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Hasta La Alta Vista, Baby.

By - June 29, 2013

I just saw the news that Yahoo! is “sunsetting” Alta Vista, one of the first “good” search engines. This makes me a little misty, as Alta Vista was the search engine I used BG – Before Google – and it had a real shot at *being* Google, had its various owners not utterly screwed it up over the years. Did you know, for example, that at one point Alta Vista was the largest and most widely used search tool on the web? Its driving force, Lois Monier, once told me “search should be a pencil” – he was adamant that Alta Vista not become a portal.

But Alta Vista was owned by DEC, a now dead computer company, which was bought by Compaq, another now dead computer company. And they made it a portal. And through the now defunct Overture, the assets of Alta Vista made their way to Yahoo!, a still alive portal. But now, Alta Vista is going to truly be dead.

It’s hard to watch an important player in the early Internet go away – and it makes me reflect on a couple of things. First, how much or our own culture and history we’re losing day by day, even despite the best efforts of archivists like Brewster Kahle. And secondly, on a personal note, Alta Vista was the search engine that helped me find my birth mother way back in 1995, when my wife was pregnant with our first child, and my life-long wonderings as an adoptee took on a new urgency. Alta Vista pointed me to an online forum for people like me, and there I found a person who helped me find my mother. Pretty cool.

So I’ll miss you, Alta Vista. And if any of you want to know the engine’s journey, well, there’s a book for that.

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  • Rayna

    This post made me smile because it has been ages since I uttered the words ‘Alta Vista’ — it just fell offer my tech radar and now that I think about it it was my go to engine (and translator via Babel Fish) back in the day when search engines also doubled as ‘portals.’ A bit of internet nostalgia that is making me feel like a digital dinosaur, but I am liking the memory. Thanks.

    • johnbattelle

      yes, they did many things well and first, including translation. i forgot about that. thanks!

  • george

    Thanks for taking us down memory lane; almost completely lost thought of Alta Vista! I did use it for awhile and it was a pretty descent search tool back in the day; obviously they provided you with special meaning…times they are changin!

  • walterunderwood

    Alta Vista wasn’t really that good. When I started working at Infoseek in 1996, I was surprised that I could find things in a page or two. I was used to slogging through thirty pages of Alta Vista results. It was early, but there were seven search engines that went public in six months. Can you name them?

    • johnbattelle

      Yes, Alta Vista had its issues, in particular, spam. Let’s see, I bet I cannot list them all but….Excite, Lycos, Yahoo, Inktomi, Magellan (did it go public?!), Infospace, Overture…

  • Tim

    Ha, I forgot about Alta Vista and I remember using that service before Google. What a trip down memory lane!