AltaVista To Die Next Monday, Internet Surprised It Was Still Alive

AltaVista Screen Shot

A search engine that was once at the top of the search engine heap, but which fell away fairly quickly in the  wake of the rise of Google, will close forever on Monday:

There’s an alternate universe where someone would ask you a question you don’t know the answer to and you would respond, “I don’t know, why don’t you AltaVista it?” Instead, in the real world, you reply, “Why don’t you Google it?”

AltaVista, once the most advanced and comprehensive search engine on the Web, is just days away from its last breath.

Yes, like you, I thought AltaVista had been extinguished years ago, but apparently not.

Last week, Jay Rossiter, executive vice president of platforms at Yahoo, which owns AltaVista, said that the search engine would be closed on July 8. Anyone who still uses AltaVista — I’m not sure who that is — should instead go to Yahoo Search, Mr. Rossiter said.

Readers who are 18 years old and younger will probably ask, “What’s an AltaVista?” In short, it was one of the first and most successful search engines. It was founded in 1995 by Digital Equipment Corporation.

Since then, AltaVista has been through a number of confusing acquisitions. Digital Equipment Corporation was acquired by Compaq in 1998, which merged with Hewlett-Packard in May 2002. AltaVista itself was purchased in 2003 by Overture Services, then the leading seller of online search advertising. Overture, in turn, was purchased by Yahoo, once also a leader in search, in 2003.

Both Yahoo and AltaVista were decimated by Google, which was founded in 1998 and quickly became the biggest and most popular search engine in the world.

AltaVista didn’t go down without a fight. In 2002, the company tried to reinvent itself, and as Wired wrote at the time, “AltaVista is out to prove that troubled Internet companies can have second acts.” Wired said the company planned to battle Google by rolling “out a dramatic overhaul of its site and indexing methodology.”

It didn’t work. So 18 years after its birth, AltaVista is about to be laid to rest.

Much like the author, I’ve got to say that I had no idea that AltaVista was even still around, and cannot recall for the life of me when I may have used it last. There was a time, though, before Google, when AltaVista was considered to be the best search engine on the web, and certainly better for serious searches than Yahoo or any of the other early search sites. Nothing could withstand the Google onslaught seems, though, and certainly not a website that was getting passed from company to company over the course of the first five years or Google’s existence.

I’m sure AltaVista won’t be missed.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Science & Technology, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Tony W says:

    My lasting memory of this early, very good search engine was their horrible URL. For years you had to type

  2. rudderpedals says:

    @Tony W: Terrible URL but it got you thinking about DEC, yes?

    RIP DEC and AltaVista.

  3. There’s an alternate universe where someone would ask you a question you don’t know the answer to and you would respond, “I don’t know, why don’t you AltaVista it?”

    People did say this quite frequently in the early to mid 90s. You’d think the Times could afford a tech reporter that’s less prone to historical amnesia.

  4. Brett says:

    There are a couple of old search engines out there, just floating around with some fraction of a percent of the search market. Lycos is still around, for example.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Another instance of something I’ve observed over the years. When a company acquires another company that owns a competitive product, regardless of what the acquiring company may claim the likelihood of the competitive product surviving is low.

    The most obvious reason for that is that companies acquire competitors to reduce competition with their own products and, possibly, to gain customer base. But there’s another, political reason. The acquired products don’t have the same degree of internal loyalty that the original products do.