AltaVista Testing "Paraphrase" Tool

AltaVista's new query refinement tool offers suggestions for improving your search terms. Also, the search engine is adding new content on a more frequent basis.

The new query refinement tool is called "Paraphrase," offering up to a dozen alternate search queries with a click of a link. Paraphrase results are located immediately under the search box on the results page.

Paraphrase terms are more than just new search terms, however. They represent topic categories within the result set that offer suggestions for focusing and refining the search, and in some cases suggest an entirely new search expression.

In the current Beta, the Paraphrase terms are derived from the titles and abstracts of the top ranked documents. In the second phase, AltaVista plans to incorporate data from offline computations using the full text of its more than 600 million indexed Web pages, as well as using behavioral information from actual queries from AltaVista users.

Part of AltaVista's goal with the Paraphrase tool is to teach users how to become better searchers, by showing examples of potentially more effective queries.

"Our beta test will present one percent of the U.S.-based visitors to with the AltaVista Paraphrase tool (as well as the normal AltaVista search results)," said Krista Thomas, AltaVista's Director of Marketing-Communications. The test is running for two weeks, and AltaVista hopes to incorporate an improved version of the tool into all 22 of its global versions in the near future.

Separately, AltaVista continues to make progress on improving the freshness of its index.

"We have also instituted a freshness and relevancy initiative whereby we crawl the Web four times a day (every six hours) to discover new, non-commerce-based and editorial Web sites," said Thomas. The company is scouring for new content by checking high-quality sources of links to new web pages -- including content providers, editorial hubs and subject forums -- as well as adding key topical sites selected by AltaVista's human editors.

"This summer, we will be moving to hourly updates and automatically re-spidering frequently updated sites, making them available to users as soon as they are produced," said Thomas.

AltaVista is now operating under the following update schedule:

Content Type: Update Frequency

News feeds: 15 minutes
New non-commerce and editorial site inclusion: Every six hours
Main index: Weekly partial updates
Multimedia index: Daily update of partner feeds
Trusted Feed (paid, large sites): Weekly
Express Inclusion (paid, small sites): Weekly


AltaVista Paraphrase Screenshot

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.