by Thomas Wailgum

AltaVista’s View Was Nice, for a Moment in Time

Dec 17, 2010
Consumer ElectronicsData CenterEnterprise Applications

AltaVista will be "sunsetted" soon--reminding us that even though the bubbly mid-90's seems like a century ago, the Web is merely a toddler.

I hadn’t heard the term “AltaVista” in more than a decade, hadn’t thought about one of the first search engines that everyone used, hadn’t reminisced about the mid-1990s and the excitement that gripped the world when we started getting to know this thing called the World Wide Web.

Then this morning, I read that Yahoo! was “sunsetting” AltaVista.

AltaVista logo

Like many others perhaps, I felt a wave of nostalgia. Fleeting visions raced through my head: dotcom mania, fat issues of CIO magazine, twentysomethings playing foosball at the office, the puppet, VCs in blue button-down shirts and pressed khaki pants, irrational exuberance, and on and on.

You’ll recall that the smart folks inside Digital Equipment’s Research Lab launched AltaVista in 1995. It was the first search engine I used, and I stuck with it. Who could forget the Babel Fish translator, which helped millions of us figure out how to say “hello” and “goodbye” in so many foreign languages?

Then, one day, way back when, a colleague said to me: “You’ve got to use Google. It’s much better.”


We all know what happened next.

As a company, AltaVista was sold and bought by numerous ventures until it ended up in Yahoo!’s stable, where it’s now being put out to pasture. (This morning, though, it’s still operational.)

AltaVista’s story serves as another reminder of just how precarious and precocious the Web still is: as a business tool, as a consumer consumption system, as a collaboration mechanism, as a connector of people. It’s still just a toddler.

As I was reading a related blog post this morning —The Web Mourns the Expected Loss of AltaVista—I was struck by all the “Share with Friends” buttons that existed on site, all the new companies and services that have been created since AltaVista: Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Google Buzz, Stumbleupon and lots more.

The symbolism was strangely comforting: Out of the ashes of AltaVista and the trail-blazing work its creators did, we have so much more for which to be thankful.

To many people, shutting down AltaVista will evoke similar emotions to those situations where towns have to tear down a historical building that’s been neglected for decades and is unsafe. Somehow, in some way, that old edifice just imbues importance, respect and acknowledgement.

The memories of AltaVista will live on on the Web. Rest assured of that. Just Google “AltaVista” and you’ll find plenty of it.

Adieu, AltaVista.

Thomas Wailgum covers Enterprise Software, Data Management and Personal Productivity Apps for Follow him on Twitter @twailgum. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline. E-mail Thomas at