Language English

Launched December 15, 1995
Closed July 8, 2013

Developer Flaherty, Paul and Louis Monier, Michael Burrows

Country of Origin US America

1995 - 1998 Digital Equipment Corporation
1998 - 2003 Compaq Computer Corporation
2003 - 2003 Overture
2003 - 2013 Yahoo

Topic Universal

Region No Limitation

Crawler-based, algorithmic SeEn

Used SeEn Alta Vista; Yahoo

Older Version Internet Archive / WebCite

AltaVista belongs to the first successful search engines working from 1995 to 2013. It started under the domain and paid 1997 $3.3 million to acquire The engine was developed by Digital Equipment Corporation's Network Systems Laboratory and Western Research Laboratory, in the next years the engines is sold with the owning companies first Digital to Compaq, than Compaq to Overture, which is nearly directly sold to Yahoo. While AltaVista first offered the search to Yahoo, later Yahoo offered the search for AltaVista. As of Danny Sullivan (see deeper on this side), Digital didn’t create AltaVista to build a successful search engine, they created them to sell their computer technology by showing what mass of data super-computers can manage. – Between 2009 and 2011 AltaVista was often named as the used search engine in the TV show “Parks & Recreation”… [kd2015]
»AltaVista was created by researchers at Digital Equipment Corporation's Network Systems Laboratory and Western Research Laboratory, who were trying to provide services to make finding files on the public network easier. Paul Flaherty was responsible for the original idea, and 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 December 15, 1995 at 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. 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. AltaVista itself became one of the top destinations on the web, and by 1997 would earn US$50.5 million in sponsorship revenue.« Source
»In 1996, AltaVista became the exclusive provider of search results for Yahoo!. In 1998, Digital was sold to Compaq and in 1999, Compaq redesigned 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. [...] In June 1999, Compaq sold a majority stake in AltaVista to CMGI, an internet investment company. 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. 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. In February 2003, AltaVista was bought by Overture Services, Inc. In July 2003, Overture itself was taken over by Yahoo!. In December 2010, a Yahoo! employee leaked PowerPoint slides that the search engine would be shut down as part of a consolidation at Yahoo!. In May 2011, the shutdown commenced, and all results are now returned on a Yahoo! page. As of October 2012, the search engine still uses Yahoo's results with AltaVista branding. In November, however, searches were modified to utilize Yahoo! Search BOSS APIs and no longer use AltaVista branding.« Source
Danny Sullivan on June 28, 2013: »Goodbye AltaVista. You deserved better than this. Better than the one-sentence send-off Yahoo gave you today, when announcing your July 8 closure date. But then again, you always were the bright child neglected by your parents. The Amazing AltaVista You appeared on the search engine scene in December 1995. You made us go “woah” when you arrived. You did that by indexing around 20 million web pages, at a time when indexing 2 million web pages was considered to be big. Today, of course, pages get indexed in the billions, the tens of billions or more. But in 1995, 20 million was huge. Existing search engines like Lycos, Excite & InfoSeek (to name only a few) didn’t quite know what hit them. With so many pages, you seemed to find stuff they and others didn’t. As a result, you were a darling of reviews and word-of-mouth praise. You grew in popularity. In fact, I’d say you were the Google of your time, but it would be more accurate to say Google was the AltaVista of its time. That’s because Google didn’t even exist when you were ascendant. That’s also because you help paved some of the way for Google. It was a brief ascendency, however. You were headed upward, but your parent, Digital Equipment, didn’t quite know what to do with you. You started out as an experiment, and then got used as a poster child for Digital to prove why companies should buy super-computers. Never Nurtured Then Digital got bought by Compaq in January 1998. You finally got a parent that at least, later that year, would buy you the domain name of, saving us from typing in (yes, kids, really) to reach you. But the next year, you were sold off to CMGI, which put you down the portal path that so many other search engines had morphed into, since search was seen as a loss leader. There would be an IPO! You’d finally have the success you deserved! Alas, next came the dotcom crash. The IPO was cancelled in January 2001. Layoffs. I remember visiting your offices around the time and finding them empty, so empty that some employee had put a skeleton in a chair, at one of the many darkened workstations. You hung in there, long enough for Overture to buy you in 2003. Then Yahoo bought Overture later that year, and really, you were done. You became part of Yahoo, and your search technology became part of the in-house search technology that Yahoo built. But as a brand, your glory days were finally over. The Google-AltaVista X You were loved. You really were. People did not want to leave you. But despite adding new features, some of which Google copied, you couldn’t keep up with the pace and innovation of that company, which decided against becoming a portal like your corporate masters ordered for you. People who wanted search, who came to you for it, eventually went over to Google. It’s what I termed at the time to be the “Google-AltaVista X,” [...] The ratings we had at the time were fairly rudimentary, but these ones from comScore showed the percentage of people in the US reported to be going to a particular search engine at least once in a given month. You were climbing, then Google came along and the serious searchers started flocking toward it. “I Used To Use AltaVista, But Now I Use Google.” As I said, they didn’t want to go. When I would ask people at the time what search engine they used, it was extremely common that they’d preface the answer to reference having used you in the past. “I used to use AltaVista, but now I use Google.” I heard that over and over. It was like talking to someone who had broken up with a partner they loved but ultimately had to leave. “I used to be with this person, but now I’m with to someone else.” There was real regret. Google didn’t stop in its ascendency, of course. Having bypassed you, it went on to bypass the portals that you never beat. Indeed, it grew so successful that an entire new generation of searchers seemed to have no idea there was anything other than Google to search with. They used Google’s very name as a synonym for searching. They “googled” for things. Given the right parent, perhaps you might hired Larry Page and Sergey Brin, when the Google cofounders came calling. Perhaps if Yahoo or Microsoft had understood the desire for better search that the demand for Google was showing, either of them would have purchased you early on and allowed you to thrive. You