Yahoo closes one-time Google rival Alta Vista

Before there was Google, there was Alta Vista.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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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