A Eulogy For AltaVista, The Google Of Its Time

AltaVista; I liked it so much that I stole the graphics took inspiration from it when building Sun’s first internal search engine:

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.

continues at: A Eulogy For AltaVista, The Google Of Its Time.

2 thoughts on “A Eulogy For AltaVista, The Google Of Its Time

  1. Dave Walker

    I also have fond memories of AltaVista, particularly in its early days, and it certainly paved the way for Google. Ironically, though, AltaVista’s popularity was what exposed the shortcomings of its algorithms and ultimately killed it – when SEO in its infancy (before it even got the name, I suspect) started filling page footers with AltaVista ranking-improving text strings, it became necessary to look through a few pages of irrelevant search results before finding what was wanted. Right about then, Google came along with PageRank and backlink-count-as-relevancy-measure, and naturally everyone switched; the SEO-vs-search engine filtering battle continued, and AltaVista never kept up. So, if you care to look at it that way, AltaVista was the first usability casualty in an ongoing semantic web battle, and it’s Google’s filtering which has kept it (relatively) clean, to the point it’s where it is today…

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