Many Changes At AltaVista
From The Search Engine Report
July 6, 1999
It was a busy month for AltaVista -- a new owner, a new direction, new paid links auction and a freshness guarantee were among the major developments for the service. Here's a wrap up:
CMGI, an Internet investment company, has agreed to acquire 83 percent of AltaVista in cash and stock swap valued at US $2.3 billon. AltaVista-parent Compaq will retain the remaining shares. The announcement came on June 30.
This is good news for the service. AltaVista's fate has always been second to the fate of its parents, first Digital, then Compaq. Every time it has seemed ready to move forward as a major online property, some problem with its parent has put things on hold. The CMGI sale cuts the apron strings and lets AltaVista finally have a chance of succeeding properly on its own.
A big question remains as to how the sale will affect Lycos. CMGI is a 20 percent shareholder there, and so now it has links to three major portals: Lycos, Lycos-owned HotBot and AltaVista. Will it push for AltaVista over the Lycos properties? The article below has CMGI's chief executive saying he thinks all the sites can coexist, but analysts seem to think AltaVista will become the favored child. That's especially because CMGI helped scupper the Lycos-USA Networks deal that was proposed earlier this year.
Just two days before the CMGI deal, AltaVista had a press conference to announce new services and a direction for the service. In particular, AltaVista President Rod Schrock said the service would be targeting web savvy users as its audience of choice. "We will focus on the most experienced, most prolific users on the net," Schrock said.
We've not had any major search service say that it was going after a particular type of audience since Infoseek tried for the business crowd in 1997. It quickly pulled back from that attempt and since then, the various portals have essentially competed for the same audience.
One of AltaVista's initiatives is a new "Search Freshness Guarantee" that I feel has gone largely overlooked. That's too bad, because it's important. AltaVista is pledging that its index will be refreshed at least once a month, if not sooner.
I'd like to see all the major services offer a similar pledge and live up to it. We went through Lycos last year getting away with a stale index for months, a situation that's been corrected now. HotBot is now saying it may take up to two months to add new pages. These are both examples of freshness issues which aren't immediately apparent to users. With freshness guarantees, the search engines would be publicly accountable for an important criteria of indexing for the first time.
A monthly update may not sound very fresh, but this is the worst case scenario for pages at AltaVista. It updates some portions of its index on a daily basis, plus new pages are also added daily. AltaVista also expects to begin a new crawling system later this year where each page would be revisited as often as seems necessary. It does some of this today, but the new system would be much more comprehensive.
AltaVista also plans to continue expanding its index. "Our long term goal is to be able to crawl the entire web," Schrock said. How big is that? Barry Rubinson, AltaVista's VP of Engineering, estimated the service would be at 400 to 500 million pages indexed within a year. It's currently at 150 million pages, just behind size-leader Northern Light, which is in the 160 million page range.
In other news, AltaVista opened its paid placement program to the general public last Friday. An automated ordering system is now online that allows anyone to bid on terms. I may make a page that describes the process in more depth, in the future. In the meantime, there's plenty of help available at the AltaVista site, including a helpful tutorial in PDF format.
By the way, Lycos has introduced new "Start Here" links that appear to be paid placements, in many cases. To see them in action, just search for "cars" and look for the first link in the category section. Unlike AltaVista's links, these placements are not identified as advertisements. I've seen one advertiser report that they are very effective, so contact Lycos for more details.
Now some miscellaneous housecleaning:
Some readers have reported problems with pages going missing or strange results at AltaVista over the past month. Rubinson said this is related to engineering works that have gone on, and the problems should be over now. It probably is worthwhile to do a check on any pages you've submitted recently, just to see that they are still listed.
A few readers have commented on the disappearance of AltaVista's Refine feature. Yes, it is gone, and it's not coming back soon. "We are looking at a replacement for it, and stay tuned," Rubinson said.
AltaVista has also debuted a new form for those that find offensive material slipping past its Family Filter (to enable this, choose the link under the search box, on the home page). AltaVista says that the form can also be used to report spam. Pages are not immediately removed. Instead, they are placed on a list for review.
AltaVista is to begin powering MSN Search in the third quarter of this year, AltaVista President Rod Schrock said. He also said its likely that Microsoft-powered email and instant messaging options will appear on AltaVista at the same time.
What can CMGI do with two portals?
News.com, June 29, 1999
An excellent article looking at how CMGI may deal with its ownership in both Lycos and AltaVista.
AltaVista Paid Relevant Links
AltaVista Launches Paid Listings
The Search Engine Report, May 1999
Background on the program.
Offensive Page Block Form
I haven't tried it, but another recent announcement was the availability of AltaVista MicroPortal. This is apparently a desktop toolbar that lets you search via AltaVista, receive stock and news updates, and other features. For Internet Explorer 4/5 users only, and not available until the end of July.
Can't wait for MicroPortal? Get something similar from Excite, which is ready now. You can check on your Excite email and even tune in an Internet radio station.