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Since “google” is now legitimately considered a verb (per Merriam-Webster), it’s hard to remember a world in which another search engine was considered innovative. However, there was life before Google — and it was called AltaVista.

Origins of AltaVista

Launched Dec. 15, 1995, by Digital Equipment Corporation, AltaVista wasn’t designed to be a search engine powerhouse but rather a marketing tool for the AlphaServer 8400 TurboLaser, a supercomputer produced by the company. However, users quickly latched on to AltaVista’s innovative features, which included the ability to use natural language in search queries (AltaVista could pick out keywords and remove “a,” “an” or “the”), as well as search for images, audio, and video in addition to text.

AltaVista indexed approximately 20 million webpages, while its contemporaries indexed 2 million. In 1996, AltaVista was supplementing Yahoo search results. By 1997, 80 million users visited AltaVista each day.

Change in direction for AltaVista

But that was the peak for AltaVista. Google came on the scene. Compaq bought AltaVista in 1998 and changed the search engine’s strategic direction, reimagining it as a web portal. But users loved AltaVista for its search capabilities, so they left in droves for Google, which offered them search and nothing more.

A planned IPO was cancelled after the dot-com bubble burst. AltaVista’s ownership changed a few more times, with the search engine ultimately landing under the control of Yahoo. That’s where it resided July 8, 2013, when Yahoo shut the site down. With one sentence — “Please visit Yahoo! Search for all of your searching needs” — AltaVista met its demise.

Photo:  Tiko Aramyan / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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