an instant hit. Started with 3,00,000 clicks on the first day its traffic went to 80 million clicks in just two years.

Facts about AltaVista

  • AltaVista was the first searchable full text database of the World Wide Web
  • First to provide multi-lingual search that includes Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages
  • First search engine that enabled searching for images, videos and audio and web page translations
  • It was also the first to understand colloquial language
  • Only search engine to get awarded with many search related patents

AltaVista was good, but was neglected
By looking at these facts we can imagine the greatness of AltaVista. But why it didn’t become popular? Why this generation doesn’t even know that there existed a popular search engine called AltaVista? Because, in all its lifetime, it was neglected and became the victim of wrong choices and poor management. Let’s see its story in brief.

AltaVista was created out of an experimental project, when the researchers at Digital Equipment Corporation’s Network Systems were trying to create a service that can make finding files on the public network easier. It was publicly launched as an Internet search engine in 1995 at

Later in 1998, the company was bought by Compaq which bought a domain name for the search engine at In 1999, Compaq redesigned AltaVista as a web portal, as competitors like Yahoo and Lycos are earning huge profits by transforming themselves in to portals. In the mid-1999, it was again sold to CMGI, which filed an initial public offering (IPO) for AltaVista in 2000, which got canceled due to the dotcom crash. Meanwhile, the portal strategy became unsuccessful and at the same time AltaVista lost search market share, especially to Google.

After several management changes, AltaVista once again focused on search and in 2003 it was bought by Overture services, which was later bought by Yahoo. Finally, AltaVista’s Search Technology became a part of Yahoo’s in-house search technology. From then it lost its glory as a brand.

It is a little dis-heartening to see the unmerited closing announcement of AltaVista by Yahoo, which simply included it in the long list of programs it is closing. All the searches to this domain will now be redirected to Yahoo search engine page.

It would have survived today!
AltaVista was good and it’s the first of its kind during those times. However, due to continuous change in management, lack of vision and understanding of market, inability to monetize the evolving technology, lack of imagination, commitment and focus it could not succeed. At one point of time even the Google co-founders approached the CEO of AltaVista to offer them new search engine technology. But they ignored it assuming that there was no need to buy a new search engine technology. If they would have accepted their project then, we wouldn’t have a Google now and AltaVista would have survived till today.

There is a lump in the throat, when we heard its shutdown, because AltaVista meant so much. Finding information through Internet, used to be tough. It was either through Yahoo directory listings or by already knowing the sites’ URL. During such times AltaVista did magic, you search using some keywords and it gave great results. It saved days of work, resolved so many information requests and was so helpful. It feels like as if we hear about the death of a dear classmate – even if you didn’t meet the person in last 10-20 years.