www.altavista.digital.com
July 1, 2013 4:58 AM   Subscribe

DEC - I mean Digital - I mean Compaq - er, CMGI - no, Overture; rather - Yahoo ... will shut down AltaVista for good next week.
posted by dmd (121 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by dmd at 4:58 AM on July 1, 2013


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posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:59 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


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posted by sixohsix at 5:02 AM on July 1, 2013


(.)(.)
posted by GallonOfAlan at 5:02 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


404
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:07 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


(AltaVista? What do I need that for, I have Veronica and WAIS!)
posted by dmd at 5:07 AM on July 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


First Reader, and now this?!

(no, seriously, it makes no sense that they're happening in that order)
posted by Riki tiki at 5:08 AM on July 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Seriously, I thought this happened years ago.
posted by nightwood at 5:11 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


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posted by anagrama at 5:13 AM on July 1, 2013


It was terrible even when it "indexed" 20 million pages. No dot!
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:17 AM on July 1, 2013


AltaVista was simply astonishing when it came out - it could find things no one else could. If you think the Web is confusing now, imagine it with search tools that could locate only a small fraction of the sites that existed at the time. Sadly, it was DEC's last great product before Compaq bought them. Then along came the new thing with the unlikely name of Google and that was that. Yet it hung on until 2013.
posted by tommasz at 5:19 AM on July 1, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yep -- the best pre-Google search engine by a mile, though I also had a soft spot for Dogpile -- which it turns out is still around!
posted by escabeche at 5:20 AM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Man, AltaVista sucked, but I have a lot of affection for it. It's like GeoCities, it was how I entered into the wonderful world of the internet.

It's like a stagecoach company going out of business because of the invention of trains. Sure, it's an inferior and much less useful technology, but they had a certain charm to them.
posted by gkhan at 5:20 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


AltaVista served me very well. In memoriam:
How AltaVista looked on October 22, 1996.
posted by rmmcclay at 5:20 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Man, AltaVista sucked,

Compared to what? There was a time when AltaVista was the best there was.
posted by OmieWise at 5:21 AM on July 1, 2013 [28 favorites]


Kids have no idea how totally useless search engines were back in the day. You'd search on "java" and the first hit would be someone's resume followed by five million unsorted results.
posted by octothorpe at 5:22 AM on July 1, 2013 [14 favorites]



Yep -- the best pre-Google search engine by a mile, though I also had a soft spot for Dogpile -- which it turns out is still around!


Noted without comment:

From their current 'about dogpile' page "Dogpile was ranked highest in customer satisfaction by J.D. Powers and Associates in 2006 and 2007."
posted by lalochezia at 5:27 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember, when first hearing of Google, thinking "So... it's just another AltaVista? Why bother?". I kept using AltaVista. But people kept talking about Google, and after maybe a couple weeks I decided to try it out, if only to scoff at it.

I don't even remember what it was that I discovered that day that was better about Google. But I do know that today is the first day I've gone back to AltaVista in a long, long time.
posted by Flunkie at 5:30 AM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


`
posted by tilde at 5:32 AM on July 1, 2013


A . for BabelFish.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:33 AM on July 1, 2013 [23 favorites]


the best pre-Google search engine by a mile

Lies. infoseek ruled the day, for a very short while.
posted by hippybear at 5:36 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes it feels like the web is some digital version of Logan's Run.
posted by gwint at 5:38 AM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


1996. First time I saw a library patron looking on porn at a public access terminal (one of two). The future! Good times.
posted by steef at 5:41 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sometimes it feels like the web is some digital version of Logan's Run.

I watched the movie of that pretty recently. Research afterward showed it to have won an award for special effects. Certainly it couldn't have won for anything else; I was surprised how terrible it was given the cultural cachet it seemed to have garnered.

Like Altavista, it probably established an important template. Like Altavista it's now been superseded and people don't really remember. So it goes.
posted by solarion at 5:42 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


When it first came out I think the best thing about Google, relative to the other engines, was how clean its portal page was, compared to say Yahoo's "Can you find the search engine in this picture?" portal.

Google recognized what attracted people to their page and kept plugging away at that. Other search engines were mostly run by companies that seemed to see the search engine as an advertisement for how awesome they were and not as a business itself. With customers. Who might actually go somewhere else.

And yeah, Infoseek was awesome until somebody went all Episode 7 on it.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:42 AM on July 1, 2013 [10 favorites]


When it first came out I think the best thing about Google, relative to the other engines, was how clean its portal page was

You are out of your gourd. The best thing about Google, relative to the other engines, was that it found lots of stuff they didn't find and it put it in the right order. You don't need to look for any explanation more complicated than that.
posted by escabeche at 5:48 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne beat me to it. Compare it to the link that rmmcclay posted above, and don't even get me started on Hotbot's retina-blistering acid green page (Wired still believing that clashing day-glo colors equaled "edgy"). The also-rans designed their web pages like the check-out lane of a grocery store, trying to tempt you with tabloid rags and junk food when all you wanted was a stupid little tube of Chapstick.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:48 AM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


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posted by trunk muffins at 5:51 AM on July 1, 2013


Way back in 1997/98 I taught Internet 101 type classes for a startup. One of the classes was "Advanced Search Strategies." We used Alta Vista to teach people who had just bought their first computer two weeks prior to the class Boolean logic and how to use it to refine search results. It worked about as well as you are thinking it did.
posted by COD at 5:53 AM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


The cultural cachet of Logan's Run (the movie) revolved almost entirely around Jenny Agutter's diaphanous loungewear. Everything else was just an excuse.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:55 AM on July 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


I honestly can't remember switching to Google. It was a real wild west at the time and I don't even know how I found the www.google.com link. I don't think it was from dogpile or altavista.

