AltaVista Category Archive
After last week's news of the demise of AlltheWeb, I suppose I should not be too surprised that the same has now happened at AltaVista. But it is a real loss. The AltaVista Web database has been replaced with a version of the Yahoo! Search database. In addition to the change in the underlying database, there have been many search feature changes:
- Truncation gone
- NEAR operator gone
- Other proximity searching gone
- Case sensitive searching gone
- Field searches gone: anchor, applet, image, text, like
- Region limit gone
So it there any reason to keep using AltaVista? Probably not for the Web database, but the Video and MP3/Audio databases are not yet available at Yahoo! Search and may be worth a visit.
AlltheWeb and AltaVista are now owned by Yahoo! when they bought Overture. For now, AltaVista and AlltheWeb continue to be available at their historic locations and have separate databases for their Web search results. However, since at least sometime in November, AltaVista and AlltheWeb seem to have merged their image, news, and video databases. Both continue to have differences in the search interfaces and search features but the content appears to be the same. The audio searches are getting more similar and perhaps share a portion of their database, but the Web results still are quite different.
Now AltaVista, AlltheWeb, Inktomi, and Overture are all owned by Yahoo! The press release quotes CEO Terry Semel, "We are excited to combine the two companies to build the largest position in the rapidly growing Internet advertising market." While the ad market is what pays for the search engines, the real question is which of these search engines will continue and at what sites? For now, AltaVista and AlltheWeb continue to be available at their historic locations, and they may share the same underlying database very soon. Already, AlltheWeb has lost a few search features like the URL Investigator no longer displaying the number for the links, but overall both still work with all of their old search features. Inktomi still is the back-end search engine at MSN Search and remains available at HotBot.
This season seems to be the summer of toolbars. HotBot, Infospace, and Ask Jeeves all launch toolbars. Lycos launches its Sidesearch. Google upgrades its toolbar. So now its AltaVista's turn, and the AltaVista toolbar has some nice features. It does require IE 5+ and Windows 95+. It installs like Google's within the IE browser under the other bars. It has the popular AltaVista translation option right on the toolbar and is highly customizable. It has site search and direct access to AltaVista's Web, news, images, audio, and video databases. It also has dictionary, calculator, time, conversion, weather, and other popular information options. It even includes a pop-up blocker, like Google's Toolbar 2.0.
Yahoo! announces today that they are acquiring Overture, known for its highly profitable ads, ranked by the highest bidder. And Overture earlier this year bought up AltaVista and AlltheWeb. At a price of approximately $1.63 billion in cash and stock, Yahoo! expects to close the deal by the fourth quarter of 2003.
So Yahoo! will own the Inktomi, AltaVista, and AlltheWeb and FAST Web Search properties, three of the major Web search engines. Yet currently Yahoo! still uses Google for the majority of its search results. That should be changing sometime soon, but whether they will combine the three, use only one, and what will happen with the AltaVista and AlltheWeb search sites and advanced capabilities and syntax, no one is saying.
And who's left outside of Google and the Yahoo! group with their own custom build databases? Ask Jeeve's Teoma, LookSmart's struggling WiseNut, and the newcomer (from last summer) Gigablast. Well the consolidation predicted to happen about five years ago is finally occurring. Let's hope that search will still continue to improve, expand, and offer even more options and resources.
AltaVista announces larger image, audio, and video databases. Their press release trumpets "AltaVista's Multimedia Index Becomes World's Largest" and claims "540 million comprehensive, high-quality image files and approximately 11 million video and audio files" and "125 million more files than the next highest competitor." However, there is no good way to measure the actual size, and depending on the search term and the way the image search is done, you may still find more results at other engines. On the AltaVista image search, they added a "Size" limit, with small, medium, large, and a variety of standard wallpaper dimensions.
On top of all the continuing confusion of acquisitions and ownerships changes in the search engine field, comes this one. Earlier this year Overture bought up AltaVista and the FAST Web Search business including AlltheWeb. That left FAST Search and Transfer with the FAST enterprise search business but not the public Web searching business. Now Overture is selling the AltaVista enterprise search portion of AltaVista to FAST. Confused? Try the FAST press release. But basically, Overture now owns the AltaVista and AlltheWeb and FAST public Web search engines. FAST Search & Transfer has the FAST and AltaVista enterprise search engines (for site search, intranet search, etc.).
