The chronicle of the Network is the chronicle of its victors. And that of their losers. To the youngest of the place, AltaVista may sound like a technological Pleistocene or it may not even sound like it at all, but there was a time —not that long ago, actually— when the name identified one of the most popular search engines on the Internet. So much so that in the mid-1990s, after meteoric growth and barely two years old, it registered around 80 million daily visits.
AltaVista’s is a story of what it was. Like that of so many other large companies that have gone from being protagonists to simple footnotes in the fickle chronicle of the Web. But also —and that is one of its peculiarities— of what could have been. ironies of historyIn the late 1990s, its managers missed the opportunity that would have turned the company into the huge empire that Google is today. But that is getting too far ahead.
Whether you’re from the 80s and you’ve made your debut in the world of search engines with it or its name sounds like Mandarin to you, it’s interesting to remember what AltaVista was and what its history is: how it went from nearly 300,000 visits during its first days of life to 80 million just two years later and just a handful of dozens of daily searches in 2013, when its then owner decided to shelve it.
From protagonist, at the bottom of the page
Its origins date back nearly three decades, to the December 15, 1995, to be more precise, when it was released as a research project of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) Network Systems Laboratory. It is said that its founder, Paul Flaherty, decided to call it AltaVista after its place of origin, in Palo Alto. What is known is that its creators wanted a search engine for pages and files on the public network. And they did not do badly in the effort. As another of the thinking heads of the project, Allan L. Jennings, would later explain to The New York Times, he had access to up to 30 million pages.
Its attractiveness, with a simple and easy-to-use interface, a large number of indexed sites and powerful hardware, soon caught the attention of users of that Internet of the 90s. Yes, in its beginnings —with the domain altavista.digita .com—received 300,000 daily visits, a couple of years later it was close to 80 million. The progression of its first year is quite eloquent: from a few accounts, tens of thousands of requests per day, it went to more than 2.5 million.
The service was promising enough to capture the attention of Yahoo!, with which it reached an agreement in 1996. The objective: for the company of Jerry Yang and David Filo to improve its search engine by taking advantage of the AltaVista engine.
Throughout the following years his chronicle will be complicated however with business movements that affected his property and, consequently, his approach. Perhaps the main one was lived in 1998, when Compaq, which had acquired DEC in June, decided without much aim to give it a twist to make it look like a service portal, which did not help to strengthen its position against the competition.
The next big move came in 2003, when Yahoo! took over his reins and that of another popular search engine, Alltheweb. During the following years AltaVista operated as an independent service, competing with that of Yahoo! until seeing, in 2011, how the company withdrew its search engine.
It was the first chapter of a death announced. Not long after, in 2013, Yahoo! announced the closure of the once successful search engine. From its years of splendor it had passed into a long period of decline that had left it in a corner, with a tiny market share: that same summer, when its death was announced, its volume of page views was light years away from that registered by Google.
By then Google already had 66.5% of searches, followed by Bing (17.3%) and Yahoo! (eleven%). A sad end for the search engine with which many of the Internet users of the late 90s and early 2000s had grown up and an ironic epitaph for the company that, if it had been right, could have become what Google is today: the His break came in 1998, when two Stanford students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, knocked on AltaVista’s door seeking funding to develop their Page Rank idea.
To Flaherty, the proposal did not seem entirely unreasonable and the amount that Larry Page and Sergey Brin were asking for was derisory, that, of course, said with the perspective that years give and given what Google ended up becoming, a business venture in which young people They ended up on board, but the Page Rank thing did not convince the owners of AltaVista. And the train passed by.
It is already known: the chronicle of the Network is the chronicle of its sweet moments. And also that of those who leave the bitter aftertaste of “what would have happened if…?”
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