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Type Private
Founded 1995
Headquarters Palo Alto, California, USA
Key people Paul Flaherty, Louis Monier, Michael Burrows
Services bobo
Parent Overture Services, Yahoo!
Alexa rank <500
Type of site Search engine
Advertising Yes
Registration No
Available in Multilingual
Launched 15 December 1995
Current status Active
The old AltaVista logo

AltaVista is a web search engine owned by Yahoo!. AltaVista was once one of the most popular search engines but its popularity has waned with the rise of Google.



AltaVista was created by researchers at Digital Equipment Corporation's Western Research Laboratory who were trying to provide services to make finding files on the public network easier.[1] Although there is some dispute about who was responsible for the original idea,[2] two key participants were Louis Monier, who wrote the crawler, and Michael Burrows, who wrote the indexer. The name AltaVista was chosen in relation to the surroundings of their company at Palo Alto. AltaVista was publicly launched as an internet search engine on 15 December 1995 at[3][4]

At launch, the service had two innovations which set it ahead of the other search engines; It used a fast, multi-threaded crawler (Scooter) which could cover many more Web pages than were believed to exist at the time and an efficient search running back-end on advanced hardware. As of 1998, it used 20 multi-processor machines using DEC's 64-bit Alpha processor. Together, the back-end machines had 130 GB of RAM and 500 GB of hard disk space, and received 13 million queries per day.[5] This made AltaVista the first searchable, full-text database of a large part of the World Wide Web. The distinguishing feature of AltaVista was its minimalistic interface compared with other search engines of the time; a feature which was lost when it became a portal, but was regained when it refocused its efforts on its search function.

AltaVista's site was an immediate success. Traffic increased steadily from 300,000 hits on the first day to more than 80 million hits a day two years later. The ability to search the web, and AltaVista's service in particular, became the subject of numerous articles and even some books.[1] AltaVista itself became one of the top destinations on the web, and by 1997 would earn US$50 million in sponsorship revenue.[2]

Business transactions

In 1996, AltaVista became the exclusive provider of search results for Yahoo!. In 1998, Digital was sold to Compaq and in 1999, Compaq relaunched AltaVista as a web portal, hoping to compete with Yahoo!. Under CEO Rod Schrock, AltaVista abandoned its streamlined search page and focused on features like shopping and free email.[6] In June 1998, Compaq paid AltaVista Technology Incorporated ("ATI") $3.3 million for the domain name – Jack Marshall, cofounder of ATI, had registered the name in 1994.

In June 1999, Compaq sold a majority stake in AltaVista to CMGI, an internet investment company.[7] CMGI filed for an initial public offering for AltaVista to take place in April 2000, but as the internet bubble collapsed, the IPO was cancelled.[8] Meanwhile, it became clear that AltaVista's portal strategy was unsuccessful, and the search service began losing market share, especially to Google. After a series of layoffs and several management changes, AltaVista gradually shed its portal features and refocused on search. By 2002, AltaVista had improved the quality and freshness of its results and redesigned its user interface.[9]

In February 2003, AltaVista was bought by Overture Services, Inc.[10] In July 2003, Overture itself was taken over by Yahoo!.[11]

Free services

AltaVista provides a free translation service, branded Babel Fish, which automatically translates text between several languages. In May 2008, this service was renamed Yahoo! Babel Fish, after the parent company.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Eric J. Ray, Deborah S. Ray, and Richard Selzer (1998), The AltaVista Search Revolution (2nd ed.), Osborne/McGraw-Hill 
  2. 2.0 2.1 John Battelle (2005), The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, Portfolio 
  3. Lewis, Peter H. (1995-12-18), "Digital Equipment Offers Web Browsers Its ‘Super Spider’", The New York Times: Late Edition - Final, Section D, Page 4, Column 3, 
  4. Digital Press and Analysts News (1995-12-15). "Digital Develops Internet’s First ‘Super Spider’". (Google Groups). Retrieved on 2007-02-26.
  5. Ricardo Baeza-Yates and Berthier Ribeiro-Neto (1999). Modern Information Retrieval. Addison-Wesley/ACM Press, pp. 374, 390.
  6. Kopytoff, Verne (2000-03-27), "AltaVista Switches Web Portal Into High Gear", San Francisco Chronicle: C-1, 
  7. Afzali, Cyrus (1999-06-29), "CMGI Acquires 83 Percent of AltaVista for $2.3 Billion",, 
  8. Barnes, Cecily (2001-01-10), "AltaVista cancels proposed IPO",, 
  9. Glasner, Joanna (2002-11-13), "AltaVista Makeover: A Better View", Wired, 
  10. Hansell, Saul (2003-02-19), "Overture Services to Buy AltaVista for $140 Million", The New York Times, 
  11. "Yahoo to acquire Overture". 2003-07-13. 

External links

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