Yahoo closes one-time Google rival Alta Vista

Yahoo closes one-time Google rival Alta Vista

Summary: Before there was Google, there was Alta Vista.


We knew this day was coming. It was clear years ago that Yahoo was going to close down its Alta Vista search engine. On July 8, Yahoo will shut this once mighty search engine's doors for good. Alta Vista expired with a single line for its obituary. 

Up until early 2001, Alta Vista was the top search engine. With Google in the market, its days were numbered. (Credit: Danny Sullivan/Search Engine Land)

In a way, that's appropriate. Google dominates search. By comScore's May 2013 search engine count, Google has 66.7-percent of the search market, followed by Bing at 17.4-percent and the perpetually declining Yahoo with 11.9-percent.

Alta Vista? It's accounted for a minute fraction of Yahoo's traffic. Many of you have never even heard of it.

It didn't used to be that way. Alta Vista was the top search engine in the mid to late 90s.

When Digital Equipment Company (DEC} introduced Alta Vista in December 1995 it blew the doors off its competition. Alta Vista was indexing approximately 20-million Web pages while its rivals could barely handle millions.

As someone who first started doing network searches before there was a Web -- with Internet programs such as archie and gopher and corporate database search tools such as Dialog and Recon -- I loved Alta Vista. It was head-and-shoulders better than the other search programs of its day.

With its simple search box interface, Alta Vista enabled you to find whatever you wanted on the Web without already having a good idea where it was or being a Boolean expressions master.

During its brief turn in the spotlight from 1995 to 1998, Alta Vista was the search engine. In 1996, then rival Yahoo started using it to back up its category-based Web guide.

Alta Vista even started to offer related services such as a PC and intranet  version of Alta Vista. In 1998, Alta Vista became the first major Web site to offer free email.

If that sounds like some other big search company, say Google, it should. Alta Vista was Google before there was Google.

What happened? Several things.

First, neither DEC, nor its series of subsequent owners, had the vision to see how Web search could be the heart of a business. From 1998 to 2003, Alta Vista went through no fewer than five owners. By the time Yahoo acquired it in 2003, the company was a shattered shell of its former self.

At the same time, all those management changes made it hard for Alta Vista's engineers to compete with a fast, up-and-coming search company named Google. Google, which had been founded in 1997, caught up with Alta Vista in market share in February 2001 and by March of the same year Google had left it behind for good.

Before early 2001, however, Alta Vista was the top dog. Had it had good corporate management we might be saying today that, "We Altaed someone," rather than, "We Googled someone." But it was not to be.

So it is that Alta Vista goes into the history books, while Google continues to dominate the Internet.

I'll miss you Alta Vista. In your day, you were great. 

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Topics: Social Enterprise, Google, Networking

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  • SJVN

    Why are all of your articles so boring and fanboyish?
    Simon Tupper
    • And before...

      ....there was Internet Explorer, there was Netscape; and there was before Windows Phone 8, there was IPhone; and before there was Surface, there was IPad; and before there was Xbox, there was Sony Play Station; and before there was Windows Servers, there was IBM main frames.

      Truly, one day we will be blogging about the above and Steven will be hiding somewhere.
    • Then why do you keep returning

      to read his articles is you do not like those? Do you have a mental illness that precludes you from ignoring wha he writes?
  • I will greatly miss alta vista.... I had an altavista email account as soon as they were made available.

    Whereas google is an advertiser that uses search to sell, altavista was a pure search engine. It had the uncanny ability of finding the most obsure but still relevant results that are all but drowned out by google's SEO'd (where the stands for 'gamed' rather than optimized) results.

    I used altavista when i wanted to do actual research without constantly being sold something I didn't want..

    RIP AltaVista :-(
    • I'm with you

      I started using AV in late 1994 and it was very good for its era.
      • Me too

        Miss these times. Gopher and Archie too... The times of the true Internet.
  • Just goes to show a good idea isn't everything

    DEC never really understood the Web, nor did it have luck on its side. Google wasn't the first or even the best for a long time, but they had some idea how to make money and they had luck. And if you ask any of the billionaires, they will all tell you that luck is major factor in any business success.

    The biggest lesson that Google learned from Alta Vista is to keep the interface simple. .
    terry flores
    • And the saying goes

      "Don't ask me how I got my first million".
  • Too bad for alta-vista and yahoo

    Alta-vista failed because it failed to build in its early mindshare.
    Ironically alta-vista at least was a clean search will fail because it is a messy bloated portal. Many people would return to yahoo if the make their main web page a very simple search page....but instead they are chasing pennies by promoting regional garbage on their main page. I would have thought Marissa would have fixed if by now but because she hasn't I now realize yahoo is doomed and nos we are left with private data sucking Google and monopolistic practicing Microsoft.
    In a way I am hoping Apple can split that divide with a simple search site and protect private data.
  • Alta la vista, baby.

    It won't be bach.
    William Farrel
  • We will miss you dearly ...

    AltaVista was great, flexible and innovative. Not only as a global search engine but also with the AltaVista SDK, which made it possible to do miracles with the disclosure of local databases. Without AltaVista the web would not be as we know it today.

    AltaVista, we will miss you dearly..
    Henny Bekker