Overture announces that it has wrapped up the deal to purchase AltaVista. It will be interesting to see what comes from the following quote: "Overture plans to develop a common platform for its new Web search product before the end of 2003 and will continue to operate both AltaVista and FAST's search engines separately until that time."
The advertising search engine Overture announced plans to acquire AltaVista. It's another interesting acquisition, although there are scant details on the long-term future of AltaVista. At least Overture has the money to support AltaVista and may be able to maintain the AltaVista database and improve it. With Yahoo's purchase of Inktomi, one obvious change may be that Overture's follow-up search engine will switch from Inktomi to AltaVista. This could also change sites like Go.com that use the Overture/Inktomi combination. But we'll have to wait to see what changes will actually happen. Overture has said that they plan to maintain AltaVista as a destination site.
AltaVista's wild card or truncation symbol, the * or asterisk, has expanded so that it covers an unlimited number of characters. It used to only represent 0-5 extra characters and a double asterisk (**) had to be used for unlimited. Also, in addition to using the < for a before operation, the > works for after. This all probably happened sometime last year, but I have finally noticed and documented it now. Search Engine Feature Chart, Search Engines by Feature Page, and the AltaVista Review have all been updated.
GP notes a couple nice new features at AltaVista's news search. There is now a date range option and a limit for articles with images. Remember that AltaVista's news search includes older news articles back a year or more, unlike the news search engines from Google and AlltheWeb which only go back 30 days and 7 days respectively. Unfortunately for Mozilla or Netscape 7 users, the calendars for the new AltaVista date limits do not work, but at least the dates can still be entered manually. AltaVista News review and News Search Engines pages updated.
AltaVista, one of the few surviving old-time search engines, is trying another relaunch. Originally scheduled for Nov. 12, the new site has been up since this weekend with a mixture of nice improvements and some failures. See their quick tour for their PR push.
The advanced search has a File Type limit and filetype:pdf also works. This is a substantial quality increase for their database. However, like at Google, AltaVista only indexes the beginning part of the PDF files. For example, one 228 page PDF is only indexed up to about page 120. Only FAST (at AlltheWeb and Lycos) is indexing full PDF files.
They have certainly improved the freshness of their database as a whole. In my freshness comparison of Oct. 20, the bulk of their database was about 3 months old. Now it looks more like it is from mid September with a few pages from the last three days. That is a big improvement. However, their claim of refreshing "50% of the results daily" is a bit misleading. They plan on revisiting half of the results that users retrieve and refreshing those. That should mean that about half of the results that most users see will be fresh, but it is not half the whole database. The fresh results will be marked with "Refreshed in the past 24 hours" or "Refreshed in the past 48 hours" which is a more accurate label than Google's date (since it only represents that date the page was last checked and not necessarily the date when the content last changed).
After crawling about 4 billion URLs, their production database is about 900 million. (Roughly 20 million of these are supposed to be refreshed daily). It is nice to see a larger database, but they still miss many pages available from Google and AlltheWeb. AltaVista also now has 400 million Web objects (images, audio files, and video files). The image database is supposed to be increasing from about 100 million to 250+ million images.
Like at Google, AltaVista says that over 50% of its traffic is from non-North American users. So they are focusing on expanding and improving how the site serves all their users. So US users see a US version while German users have a version specialized for them. If you get a version you do not want, click on the AltaVista [country] link in the upper right hand corner to change the default. For the US version, it defaults to searching English and Spanish language pages only. Be sure to change that if you want a broader searcher, and AltaVista will remember the change. The US regional limit defaults to Worldwide, but there is a US limit available. Other countries default to their own country limit, which is based on both top level domains and link analysis to determine the geographic orientation of particular pages. The region limit on the advanced search page is now gone.
Their Prisma technology for suggesting related and narrower searches has been widened from English to include French, German, Italian, and Spanish as well. Their News search has also been expanded from English to include German language sources for their German version.