Nowadays everyone is so locked-in to various ecosystems.

I miss the early days....
posted by panaceanot at 5:56 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


The best pre-Google search engine was Metacrawler. It fed your search to Yahoo, Alta Vista, Infoseek, etc. and returned the best results from each engine, with most duplicates removed. It was my goto search engine until I discovered Google. Surprisingly, it is still online.
posted by COD at 5:57 AM on July 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


Lycos, 'Like' us? The more things change.
posted by panaceanot at 5:59 AM on July 1, 2013


Back on topic, I liked AV a lot well past the introduction of Google because one could code up query strings that did wizardly things. It was years before Google without a hand-crafted query string was anywhere near as good as AV with one. But even a year or two before then the "good enough" answers from el Goog would get one 90% of the way there, which in most cases was enough.

I still kind of hate how much massaging Google does of queries in order to give me what it thinks I want.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:59 AM on July 1, 2013 [12 favorites]


You don't need to look for any explanation more complicated than that.
A slightly more complicated explanation is that Altavista required the mastering of boolean operators to find complicated things. I was giving a course on Internet searching at that time, teaching people how to use Altavista, until one day I compared the results returned by Altavista and that new kid Google, and there was absolutely no doubt that Google was way more efficient without boolean operators, so I said goodbye to Altavista. Of course, mastering Google search today can be more complex than Altavista ever was.
posted by elgilito at 6:00 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


At least Webcrawler is still around. If in name only...
posted by Thorzdad at 6:00 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


octothorpe: "Kids have no idea how totally useless search engines were back in the day. You'd search on "java" and the first hit would be someone's resume followed by five million unsorted results."

Kind of like how Google is now these days after the first, say, five results.
posted by symbioid at 6:01 AM on July 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


I still miss Dejanews.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:03 AM on July 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


The eulogy says 20 million indexed, and now we have billions and billions.

How many of those billions are SEO spam shit and crap and really just evil things polluting the internet? I know that there were a lot of bad pages back in the day, too, but I bet we don't have much more than 20million really useful pages out there these days. (OK, deep web, yada yada).
posted by symbioid at 6:08 AM on July 1, 2013


Adiós, muchachos.
posted by ob1quixote at 6:08 AM on July 1, 2013


The best pre-Google search engine was Metacrawler. It fed your search to Yahoo, Alta Vista, Infoseek, etc. and returned the best results from each engine, with most duplicates removed. It was my goto search engine until I discovered Google. Surprisingly, it is still online.

I actually used a desktop app called Mata Hari that did the same thing and also checked the search results to filter out the links that no longer worked.

As for Google being better than AltaVista, there was a long period of time where I still had to do boolean searches on AltaVista for some subjects because Google couldn't bring me the results I needed. Usually because I was searching for something specific in a haystack that was more popular. What killed AltaVista for me wasn't mostly Google's pagerank, but rather the way they slipped way behind on indexing an ever increasing Internet.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:09 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


No love for HotBot? They were the first ones I remember embracing Boolean searches. AltaVista was certainly best for "lots of results," and of course Babelfish.

Didn't realize they had passed through so many hands. (Particularly Overture (formerly GoTo.com))
posted by ShutterBun at 6:11 AM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


How many of those billions are SEO spam shit and crap and really just evil things polluting the internet?

If nothing else, I think we can thank Google for being the first major search engine to completely eschew keyword metatags from day one, no? Imagine how much worse it could have been.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:15 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


What will Jerry Gergich do?
posted by drezdn at 6:20 AM on July 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


This stuff is makin' me feel old.

These kids... They don't know how things used to be.

.
posted by DigDoug at 6:21 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lordy - I had completely forgotten! RIP!
posted by PuppyCat at 6:23 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


AltaVista's Babelfish was one of my early encounters with the web and I remember that moment being when I knew that the internet would change society in some deep and fundamental ways.

I remember feeling scared and angry, actually, about the fact that at seventeen, just as I was entering adulthood, the whole world I'd been preparing to enter was about to molt and change into something completely different.
posted by gauche at 6:24 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I worked for AV toward the end of its glory days -- complete with national TV commercials with Pam Anderson -- and most of us were using Google at the office because it smoked AV.

Just before the huge layoffs came along, there were a lot of conversations about how to monetize search.

So, way behind on search quality and on how to make money from it.

Oh by the way, when the huge layoffs came along, my department must have been close to half men, half women. The man in charge of the dept., and the one who swung the axe to go from about 30 to about 6, chose to keep no men, kept the subordinate who was his lover.
posted by ambient2 at 6:30 AM on July 1, 2013


Aw, man, what will Pawneeans do now?
posted by wiskunde at 6:30 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

-FIND BARGAINS ON THE ALL-NEW CHEVROLET SIC TRANSIT GLORIA MUNDI
-Download pictures of Sic Transit Gloria Mundi for your new desktop background.
-Talk to Stanley and Lori Grundy in Gainesville, Ohio NOW for just .05/minute!
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:36 AM on July 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


.

