US Report: Compaq beefs up AltaVista

AltaVista, the search engine owned by Compaq Tuesday rolled out a host of new services aimed at improving Internet searching, especially for less-experienced users.
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

The move is a return to AltaVista's roots as a search engine. In an effort to be more of a portal, the site recently had added features unrelated to searches, such as news feeds and stock quotes.

Search is "the most popular activity on the Internet, which most of our competitors have abandoned," according to AltaVista spokeswoman Celia Francis. "Our competitors are focusing on putting another chat or something on their site, and they've pretty much given up on doing good searching. ... Having the strongest hand in this most important area is a good foundation to build on."

Ever since competitors such as Yahoo!, Excite, Infoseek and Lycos began moving toward a "portal" business model -- incorporating such features as e-mail, instant messaging, discussion boards and news feeds into a full-featured online service -- AltaVista has been searching for direction.

As a subsidiary of Digital Equipment Corp., the site lacked the buying power of the well-capitalised portal companies, and has not managed so far to build up the range of add-ons typical of its competitors. Compaq inherited AltaVista when it bought Digital earlier this year. AltaVista's search technology has, however, always been well regarded. The new features are intended to make that technology more accessible to consumers.

New options include:

  • Full View Searching: The site now offers three ways to search its database of 140 million pages, including its original index search, an improved category search, and a "Q&A" search, which lets the user ask a question such as "What is the weather forecast for Toledo, Ohio?" The Q&A search uses technology developed by Ask Jeeves Inc.
  • Photo Finder: Users can search a catalogue of more than a million images. The service was developed in partnership with Virage Inc.
  • Family Filter: The filtering option screens out pornographic content, while allowing sites on such topics as sex education and breast cancer.
  • Ease & Relevance Architecture: Several new features work behind the scenes to make results pages more relevant to what the user is searching for. For example, a search for "New York City" will return results related to the metropolis, rather than any Web page containing the separate words "new," "york" and "city."
  • "If you look at our regular index results, that alone is vastly improved," said Louis Monier, technical director for AltaVista. "Phrase detection, for example, is totally transparent to the user ... the result is better answers for all of our users with no extra effort."

    AltaVista also announced it will launch a new URL, www.av.com, in November. Compaq paid $3.3 (£2m) for the www.altavista.com address in late July.

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