Home / Tech / Marcia J. Bates explains how Google’s birth led to the downfall of AltaVista
Marcia J. Bates explains how Google’s birth led to the downfall of AltaVista

Marcia J. Bates explains how Google’s birth led to the downfall of AltaVista

Ever since Google search engine came into the lives of billions of Internet users across the globe, many similar Internet companies died. One such company was AltaVista.

Founded in 1995, AltaVista was a very popular Internet search engine website. Nevertheless, AltaVista lost ground to Google and was purchased by Yahoo! in 2003.

Ten years later, Yahoo! officially shut down AltaVista in July 2013 and redirected the domain name to its own search engine website.

Marcia J. Bates, UCLA Professor Emerita of Information Studies recently explained why AltaVista lost ground to Google sooner than expected.

According to Bates, early search engines including AltaVista adapted the classical information retrieval techniques developed by Gerard Salton at Cornell and Bill Maron at UC Berkeley on automatic indexing/retrieval of information.

These techniques mainly focused on automatic text-based processing and manipulation of documents, probabilities, and retrieving results according to ranking and processing score.

Although, these algorithmic techniques were eventually filtered out to be more substantial over the decades. At the other hand, Google founders started off with a completely different approach in mind.

Google successfully recognized the potential of URLs, which could be added to the algorithms for the sake of information indexing altogether.

This new technique pioneered by Google could be a big blow to all the conventional information retrieval techniques by improving the overall process accuracy.

Google’s approach led to the overhaul of the classic IR algorithms with the help of already established connections made by web page developers and authors.

“Google’s techniques were a huge boost to classical IR methods. Whatever other business and company management issues AltaVista faced, it was the last of the old style information retrieval engines,” Bates added.


  1. Pffft. Nonsense. The real reason is because, back in the day, most internet access was by modem – at 56k. Google’s page loaded faster – end of story.

  2. I agree, the bloated Altavista front page caused me to use Google. Google’s results might have been better, but I haven’t noticed that at the time.

  3. I agreed with mike. Do not forget altavista did sell each keyword to highest bider and did give The buyer exlude right to that search word. When you did a search example food only that company did buy The Word food come up. that was before google existied so i change to other search engine. The Google come but it was not good at search it was equal or worse like other search engine few year later around 1999 google have become one of The best om The market

  4. Yes, the faster loading times were paramount to google’s success, but also it’s algorithm, if you searched for “rfc http status codes” at that time google was the only one showing the correct result in the number one slot.

  5. Yes, this is a fact well known. The Pagerank algorithm at Google burned Altavista to the ground. I was a huge Altavista user, but there was no comparison … not even close.
    What’s interesting today is that the ascendancy of the hyperlink, or the very “web”, is now challenged by more powerful tools used by Facebook and other social networks. Having information about someone allows you to deliver content right to their front door. We can’t think of the web any longer in terms of “hyperlinks”, but more in terms of other factors, like “how many page views” and “who has viewed it”. So it’s probably much closer to more advanced ranking systems.

  6. Mostly Harmless

    AltaVista was the search engine we were taught in college, and I seem to recall Web Crawler as mostly a novelty. I later started using Yahoo! with great results, including real success in finding lost relatives and friends. There were a number of search engines at the time which proved of various usefulness, so I found myself using DogPile a lot. I also remember the Inktomi engine drove the back-end of a few sites like Yahoo!, including Microsoft’s support site search, but then everyone started getting into the search engine business (including Microsoft which 20 years later still can’t search worth a crap.) By the time Google hit my desk I was tiring of the first page and a-half of Yahoo!’s search results being nothing but advertisements or some other commercial offerings. If you’re looking for a drive for an S3 video card you’d better be prepared to wade through all sorts of ad-crap before you find the link to S3’s webpage. But on Google, S3’s driver page was the first result. This played out for so much of what I did at the time — any work-related search was far more successful on Google than Yahoo!. Eventually it was the same for my personal searches, as well.

    For a while during the mid-2000s I found myself slumming back to Yahoo! as many Google results were being tweaked by people exploiting weaknesses in Google’s algorithms (is it still possible to “Google bomb”?) But now with Google breaking its covenant rule by turning its users in commodities using the lure of “free” resources, I long for a viable and useful alternative as I am certain the massive mess of Google anonymizers, cookie blockers, JavaScript and CSS blockers, and others I have running in my browser can only hold out for so long. That doesn’t even touch mobile devices and apps which use Google searches in the background and send out who-knows-what information.

  7. Sorry, the real reason is… back sometime around 2002 Yahoo *was* the Internet but they only had a directory and they were very anal about it.
    Then they actually used google as a search engine and had them on the main page (so if you did a yahoo search instead of getting the directory you would get google) that was the same as giving google the keys to the kingdom.
    They instantly had millions and millions and millions of users.
    The google guys are not that smart and yahoo! guys are a bunch of idiots.
    Yahoo! has done some idiotic stuff but this one is absolutely the winner.

  8. DEC-Was_Icompetent

    DEC created AltaVista, but was utterly incompetent at exploiting said advantage.
    Really. I was @ DEC at the time. Mgmt was uttterly incompetent. Harry Copperman: smart enough to drive a Yugo. Nothing more.

  9. Google substituted the most popular links that appeared relevant for the the apparently most relevant links. Most of the time that’s what most of the people are after, and for lazy searchers, it works well. But for those of us who’d become pretty good at creating search criteria and who wanted things that weren’t very popular, it sucked and still does. I miss AltaVista. It’s much more difficult now to find unpopular links in which I’m interested.

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