Altavista was one of the things that changed the face of the net.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:38 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I found out the other day that Compuserve still exists.
posted by empath at 6:40 AM on July 1, 2013


AltaVista was great when it was great, but Google changed what it meant to be great. Remember the first time you hit "I'm feeling lucky" on a Google search and the shit WORKED? It seems funny now but then it was amazing. Their search was so revolutionarily comprehensive that they could possibly find what you are looking for on the first try. Unbelievable.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:42 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember deciding that the web was big enough that the hand-catalogged list at Yahoo! [sic] was too big to browse *, and so using Alta Vista to search was a crazy-ass visionary leap into the future.


Note: I had just recently stopped using my copy of "The Whole Internet" by Ed Krol -- though I keep it on a shelf nect to my desk! Hmmmm, looks like Goodreads needs to update their description.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:44 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I remember, when first hearing of Google, thinking "So... it's just another AltaVista? Why bother?". I kept using AltaVista. But people kept talking about Google, and after maybe a couple weeks I decided to try it out, if only to scoff at it.

I worked in desktop support at a federal government agency during the Year Of Windows Viruses (well, the first one that was really bad), and I was pretty much the only guy in the department who knew how to clean up viruses (because I was the only one who knew how to use google), so my 9-5 job was basically cleaning up registries all day long. I got fed up with it, and the google toolbar for IE came out around that time, so I basically started installing it on every single computer I touched to stop people from installing crap like bonzai buddy from pop-up ads (which probably broke some regulation or other, but the IT policies at the time weren't as strict as they are now). Hardly anyone knew what google was at the time -- I only installed it for the pop-up blocker, but within a year, everyone I worked with was talking about googling stuff. People really only needed to use the search box once to realize how much better it was at finding stuff.
posted by empath at 6:46 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Oh my God, Jerry! When you want to check your email, you go to Alta Vista and type in 'Please go to yahoo.com?' God, Jerry, you don’t deserve the internet!"
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:48 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


guys, back in the olden days (1996-1999ish) I used to teach classes on AOL about search engines/how to use them and for a while alta vista really was the shit. (I also taught classes about personal publisher, aolpress, html, advanced html, ftp, etc.)
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:52 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Has anyone asked Jeeves what he thinks of this?
posted by Panjandrum at 7:02 AM on July 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


empath: I found out the other day that Compuserve still exists.

I was recently asked to email someone with a compuserve.net email address and I said, "There is no way that is a valid email address." But I tried it since it was the best option we had for that person, and I was stunned when not only did it not bounce, but they replied!
posted by Rock Steady at 7:07 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


There seems to be a lot of confusion about the quality of AltaVista during the early period of the web, with some holding it up as a pioneer of the web, and others saying that it sucked.

The answer is that AltaVista was a miracle before Google, and was substantially better than Google for years after Google debuted. Translations, image search, the very cores of what Google offers? They were pioneered and refined at AltaVista first.

But then, something went wrong for AltaVista. Many people phrase this as "Google was better because of Pagerank, so AltaVista couldn't compete" or "Google had a nice clean interface," attributing that success to Google, but that doesn't quite describe what was really happening. Between 1995-1998, AltaVista had a clean interface, pretty much as clean as Google's is today, and AltaVista's search results were really extremely good compared even with aughts search results - Google's Pagerank only had an influence on extremely simplistic search terms. If you used AltaVista in 1997, you'd think you were using Google from the aughts.

Not only that, AltaVista had search functions that outdid Google's by a long shot. Most importantly, you could search for things NEAR other things. For years and years, when giving Google multiple search terms, Google would provide results that had one search term in the body of the page and then the other search term in an advertisement or summary elsewhere on the page. This resulted of pages and pages of spam results. With AltaVista's NEAR, you could get search results that were far more relevant than anything Google could provide a until a decade later. (Google started providing similar functionality with AROUND in late 2010, and search results for multiple terms got much better shortly around that time even when not explicitly using AROUND, because of various improvements Google made late in the game. How quickly we forget how bad Google's results were in the late aughts.)

AltaVista was flying high. Then 1999 happened. There were a series of disastrous business transactions. Digital, who ran AltaVista, was bought by Compaq, who quickly proceeded to clutter the page with a remarkably ill-conceived portal. Compaq then sold the search engine to CMGI, who made things even worse. AltaVista had this reasonably neat interface for years, but then started 1999 like with lots of clutter and ended the year an absolute mess.

But that's not the worst of it. At the same time AltaVista's home page was erupting with spurious content, the search results were getting worse. For several years, AltaVista had been on top of the web, but the new owners seemed to have trouble keeping the spiders going, and results were often very stale, weeks out of date, and extremely slow to load. By the time the early aughts rolled around, AltaVista's results were slow and dismal. (And we had all moved to Google.)

