What happened to AltaVista?

AltaVista was a search engine created in 1995 by a group of researchers attempting to make finding files on a public network easier. Despite its obvious power, AltaVista fell into disuse like many similar (but arguably inferior) services including Infoseek, AOL Search, Excite, and Ask Jeeves. The advent of Google as market leader helped make AltaVista much less relevant, thus making it fall in disuse among consumers.


AltaVista was a search engine created in 1995 by a group of researchers attempting to make finding files on a public network easier.

It had two distinct advantages over other search engines of the time. For one, it utilized a fast, multi-threaded crawler that could cover many more web pages than were believed to exist on the internet in the 90s. AltaVista also employed an efficient back-end search running on advanced hardware. 

It’s important to note that AltaVista was not created to win over consumers or tap into a commercial market to make a profit.

The project was essentially a test case for a supercomputer with a 64-bit processor and 130 GB of RAM that could search large databases quickly.

Despite its obvious power, AltaVista fell into disuse like many similar (but arguably inferior) services including Infoseek, AOL Search, Excite, and Ask Jeeves.

What caused its demise?

Yahoo partnership and sale to Compaq

In 1996, AltaVista began providing search results for search queries performed on the Yahoo website.

The partnership with Yahoo was not inherently bad for AltaVista, but it did precipitate a series of events that would cause the search engine to fall out of favor.

Two years later, Compaq acquired Digital Equipment (DEC) – the owner of AltaVista – for $9.6 billion.

Compaq was less interested in the hardware powering AltaVista and more interested in trying to beat Yahoo at its own game.

To that end, Compaq turned the search engine into a complex web portal by removing the simple interface users had grown accustomed to. Over time, the homepage became increasingly cluttered.

To beat Yahoo, Compaq had made AltaVista more like its competitors and thus eroded its point of difference.

During this time, some users switched to a new kid on the search engine: Google.

CMGI and Overture acquisitions

Struggling to make AltaVista profitable, Compaq sold an 83% stake to the owner of the Lycos search engine CMGI in 1999.

However, a failed IPO meant staff were made redundant at CMGI as it too struggled to make money from AltaVista.

In an attempt to claw back market share from Google, the search engine belatedly reverted to a simple search form.

AltaVista was then sold to Overture in 2003 for $140 million, itself acquired by Yahoo four months later.

The acquisition by Yahoo marked the beginning of the end for AltaVista, with its once-mighty search technology absorbed into the Yahoo platform.

Ultimately, Altavista became irrelevant as soon as it became disconnected from the domain name it had grown from over a decade prior. Yahoo formally retired the search engine in 2013.

Key takeaways:

  • Altavista was a pioneering search engine developed by a group of Digital Equipment (DEC) researchers. It was originally created to showcase the power of a then-revolutionary DEC supercomputer.
  • After an ominous partnership with Yahoo in 1996, AltaVista underwent a series of acquisitions and format charges as several companies tried to make it profitable. In the process, the search engine lost market share to up-and-comer Google.
  • Yahoo acquired AltaVista in 2003 and absorbed the technology behind the search engine into its own platform. AltaVista was formally put to rest ten years later. 

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