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AltaVista home page, 2004
AltaVista home page, 2004

The name AltaVista refers both to an Internet search engine company and to that company's search engine product.

The engine, whose name means "a view from above" or "high view", originated in 1995 with scientists at Digital Equipment Corporation's Research lab in Palo Alto, California, and was intended to showcase the speed of the company's Alpha servers. It was for that reason originally launched at

They devised a method to store every word of every HTML page on the Internet in a fast, searchable index. This led to AltaVista's development of the first searchable, full-text database of that part of the World Wide Web indexed by AltaVista.

The company's product BabelFish offered the Web's first Internet machine translation service that could translate words, phrases or entire Web sites to and from English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and Russian.

Missing image
Early AltaVista site header.
The search engine went online in 1995 and soon surpassed Lycos and Excite in popularity. It was the first-ever multi-lingual search engine. It was also the first major search engine to support non-Latin language, such as Japanese or Chinese. AltaVista later extended this by introducing localized portals in many countries.

AltaVista pioneered a number of common search features, such as searching for phrases using quotes. The multimedia search was for many years the largest available, as was the database of indexed URIs. AltaVista was rated as the largest search engine in 1995, and again between 1997 and 1999[1] ( Before its switch to the Yahoo! database, AltaVista had about 1 billion indexed URIs.

In 1996, AltaVista became the exclusive provider of search results for Yahoo!. In 1998, Digital was sold to Compaq, and in 1999 Compaq relaunched AltaVista as a web portal, abandoning their streamlined searchpage and alienating their core userbase. In June of the same year, Compaq paid a staggering US$3.3 million for the domain name, but it continued to lose marketshare, especially to Google. It was subsequently floated from Compaq as an independent company.

In February 2003, AltaVista was bought by Overture Services, Inc. In March 2004, Overture itself was taken over by Yahoo!. Shortly after Yahoo!'s acquisition, the AltaVista site started using Yahoo!'s database.

AltaVista was also one of the numerous websites which promised "free email for life", only to subsequently reverse this policy by charging a subscription fee for its email services.

External links

  • AltaVista (
  • Babel Fish (
  • Timeline (

See also

fr:AltaVista pl:AltaVista zh:AltaVista


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