So, don't spit on AltaVista's grave - it is a grave disrespect to the engineers at Digital who brought us the foundation of excellent Internet search in the 90s. But do feel free to look askance at CMGI, who bought AltaVista, poisoned it, destroyed the good name that Digital had created, and gave Google the inroad to where they are today.
posted by eschatfische at 7:07 AM on July 1, 2013 [40 favorites]


ith AltaVista's NEAR, you could get search results that were far more relevant than anything Google could provide a until a decade later.

This is not true. You didn't have a specific command to specify it, but google took proximity of your search terms into consideration almost from the beginning.
posted by empath at 7:12 AM on July 1, 2013


Does anybody remember how insanely bad the "portal" concept turned out to be?

Really. For a year or two the portal concept was the fishizzle. Smart people everywhere thought portals were the bomb. "Everybody is going to surf the web from a portal." Control the portal and you control all the big luscious bucks that stem from it.

People really thought like that.

Portal, portal, portal, portal, portal.... when you say it a few times the whole concept is meaningless.

And it was.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:20 AM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Outlasted by Astalavista!
posted by davemee at 7:21 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Everybody is going to surf the web from a portal." Control the portal and you control all the big luscious bucks that stem from it.

I know, those fools!
posted by entropicamericana at 7:28 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Christ, I forgot about that google toolbar pop up blocker thing. I bet that was a HUGE key to their success.

A slightly more complicated explanation is that Altavista required the mastering of boolean operators to find complicated things. I was giving a course on Internet searching at that time, teaching people how to use Altavista, until one day I compared the results returned by Altavista and that new kid Google, and there was absolutely no doubt that Google was way more efficient without boolean operators, so I said goodbye to Altavista. Of course, mastering Google search today can be more complex than Altavista ever was.

Someone was recently mocking me for not using some complicated boolean search on google. "Look, all you have to do is type +adjust +flame -furnace -water heater" when I was typing something stupid like "how do I adjust my grill flame?" You get better results when you ask it questions. Don't ask me why. And in three years, the pendulum will swing back the other way.
posted by gjc at 7:28 AM on July 1, 2013


drezdn: "What will Jerry Gergich do?"

Maybe he'll use Ask.com and type "please go to Yahoo.com" -- or maybe even cut out the middleman. (This means he'll ask Google.)

twoleftfeet: "Portal, portal, portal, portal, portal.... when you say it a few times the whole concept is meaningless."

Tell this to the people redesigning my company's intranet.

No, please, seriously. Tell them.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:29 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


Altavista was the last search engine I used before Google. I can't remember if I used a search engine before that. Was Yahoo doing search by the time Altavista came along or were still they just an index?
posted by entropicamericana at 7:30 AM on July 1, 2013


The only people who thought "portals" would be great are the same people who think that street sales are great. "Let's interrupt people on their way to get shit done and try to sell them things they probably don't care about, but there's a chance, right?"

The problem with that shit, like every other kind of intrusive/interruptive marketing, is that the relationship starts off on the wrong foot. The prospect has something else in mind, and you are interrupting them. The proper response to an interruption in polite society is a brusque "no, thanks" and in the society of my mind is a punch in the dick. And you want to sell me something? AHAHAHA

Great marketing is making your product information available just at the point of interest and not a moment before. Which is why I don't block Google search ad results. Because that's the exact time, and only time, I am interested in being marketed to.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:31 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Portal, portal, portal

Which led to the snortal, too.
posted by Melismata at 7:32 AM on July 1, 2013


Does anybody remember the Global Network Navigator? It was your portal to the Internet!!!

Seriously. People really thought like that. Bright minds and investors convinced themselves that the internet was something you could build a homepage for, and if you did that, you could control access, and control all the big bucks that came from it.

They really thought like that. My grandchildren don't believe me, but that's really the way it was.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:34 AM on July 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


AltaVista was originally built in part as a demo of DEC's 64 bit processors. At the time most Unix machines were still 32 bit and couldn't manage a whole search index in RAM easily. DEC Alphas could. The project came out of DEC WRL, which in the 90s was still one of the grand old systems laboratories in the vein of Bell Labs. It all went to shit, poor DEC. (I have no source for any of this other than my own memory, so could be wrong.)
posted by Nelson at 7:35 AM on July 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


COD: "The best pre-Google search engine was Metacrawler. It fed your search to Yahoo, Alta Vista, Infoseek, etc. and returned the best results from each engine, with most duplicates removed. It was my goto search engine until I discovered Google. Surprisingly, it is still online."

Metacrawler has an interesting history. The guy who invented it was Erik Selberg, then a grad student at UW. He ran the engine on some of UW's AlphaStations until it became so popular that it started affecting the university's bandwidth. He branched out into a startup named NetBot, who licensed metacrawler's code to aggregate shopping portal Jango. (No relation to the streaming radio site, which came much later.)

NetBot was acquired by Go2Net. Selberg left Go2Net before they were acquired by InfoSpace back in the late '90's for 4 billion dollars. Adding metacrawler to their portfolio (which also included dogpile!) helped trigger their downfall. Concerns that InfoSpace had overpaid for metacrawler sent their stock into a massive downward spiral. To save themselves, InfoSpace lied to their investors and cooked their books to make the company seem much more successful and profitable than it was. When that was revealed to the public there was a huge scandal. (The Seattle Times' full report is here. It's fascinating reading.)