Power Search Back as More Precision
With all the turnover at AltaVista, it seems no one there remembers their old Power Search. Now they have brought back some semblance of it under the label of "More Precision." All it offers All, Any, Phrase, and None choices for those who don't do Boolean searches. There is also the default region and language limits, but the Advanced Search still offers more options.
Following up on their August removal of the annoying pop-up and pop-under ads, now their home page has no banner ads either.
A new expansion on their Shortcuts is call Shortcut Answers. The Shortcuts, an effort to get at material on the invisible Web, are marked with a small boxed arrow and just above the regular results. The new expansion tries to provide answers rather than just links. So a search on exchange rate zloty or area code dallas gives answers directly on the results list. For more details, see their Shortcuts Help page.
Some early problems with the new launch are getting fixed fairly quickly. For example, the directory search would give directory category matches, but the links were broken. That is now fixed. However, it would be even better if AltaVista gave the full category label at the top of the category results when clicking on the category links from a search result. Also, some other parts of the site did not seem to work right but are back to normal now.
Internet Explorer Optimization
Some features only work or work best in Internet Explorer. The vertical blue bar down the left side of the page can be clicked to open the search result in a new window. It is a nice touch, but only in IE does the highlight in the blue bar show up when you mouse over the record. Click on the title of a record shows an "opening page..." note in green, and after returning to the results page a "last page visited" in green will show up next the record just viewed. Nice features, but both work only in IE. And then there is the search button, renamed "Find" for some unknown reason. The button color only shows up in IE. In Mozilla, the 'Find' text is white on grey. At least it is black text in Netscape 4.7 and Opera.
New News Search
The AltaVista news search, with content from Moreover, New York Times, BBC, CNN, Forbes, and others, is expanded and now provides limits for Regions, Sources, and Date, in addition to the Topic limit available earlier. It also has adding the Prisma suggested searches technology and will add news pictures as well. Most significant to me is that some of these news sources have stories indexed from a year or more ago, well beyond the month at Google news.
AltaVista says that internal tests show a 40% user satisfaction improvement over the past few months. I've seen mixed results, but also note Danny Sullivan's article from last week, Paid Inclusion Listings May Get Boosted At AltaVista. Let's hope that this is only a temporary glitch.
AltaVista issued a press release about their search engine being blocked in China. It includes several ways for Chinese users to get around the block by going to other AltaVista sites.
In AltaVista's press release on the one year anniversary of their paid inclusion program. "Since the introduction of Express Inclusion last year, more than 29,000 customers have used the service to ensure rapid inclusion and frequent updates of more than 82,500 URLs in AltaVista's global database. Beginning August 1, the service will refresh URLs in the Express Inclusion program every weekday. "
AltaVista now really defaults to a Boolean AND on their basic search. After many previous changes of the default operation, including automatic phrase recognition, AltaVista has joined all the other major search engines and switched to a default AND operation for multiple word queries, at least mostly. The automatic phrase recognition still seems to be in force and certain phrases will automatically be searched as a phrase. Check the fine print at the bottom to see which phrases, if any, were automatically searched.
They have also launched a new interactive search initiative called Prisma which provides a broad range of suggested terms for refining a search query. It includes broader, related, and narrower terms. Only available for English search terms at present, they expect to expand to additional languages soon.
Dr. Jan Pedersen, formerly of Infoseek and Verity, is AltaVista's new Chief Scientist. The press release reports that "Pedersen will spearhead the company's middle- and long-term product initiatives, including research and development efforts on user-centric, next generation search technologies. "
AltaVista announces the expansion of its multimedia databases by 73%. This includes their images, audio, and video databases. According to an AltaVista representative, this expansion is due in part to a 31% increase in multimedia searching since the beginning of this year. The combined multimedia databases include more than 140 million URLs for multimedia content, and AltaVista adds over 800 new news-related images per day.
Gwen Harris has posted a detailed article on some of the recent changes at AltaVista, including an excellent break-down or how the simple search does not yet default to AND all the time.