Deserved A Better Send-Off You deserved better — and better than this eulogy, too. I should go on and on explaining how innovative and groundbreaking you were, for your time. I’m sorry for that, AltaVista. I’ll beg a little forgiveness that I’m on a plane, and it’s not the best place to be writing. For those reading, and wanting more, I highly recommend John Battelle’s “The Search.” It’s an outstanding history of the early days of search, and how Google rose during that time, but it covers the other players as well. Get it. If you want to continue what I consider to be the “Search Trilogy,” get Ken Auletta’s “Googled” and Steven Levy’s “In The Plex.” Both pick up where John leaves off; all three are excellent. As for Yahoo’s send off, in announcing your death today — “Please visit Yahoo! Search for all of your searching needs” — that’s just shameful. It really is. Yes, it was time for you to be retired. But you deserved your own post, not having your closure mixed in among the other many products being axed. You deserved from Yahoo, itself one of the old-time brands of the web, to have more attention paid to your role. Rest in peace, AltaVista.« Source
Danny Sullivan (2004): Search Engine Timeline »April 1995 - Idea to create AltaVista first discussed at Digital.« ---------- »June 1995 - AltaVista's Scooter crawler begins trials« ---------- »7/4/95 - AltaVista begins first major crawl.« ---------- »12/15/95 - AltaVista launches. It sets a new standard for number of pages crawled (currently 3 million per day), according to Brian Pinkerton.« ---------- »June 1996 - AltaVista partners with Yahoo, becomes preferred search engine used when a match is not found in the Yahoo catalog.« ---------- »2/11/97 - AltaVista launches LiveTopics search assistance feature.« ---------- »5/9/97 - 2nd PC Computing Search Engine Challenge. HotBot won with 13 points. Excite came in a close second with 12 points, followed by AltaVista with 6 points and Infoseek with 4 points.« ---------- »6/20/97 - Digital announces that its AltaVista Internet Software division will not be spun off into a separate company.« ---------- »7/26/97 - AltaVista launches redesign, integrating LiveTopics into the "Refine" button, displaying a cleaner interface and highlighting mirror sites across the globe.« ---------- »9/18/97 - It becomes public that Ilene Lang, who was head of Digital's AltaVista Internet Software division, left the company. She apparently resigned soon after Digital decided in June against spinning off the division into its own company.« ---------- »10/9/97 - AltaVista announces positioning partnership with Amazon.« ---------- »10/14/97 - AltaVista increases index size to 100 million web pages, making it the largest search engine on the web.« ---------- »11/25/97 - Yahoo debuts new search page results look. A more prominent page header directs people to related news stories, events, AltaVista results and web sites.« ---------- »12/8/97 - AltaVista debuts new translation service.« ---------- »12/11/97 - HotBot announced that it now indexes more than 110 million web pages, making it the largest search engine. AltaVista remains a close second, at 100 million.« ---------- »12/29/97 - AltaVista partnered with Switchboard to provide people and business searching services.« ---------- »2/7/98 - AltaVista begins offering free email accounts, in association with i-Name.« ---------- »3/30/98 - AltaVista adds "Health Zone" tab, which leads to offsite information provided by one of its partners.« ---------- »4/6/98 - AltaVista announces $15 million deal making its exclusive travel partner.« ---------- »5/11/98 - AltaVista begins listing Real Name addresses at the top of its search results.« ---------- »8/11/98 - AltaVista announces it has reached an agreement to acquire the domain. Financial terms were not disclosed, but press reports have put the sale amount at over $3 million.« ---------- »9/29/98 - AltaVista's Northern European mirror site is discontinued.« ---------- »10/6/98 - AltaVista begins unannounced partnership with answer search engine Ask Jeeves. Selected answers from Ask Jeeves now appear above search results, prefaced by the phrase, "AltaVista knows the answers to these questions."« ---------- »12/8/98 - AltaVista begins displaying a "related searches" option below the search box on results pages. These present alternative queries containing the main search terms.« ---------- »Jan. 1999 - Compaq announces that AltaVista will be spun-off into a separate company, the AltaVista Company and that the service is to work closely with Microsoft on several portal offerings. AltaVista is to use Microsoft's Hotmail service to power its free email offering. Microsoft is to use AltaVista as the primary search service powering MSN Search. It will replace Inktomi in this role.« ---------- »Feb. 1999 - Compaq announces it will purchase Zip2, which specializes in creating local portals for media partners such as newspapers. Compaq hopes the purchase will help its e-commerce goals for AltaVista.« ---------- »Apr. 1999 - AltaVista introduces a pay for placement program. Rumors of the program emerged over a week earlier, and delays in releasing public details of the plan hurt the service's reputation.« ---------- »Jun. 1999 - AltaVista announces new plans and features for its service, including a "Search Freshness" guarantee. // CMGI purchases 83 percent of AltaVista in a $2.3 billion deal. // AltaVista opened its paid placement program to the general public.« ---------- »Jul. 1999 - AltaVista announces that it will discontinue its paid links program, telling advertisers in an email, "After several months of evaluation and feedback, we believe, in general, this program does not meet the needs of the majority of our advertising partners."« ---------- »Aug. 1999 - MSN Search unveils a new beta site that makes use of RealNames, LookSmart and AltaVista data. Direct Hit information is also offered.« ---------- »Oct. 1999 - With great fanfare, AltaVista relaunches under the ownership of CMGI as its challenger against more established portals such as Yahoo, Excite and Lycos.« »Nov. 1999 - Problems with AltaVista's index in the wake of its recent launch leave some webmasters upset.« ---------- »Dec. 1999 - MSN Search shifts back to using Inktomi information for the "Web Pages" section of its results. MSN had dropped Inktomi earlier this year, after a major deal was cut with AltaVista.« ---------- Source
Sullivan, Danny (Mar 3, 2003): »Same As They Ever Were: AltaVista (1995- ): The Google of its day, AltaVista offered access to a huge index of web sites, when it launched in December 1995. The search engine quickly grew in popularity, but its parent Digital didn't know what to do with it. The sale of Digital to Compaq didn't help matters, and the situation grew worse when AltaVista was spun into a separate company, majority-owned by CMGI. It was relaunched as a portal in October 1999, entering an already crowded field and taking its attention away from the quality of its search results. It paid the price as dissatisfied users flocked to newcomer Google. Throughout everything, AltaVista's crawler has kept going. Overture now intends to buy the company.« Source