Selberg went on to help found Microsoft Search Labs, the R&D group within the Windows Live Search team which would eventually help get Bing off the ground. He's been at Amazon for a number of years. And MetaCrawler's still chugging away.
posted by zarq at 7:40 AM on July 1, 2013 [7 favorites]


Bright minds and investors convinced themselves that the internet was something you could build a homepage for, and if you did that, you could control access, and control all the big bucks that came from it.


As other people have pointed out, Facebook has proved that that is in fact the case. As well as sites like Reddit, and Google, of course.
posted by empath at 7:45 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Concerns that InfoSpace had overpaid for metacrawler sent their stock into a massive downward spiral.

It wasn't just that. Naveen Jain is hawking personal phone numbers now. That should tell you something about how deep their business model really was.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:47 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


My AltaVista memory: I was giving a seminar on basic internet usage to a bunch of older university employees using a giant projector. When it was time to talk about search engines I called up AltaVista... only I didn't, I accidentally typed "Altravista". The room full of nice older ladies was immediately presented with images of fully naked men in cowboy hats. I embarrassedly closed it up but I think I made the internet a better place for many of them that day.
posted by charred husk at 7:59 AM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Facebook has proved that that is in fact the case

Not at all. Mutations that appear quickly and rise to dominance quickly also disappear quickly.

Facebook is a fad. Ten years from now, maybe this will be as obvious as MySpace.

What doesn't change is the overall network. You're seeing it now every time somebody checks their iPhone for the weather and tweets the result, or uses their GPS to route past bad traffic, or uses a "web browser" to go to a "homepage".

The reality of a healthy distributed network is that it doesn't have a center. All the parts coordinate through the network without a central focus. That's what makes these early "portal" efforts so hilarious, in retrospect. They were woefully misguided attempts to capture a network far beyond that sort of capture.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:00 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just because Facebook won't last forever doesn't mean that it isn't essentially the center of the internet for many (most?) people right now.
posted by empath at 8:02 AM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


"What is it with people in this town and Alta Vista?"

(Back in the day, AV was the only place that let me put + and - on search terms, plus the neat strict and not-so-strict (parentheses!) searches!
posted by Eideteker at 8:04 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is not true. You didn't have a specific command to specify it, but google took proximity of your search terms into consideration almost from the beginning.

They may have been recording location information, but what they were recording in the body of the web page, early on, was very limited - just a 12-bit value - and of seemingly limited value to either the algorithm or the user. Empirically, Google did not prioritize proximity in any substantial way, whereas AltaVista could, and there were many times even after AltaVista's downfall in the early aughts that while doing technical queries that I would grow frustrated with Google and immediately find what I was looking for by using NEAR or other complex boolean searches with AltaVita.
posted by eschatfische at 8:08 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


twoleftfeet The reality of a healthy distributed network is that it doesn't have a center.

The internet of today is a lot more centralized than it was ten years ago, thanks to the economy of scale that allows Amazon et al to sell IaaS for cheaper than you can build it yourself. By and large, P2P is dead, except for a few notable things that use that model because it's resilient to attacks from authorities.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:09 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just because Facebook won't last forever doesn't mean that it isn't essentially the center of the internet for many (most?) people right now.

This is the wrong way to look at it. Facebook will be around in a decade, but there's really no way it can be a "center" in any meaningful sense.

Network applications on the horizon completely blow away these puny "social network" types of functionality. If I can upload my personal biodata from yesterday and mix it with the right tunes to uplift me tomorrow, do I want that to go through a central processor? If I can ask my goggles to record video of this Very Important Moment and edit it, should I do all that through Google? If I want to see something unusual, should I go to Yahoo's "unusual" page? Does that even make sense?

The network is going to beat us all. You try to make your big kingdom, try to surround all the territory, but the network is going to go around, above, outside, underneath, next to, sideways.

The network is going to win. Get used to it.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:19 AM on July 1, 2013


//The network is going to win. Get used to it.//

You can't stop the signal Mal.
posted by COD at 8:24 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compared to what? There was a time when AltaVista was the best there was.

Compared to how things should have been. There was a time when the horse and cart was the best there was, but you could still rattle along in one and know it was shit and dream of something better, even if you didn't know until you saw your first Rolls-Royce that that was what you'd been looking for.

Which is exactly how I felt when I found Google.
posted by bonaldi at 8:45 AM on July 1, 2013


And how do you feel now that the Rolls-Royce's steering has gone out, the accelerator is stuck, and now seems to be veering towards a very large cliff with nary a guardrail in site?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:52 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]



The network is going to win. Get used to it.


The network is going to win what and for whom?
posted by lalochezia at 8:59 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I used Alta Vista for a while, I used everything for a while, but ended up with Northern Light and stuck with them until they kicked me out.

Unlike many, I don’t remember ever being blown away with Google. But I’m still not a big Google fan. I just remember thinking they were not bad and eventually the others got worse until they were the best choice for a while. Then, like everything else, they started going downhill.
posted by bongo_x at 9:25 AM on July 1, 2013



Just because Facebook won't last forever doesn't mean that it isn't essentially the center of the internet for many (most?) people right now.

This is the wrong way to look at it. Facebook will be around in a decade, but there's really no way it can be a "center" in any meaningful sense.


I think both of these arguments are missing the point in terms of the problems with the portal idea from the 90s.