AltaVista has again redesigned its front-end and made many changes:
* The Search Assistant (formerly Power Search) is gone, with its search features integrated into a new Advanced Search page.
* The new Advanced Search page has dropped the ranking box, now defaults to 'site collapsing,' and has expanded the date and domain limits.
* AltaVista has returned to the tabs on top for access to its various database: Web, Image, Audio, Video, Directory, and News.
* The Directory (LookSmart) is new as a searchable tab, and the directory categories no longer show up at the bottom of the Web search results.
* AltaVista Basic will now display up to 1,000 results by continuing to page forward.
* The Customization page is harder to find, linked only from the Basic search pages under 'Settings,' and it is now the only way to get more than 10 hits per page. The Advanced Search no longer gives the option to get more than 10 hits at a time.
* They have added a Real Searches page which shows selected actual search statements in each database.
* AltaVista News headlines now include thumbnail images for about 20% (according to AltaVista) of stories, and the abstracts have been expanded.
AltaVista has changed the default operation on their simple search yet again. They have now joined all the other major search engines by defaulting to AND when two or more words in their Basic Search, usually. It is still not always a straight AND. I found some searches that would still do an OR, most often when a straight AND would result in zero results or very few results. As an AltaVista representative put it, "We start with AND, and will OR the terms if this is necessary to get a useful results set, but prefer to stick with AND if there are enough results." To be sure that AltaVista does an AND, it is still safest to use the Boolean operator directly. Search Engine Feature Chart, Search Engines by Feature Page, and the AltaVista Review have all been updated.
Also, on the AltaVista Power Search, or Search Assistant page, there is now a message stating that "Beginning February 21, 2002, AltaVista Search Assistant features will be incorporated into AltaVista Advanced Search."
AltaVista announces the official launch of "AltaVista Shortcuts." This is one attempt to provide content from the "Invisible Web" by providing specially chosen links for common Web searches. From the press release: "AltaVista Shortcuts are integrated directly into the first Web search results page. Users can easily test the new feature by doing a search for their favorite large city (i.e. San Francisco) and then looking for the small blue arrow icons. The arrows will highlight AltaVista Shortcuts to key information on the selected city, including maps, directions, local resources, city guides, weather, yellow pages and more."
Sometime recently, AltaVista removed the ability to view the dates of Web pages. Awhile back it was removed as a default display option but was still available for those who chose to display it from the customization page. Now the ability to display the date is no longer an option there or anywhere at AltaVista.
AltaVista announces the launch of their new listing enhancements. These cost money but do not change ranking. They include logos, descriptive icons, custom tag lines, and text links. Like enhanced yellow page listings, they provide more information for some of the displayed results. The custom tag lines can be updated by the Web site owner. The text links can offer several links from within the description of the site, pointing to major section. Try a search on oatmeal or commercial real estate in australia for examples.
AltaVista announce the appointment of James Barnett as new CEO. Formerly president of MyFamily.com, Barnett fills the post the Rod Schrock left last October after AltaVista's portal play failed. In the same press release, AltaVista reiterated its emphasis on an exclusive search focus and announced a repositioning of their comparison Shopping.com shopping service to become more of a search functionality.
AltaVista announces the launch of its Trusted Feed program. This pay for inclusion program lets companies submit 500 or more URLs via an XML feed and can include dynamically-generated Web content as well as standard HTML pages. It will be refreshed weekly, and companies will pay based on a pay per click model. However, the ranking of results in AltaVista searches will be determined by AltaVista's relevance algorithms, not by participation in the Trusted Feed program.
The AltaVista Simple or Basic Search appears to be defaulting to an OR operation again, rather than an AND when there are 2-4 query terms. I am checking with AltaVista to see if this is a temporary glitch or if it is yet another change to the default operation.
At this week's Web Search University, I learned that AltaVista's truncation symbol (the asterisk *) when used within a phrase search can represent an entire word. Typically, the asterisk can only be used after a minimum of three characters. But in a phrase search, it can also be used to represent an entire word as in the following search:
"addictive semiconscious * of biblioscopy"
The AltaVista Review
and the Search Engines by Search Features page have been updated to reflect that ability. I also fixed the Advanced Search link and added NEAR to AltaVista simple on the Search Engine Chart.