»AltaVista is Spanish for "high view." The search engine was originally launched in 1995 as a subdomain of Digital Equipment's web site, as As AltaVista's popularity soared, most people trying to find it instead landed at the web site of Alta Vista Technology, Incorporated (ATI), which had launched the domain in 1994. After unsuccessfully negotiating with ATI for the rights to the domain name, Digital sued ATI in 1996. In 1998, Digital's new owner Compaq finally dropped the suit and paid $3.3 million to ATI for the domain name« Source

Critical points

Features & Functionality

»AltaVista provided Babel Fish, a web-based machine translation application that translates text or web pages from one of several languages into another. It was later superseded by Yahoo! Babel Fish and now redirects to Bing's translation service.« Source


»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.« Source

References & further Publications

Wikipedia (EN):
Wikipedia (Others):

Other Sources

Boswell, Wendy: AltaVista - How to Use AltaVista. From " Guide" URL:
Notess, Greg R.: Searching the Web with Alta Vista. In: Database. 19(3)1996, S.: 86-88. Or from "Search Engine Showdown" URL:
Notess, Greg R.: Review of AltaVista. From "Search Engine Showdown" URL:
Ray, Eric J. / Deborah S. Ray, and Richard Selzer (1998): The AltaVista Search Revolution (2nd ed.), Osborne/McGraw-Hill. URL:
AltaVista from Suchfiebel. URL:
AltaVista Is Now Yahoo!, Which Is Now Bing. Online available at SEO Logic. URL:
A Eulogy For AltaVista, The Google Of Its Time URL:
AltaVista Officially Closes — What Will Pawnee Do! URL:
Yahoo To Shutter AltaVista, Axis & Several More Products URL:
Tóth, Erzsébet: Exploring the Capabilities of English and Hungarian Search Engines for Various Queries. In: Libri. Volume: 56, Issue: 1, Pages: 38-47. URL: DOI: 10.1108/00220410610714930
Danny Sullivan (2004): Search Engine Timeline URL:
Sullivan, Danny (Mar 3, 2003): Where Are They Now? Search Engines We've Known & Loved URL:

Created: 2013-01-22