It's not about how many people use a particular service (67% of US adults use Facebook, though their relationship to the site is complicated and varies by demographics), but about our psychological orientation towards what we are doing "on the internet."

The portal idea rested on what was a very common metaphor in the 90s, the idea of "The Internet" as a "place" that you "went to." We would drive on the information superhighway, or hang out in cyberspace, etc. So if you thought about the internet as a place, then the portal made sense as a way of attempting to guide access to that space (and profit! somehow.) Of course, we know how that worked out.

When people use Facebook today, I doubt that most of them are thinking about it as a way to access "The Internet" (with the possible exception of maybe some groups of older users). For young people, Facebook is just another service you use, to access your friends and what they are doing, and yes, sometimes also stuff they found on Youtube or wherever. But my impression from teaching classes on new media to college students for the last several years is that they do not use spatial metaphors to think about the internet as a whole. They don't think about "going online" - in fact, when I asked a class once about that term, they just looked at me and blinked. They don't go online, the internet just is. You use Wikipedia, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! News, Google, etc., just like you would use any other appliance.

I once had to explain, to a group of college seniors, the difference between a search engine and a web browser. That's why the 90s idea of a portal is dead.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:28 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is what it looked like for me in 1996....

http://www.delorie.com/web/lynxview.cgi?url=http%3A%2F%2Fweb.archive.org%2Fweb%2F19961022174810%2Fhttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.altavista.com%2F
posted by codswallop at 9:33 AM on July 1, 2013


And how do you feel now that the Rolls-Royce's steering has gone out, the accelerator is stuck, and now seems to be veering towards a very large cliff with nary a guardrail in site?

I have exactly the same feeling I had around the time Google came along, actually: this isn't good enough, what's next already?
posted by bonaldi at 9:58 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Related: How google is killing organic search
posted by bonaldi at 10:00 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


What am I supposed to use now? Hotbot?
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:02 AM on July 1, 2013


I agree with everything eschatfiche said above. Unless you didn't want to think about how to formulate your search, AltaVista consistently beat early Google on results. I can't say whether what killed AV was when pagerank caught up to the specificity of results possible from a complex Boolean search, or whether Alta Vista's budget cuts trashed their indexing so much that that couldn't keep up. I do know that not people in general are always going to prefer the computer learn to understand them than the other way around.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:15 AM on July 1, 2013


I've only recently started using a smart phone within the past year, so this is probably obvious to everyone who's had one for the previous 5 or so, but my phone is now my web portal. I get up in the morning and Google cards tell me my drive to work time, the weather, and the status of my Amazon packages. My Twitter app lets me flick through stuff to see what's new, my Facebook app pops up notifcations if my close friends have posted anything or interacted with me. My Google calendar lets me see what I have lined up for the day, my Accuweather widget serves as my main clock (ironically). If I want to communicate I'll use Gmail, SMS or Facebook depending on who I need to contact. Wikipedia and Google widgets serve as my main gateways to on-demand information.

The portals that people imagined in in 1999 actually came in to being, but the hardware affordances offered by a single static desktop didn't really make sense for the idea. A portal that connects you to branded services which scrape add revenue off of usage and in return offer you all of the information and communication you desire is actually a great idea. Doing it from a single webpage where your main goal is to get OFF of that page (by executing a search) is a very bad idea. Once you have a handheld computer that gets always-on highspeed Internet, the portal starts to make more sense. In fact, to use my portal, I'm even willing to pay a company 50 dollars a month in access fees, it's just that the company I'm paying is Verizon instead of Yahoo or Compaq or whoever else.
posted by codacorolla at 10:38 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, I'm going to have to change my homepage. :(
posted by cass at 10:50 AM on July 1, 2013


Speaking of mistyping search engine names. I once mistyped Hotbot as Hobot during a presentation. Oops.

And I used to like AltaVista. I won some sort of contest from them and they sent me a polo shirt with their logo on it. It was enormous. Apparently they thought their customers were all linebackers.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:15 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unless you didn't want to think about how to formulate your search, AltaVista consistently beat early Google on results.

I'd really like some specific examples of this, because this doesn't match my recollection at all. Google was a miracle compared to Alta Vista, and quickly. The difference was night and day. There were very few searches where alta vista was more useful, right from the beginning (searching for mp3s, for example).
posted by empath at 11:20 AM on July 1, 2013


(and yes, i was familiar with boolean search and used it with alta vista all the time)
posted by empath at 11:24 AM on July 1, 2013


WAIS begat Archie begat Veronica begat Lycos begat Infoseek begat AltaVista begat Google.

Or, something like that. YSEMV.
posted by Wordshore at 11:48 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Altavista, DogPile, and others were fantastic in their day. I also remember Astalavista, which was a hack'n'crack security search engine thing that was pretty neat.

.
posted by fake at 11:51 AM on July 1, 2013


A key part of why AltaVista was better than previous search engines was the default search was AND. [Laser Kittens] returned only pages about laser kittens; not pages about lasers and other pages about kittens. It took awhile for other search engines to figure out that if the user is more specific, you should give a more targeted result. I think other search engines (Lycos? HotBot?) were too excited to brag "1,925,237 results about laser kittens". AltaVista's "NEAR" operator was a fairly unique and powerful thing, too.