At least for the moment, I've discovered that AltaVista's simple search has changed in a couple additional ways.
- Full Boolean searching and the NEAR operator now seems to work on the AltaVista simple search, as long as all the operators are in upper case. Nesting works as well
- Stop words can now be searched, as long as they are not just searched by themselves.
And now Raging Search, AltaVista's no-ad and business solutions demonstration front-end, is gone as well. Launched almost a full year ago (May 4, 2000), it has now gone the way of Infoseek, Inference Find, DejaNews, and the other vanishing search engines. A note at the former site states:
Dear Raging Search user,
In our continuing effort to provide the world's best search experience, we have combined Raging Search with our improved AltaVista Text Search.
The new Text Search provides all of the features of Raging Search, and more:
We hope you enjoy AltaVista Text Search.
- Viewable on text-only browsers
- World-class relevancy
- Lightning-fast performance
- News related to your query
The AltaVista advanced search URLs throughtout Search Engine Showdown have been updated. In addition, the AltaVista Review, the AltaVista News Review, and the Searching News Databases pages have been updated. In addition to the changes at AltaVista listed under yesterdays news below, AltaVista appears to no longer be serving up results from RealNames, GoTo, or even LookSmart categories.
AltaVista has changed the look and URL of their advanced search. The new URL is altavista.com/sites/search/adv and there are a couple main changes that I have noticed:
- The Boolean box no longer is a multiple line (as in big) box, but is a regular single line form box.
- The date limit has a new, pre-set time frame drop down option.
A few general changes on all AltaVista Searches:
- Results are no longer numbered
- Each search box also has links to the other two search options: Search Assistant, Basic Search, and Advanced Search. The Search Assistant is the new name for their Power Search
- All records seem to have the 'More pages from this site' note at the end, even if there is only one page from the site and even when the Advanced or Power search is used without checking the 'one result per site' box.
AltaVista's Babel Fish translation service has added translation for Chinese, Japanese, and Korean to and from English. According to the press release, Babel Fish, currently performs over one million translations per day.
AltaVista will now display some news headlines as matches above the regular search results. These come from their news database, powered by Moreover, and directly accessible at www.altavista.com/news/. See their press release for more details.
AltaVista, with its increase emphasis on search, has unveiled a new logo and a new look to its page. The page is designed to load faster. In addition, AltaVista has re-done its shopping search to incorporate local stores as well as Internet sites. See the CMGI press release for more details.
Back in January, AltaVista made some changes to how it processes multiple term searches. On their simple search page, in general, searches with four or less terms are now an automatic AND while searches with five or more terms are now an automatic OR. See more details in the updated AltaVista review.
AltaVista has made some major changes to its site again. Much of the portal content is gone and it loads faster. The background is now white. Check back for more details later.
AltaVista and GoTo announce a partnership. GoTo is the best-known pay for placement search engine. The GoTo pay for placement results will appear later this month and will be listed separately from the regular AltaVista results under a heading of "Sponsored Listings."
AltaVista announces winning four more search-related patents, bringing its total patent portfolio for to 38. The four new patents cover:
1. duplicated detection and removal
2. relevancy ranking
3. data structures for searching and indexing
4. spidering techniques
AltaVista has added two new specialized search pages: Education Search and Government Search. These are linked under the "More Searches" heading in the left-hand margin of the page. All these search forms do is put an .edu or a .gov top level domain limit on a search. The pages also have links into appropriate sections of AltaVista's LookSmart-powered directory and top searches in the area.
These pages provide no new search features for the advanced searcher who already knows how to add a domain limit, but they may be useful for novice searchers. On the government page they could at least add the .mil sites, as does Google's Uncle Sam. The education page would benefit by adding non-U.S. higher education sites like the .ac.uk sites.
AltaVista has introduced a Power Search page, which provides a middle road between its simple and advanced search forms. It has a more extensive scripted form which can make the powerful search features of the Advanced Search page available to searchers without requiring knowledge of the special Advanced Search syntax. It is similar to HotBots Power Search page in terms of options and layout.