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AltaVista Gets a Facelift, Again

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AltaVista has a new streamlined look, with a slimmed-down search box and a tabbed interface providing direct access to the major portions of the search engine.

Veteran AltaVista users know that the search engine changes its appearance frequently. The new design strips away even more of the clutter that AltaVista has been shedding for the past year, and groups the site's various services in a more organized fashion.

Critics will undoubtedly carp that AltaVista is copying Google's tabbed interface. Ironically, the new design returns to a format AltaVista used years ago, and Google later adopted. "As we've come back and focused on several core parts of what we're doing, it makes sense for us to go back to [tabs”," said Chris Kermoian, Director of Product Marketing, AltaVista.

The tabs atop the search form let you easily search AltaVista's web index, or limit your search to images, audio, video, news, or directory listings powered by LookSmart, simply by typing your query and clicking on the appropriate tab.

The new design also groups AltaVista's content offerings in a more logical way, making a clearer distinction between AltaVista content and partner content and bringing more links "above the fold."

"Tools" have moved from directly beneath the search form to a box to the left of the page. Web Directory links also appear in this box. "Featured Topics," or links to AltaVista partners, occupy the center column, and "Marketplace" ads are in the rightmost column.

Advanced search now includes an array of easy to use query boxes, in addition to the free-form Boolean query form. The "Search Assistant" feature has also been merged into the advanced search page.

In addition to these cosmetic changes, there AltaVista has made a few changes to how results are displayed.

Most notably, images corresponding to news stories are now provided in results when available (currently for approximately 20% of all news stories, and growing). News results have expanded abstracts, and there are also additional news subcategories, including region-specific news stories from around the world.

Search results now feature "dynamic abstracts" in the descriptions of web pages. In the past, AltaVista would use the contents of a page's meta description tag, or text appearing near the top of the page as a description. Now, AltaVista attempts to extract text from the page that more closely matches the query.

"We've also gone ahead and filled in a portion of the page that includes the search query to give the user a better feel for what's on the page," said Kermoian. Dynamic abstracts are similar to Google's "snippets," but AltaVista will use both dynamic abstracts and the contents of the meta description tag if that provides the best result description for the underlying page. Dynamic abstracts are appended to the meta description, if it exists. You can recognize them on a result page by looking for the ellipsis symbol (...).

Finally, AltaVista has gone from using a default Boolean OR operator to a default AND operator. Search engine commentators Tara Calishain and Greg Notess both have produced excellent writeups on this development; use the links below to read more about this change.

AltaVista
http://www.altavista.com

AltaVista Moves from Default OR to Default AND
ResearchBuzz, Feb. 13, 2002
http://www.researchbuzz.com/news/2002/feb07feb1302.html#altavistamoves

AltaVista Defaults to AND
Search Engine Showdown, Feb. 14, 2002
http://www.searchengineshowdown.com/new.shtml

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