Google launched with AND as default, of course. But sadly starting a couple of years back they've gotten quite aggressive at rewriting queries and ignoring specific words of the almighty algorithm thinks its smarter than you. I assume this tests well with the majority of users but it drives me completely nuts. It doesn't help that the Verbatim search result requires three separate mouse actions to access.

I'd quibble about whether Google was initially worse than AltaVista, at least once it launched on its own domain. But AltaVista quickly feel behind because they got heavily spammed and had no effective defenses. One nice thing about PageRank™ is that it was comparatively difficult to spam, in that it requires the cooperation of multiple domains. But that's all in the long long ago, and PageRank is nowhere near the most important part of Google search anymore.
posted by Nelson at 11:57 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


WAIS begat Archie begat Veronica begat Lycos begat Infoseek begat AltaVista begat Google.

infoseek came along way after AltaVista. I was part of the alpha test team for infoseek, and received training as part of that about keywords and searching and stuff which still serves me to this day, even on other search engines.
posted by hippybear at 11:58 AM on July 1, 2013


I'm feeling all angsty sentimental.

Maybe I'll go watch the Jennycam girl till I feel better.

I'm not giving up my Gopher.
posted by surplus at 11:59 AM on July 1, 2013


I accidentally typed "Altravista". The room full of nice older ladies was immediately presented with images of fully naked men in cowboy hats.

How times have changed, eh?
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:00 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


The way Altavista worked, sans tracking cookies and beacons, caring not one whit about my search habits was awesome.
Harkening back to that innocent web 1.0 era from the here and now of browsing habits and correlated disanonymization and the malwarian interwebs is a bit tragic.
These last 18 mos are basically when I stopped loving the internet. The neighborhood has turned and this is the monument to that, like watching them tear down some mansion from a long past belle epoche.
Tommy the terrorist says bring back anon.penet.fi
posted by BentPenguin at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'll go watch the Jennycam girl till I feel better.

Bianca's Smut Shack. Mind blown. Perhaps a bit like MetaFilter but with mods gone rogue (memory is very hazy, just remembering lots of 'OMG someone posted that?!'. Also, actually no smut?)

{sigh} This thread makes me feel...
posted by Wordshore at 12:18 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't help that the Verbatim search result requires three separate mouse actions to access.

If you use URL keyword searches, there's a quick way to have verbatim always on.
http://www.google.com/search?tbs=li:1&q=%s
Methods for "installing" vary depending on browser.
posted by t3h933k at 12:21 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Late to the party, but whoever says AltaVista always sucked clearly has NO clue what internet search entailed sans-AltaVista.digital.com in its heyday. A million unsorted results, at least three quarters of them uselessly packed with invisible metatext to draw in those webcrawler bots that sought them out for the search engines. That's what you got with AltaVista. Without AltaVista, you were pretty much manually going through every fucking file you could find on a server that you anecdotally heard may have what you were looking for. ANECDOTALLY. Internet search was no better then WORD OF MOUTH at the time. Unless you WAIS or Gopher'd your way into something useful, which wasn't too likely.
posted by mediocre at 12:52 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


HastAlaVista.
posted by iviken at 12:57 PM on July 1, 2013


.

Research afterward showed [Logan's Run] to have won an award for special effects.

Yup, the year before Star Wars won the Academy Award for best special effects.

Which film also put a serious damper on the we-have-seen-the-future-and-it-sucks genre of science fiction film that had dominated in the late '60s to mid '70s (Planet of the Apes, A Clockword Orange, Soylent Green, etc.).
posted by Gelatin at 1:12 PM on July 1, 2013


I have it on very good authority that at least some of these search engines were outperforming google at one time during blind user testing. The issue was that the google brand was so pervasive even then that users would pick which unbranded search results were better in their opinion - then automatically presume those results corresponded to google.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:49 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Webrings. Bring back webrings.
posted by benzenedream at 2:32 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


Webrings. Bring back webrings.

Webrings: the blog-roll of the nineties.

(and blog-rolls are, obviously, the twitter lists of the oughts.)
posted by gkhan at 3:22 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was amused to discover, this weekend, that in Paranormal Activity 4, the sigil of the evil ones was the logo of America Online.
posted by SPrintF at 3:53 PM on July 1, 2013


Yeah, AltaVista was like the second aggregator I ever saw, right after the Mozilla "What's New" page became too big and unmanageable. I remember seeing DEC AltaVista when it first launched, I couldn't believe it. I immediately used it to collect a list of every single Japanese news website it had in the index, and then manually verified each one and posted it into a single web page. It took hours and hours to look through the search results, and then write the HTML in a text editor. I wish I had archived it, that was one of the first websites I ever made. And I even got an email from Michiko Kakutani telling me she loved the site and it was invaluable to her work. I suppose she found my site via AltaVista. If I can ever find her original email to quote it accurately, I will misquote it as a blurb on my website, something like

"Invaluable to my work"
-Michiko Kakutani

Hard to believe that was almost 20 years ago. It was a small world back then, and AltaVista made it seem so much larger.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:26 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


OMG all the 20 years on the web anniversaries are coming up soon.
posted by telstar at 10:04 PM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd really like some specific examples of this, because this doesn't match my recollection at all. Google was a miracle compared to Alta Vista, and quickly. The difference was night and day. There were very few searches where alta vista was more useful, right from the beginning (searching for mp3s, for example).

I don't remember specific examples as I wasn't making a science of it, but for I'm guessing a half year or so it seemed like a lot of searches I tried Google I'd have to run back to AltaVista and use a Boolean query with a NEAR operator or some exclusion operator to get a better result. I'm not going to claim that my experience was generic though, it really depended what I was searching for. I'm just going to say that Google's results for a long time would bring you the most popular result, but it wasn't necessarily that good at letting you narrow down your search to something less popular which shared keywords with more popular results.

A specific example might be a search for say discussions about sexual preferences without getting a bunch of porn back — the AND NOT (throbbing penis OR swollen pussy) clause or some such ridiculousness.

I'd have searches with multiple levels of nested parenthesis, so I suspect I'm not the use case most of the programmers were thinking about.

I did like the simplicity of Google, and kept coming back despite the hiccups. Eventually some threshold got crossed where they weren't always better than AltaVista, but they were consistently enough for me not to go back.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:13 PM on July 1, 2013


Was it Parks and Recreation that used searching via AltaVista as a punchline to show how out-of-touch the town was? Or was that another comedy show?
posted by mathowie at 10:21 AM on July 2, 2013


Was it Parks and Recreation that used searching via AltaVista as a punchline to show how out-of-touch the town was? Or was that another comedy show?

Parks and Rec.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:27 AM on July 2, 2013


zarq: "To save themselves, InfoSpace lied to their investors and cooked their books to make the company seem much more successful and profitable than it was. When that was revealed to the public there was a huge scandal. (The Seattle Times' full report is here. It's fascinating reading.)"

Oh man. Reading that brought back a whole lot of unpleasant memories. All that "creative accounting" looks so obviously dumb to everyone today, but at the time it was an unspoken secret that we all had to ride out the crazy financing schemes until the dotcom which employed you was bought out and/or goes public ... or goes up in flames. The first dotcom which employed me in the SF Bay Area had been audited by Arthur Andersen and bragged about it in their PR. I had a run-in with a CEO and later the CFO who tried to use our company-assigned laptops as the last few weeks' payroll after everything folded. It was illegal to substitute company property for payroll unless we agreed to it by signing an agreement, which I never did, although they tried pressuring me by threatening to sue, and admittedly I hoped they would follow through but never really took them seriously. I called their bluff and agreed to give them back the laptop as soon as my last paycheck cleared. They balked and made more threats, at which time I informed them they could take it up with my attorney. That stopped all communication from them. Unsurprisingly, I never saw my last paycheck- they wanted me to turn in my laptop and then wait for them to turn around and issue a check later (my last paycheck was worth over $2K, while my used laptop was worth less than half that at the time).

Nobody who signed the agreement and relinquished their laptops ever got their last check, and they lost their only claim to it by giving up their company property and signing away their rights, plus whatever the value of the property was worth. Believe me, you've never heard of this company (named Bayweb), but my story is very common. I mean, here we were just trying to get paid, and we ended up with millionaire executives quibbling over four figure paychecks with their employees and threatening to sue us for asserting our rights.

Last time I checked a few years back, the CFO and CEO were both employed as executives elsewhere in Silicon Valley, the CEO in venture capital.

I'll miss AltaVista for what it once was, but I don't really miss the era when all this came to pass. After Netscape's IPO, it was a crazy game based on money that came too easy and fell apart just as fast.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:55 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, I should add ...

It was very difficult not to be enchanted and seduced by what was going on in those days, even if it was so obviously short-sighted and ultimately doomed. However, the resourceful people I knew mostly found work after it ended, mostly long-term, so it wasn't all that bad if you were willing to do whatever it took to stay relevant, if you could get a foot in the door somewhere after 2003 or so.

Our SF office was on the 2nd floor in the building at China Basin, which overlooked the new Giants stadium right next door. Even though our office was awesome, I could telecommute for 90% of my work. I wasn't asked to do much and had awesome project managers to boot, though not everyone was competent. I could overlook the fact that our mid-20s Art Director appeared to have zero knowledge of graphic design or any art background, not even as an amateur, although he was a total sleazeball as a human being - most of my other co-workers were pretty decent people, and I'm still friends with a couple of them more than ten years later. I remember one conversation we had during my first week, in which he bragged about taking his parents and fiancee on a helicopter ride through the city after work later that day (on a Friday), which he made sure we all understood cost a lot of money. This, before heading out to some swanky restaurant in his new Boxster, which was sure to impress them, or his co-workers, or something, and that he took out a big loan for it, but it was an OK purchase because we were sure to be raking in the money soon. He had the whiff of cocaine about him constantly. I knew right then it was just a matter of time until things fell apart, because no company who wanted anyone to take them seriously would have given this guy a job, especially not in charge of something he didn't even understand. Similarly, I had very little professional experience or background (although I did know what I was doing as far as front-end web work and had decent chops for that era), and I got paid well for working less than 20 hrs/week. Hard to turn down a job where people are just throwing money at you for doing practically nothing, plus you can see the fly balls from the Giants game hit the water from your office window.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:13 PM on July 2, 2013


.
posted by luckynerd at 8:30 PM on July 3, 2013


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