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AltaVista Fights Back
by
Posted On December 1, 2002
AltaVista has recently unveiled a new site design with a streamlined look-and-feel and has added new features and functionality. The Internet search engine pioneer has been struggling under the domination of Google, and the upgrades should put it back in the ring with the other search contenders.

Although some might be skeptical of this transformation since AltaVista has had a history of frequent but fairly ineffective changes to its site, in a recent SearchDay column (http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/02/sd1112-av-phoenix.html), Chris Sherman commented, "AltaVista seems to have genuinely moved toward establishing itself as a viable player in the Web search arena once again."

The home page now looks dramatically different than the previous version, presenting a cleaner and simpler look with more pleasing (to me, at least) use of color and layout. If you're curious, visit the Wayback Machine (http://web.archive.org) to remind yourself of how it used to look. The familiar mountain peaks logo is gone, replaced by a sleek new stylized logo. AltaVista says the logo "reflects the company's re-energized approach and focus on search." There are half as many links from the main page so it's just not as cluttered.

The company claims to provide fresher and more relevant results. The new AltaVista also adds a "More Precision" query-builder option that allows users to easily use phrase and Boolean searching. It serves as an intermediate and nonintimidating approach, borrowing this feature from what is available through "Advanced Search," which is still an option.

AltaVista Prisma, the assisted search tool that launched in July (see http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=17139), is now available in five languages (English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish). Prisma suggests terms to help users modify a search. A new AltaVista Shortcut Answers delivers immediate answers for users seeking area code, ZIP code, or currency conversion information.

In addition to searching Web pages, images, and audio and video files, AltaVista now indexes and includes results from Adobe PDF files. Users looking exclusively for content in PDF files can specify this from the Advanced Search page. (Google and AllTheWeb also search PDF files.)

Summing up the focus of the transformation, Jim Barnett, CEO of AltaVista Co., said: "We are concentrating on product development with increased functionality, including interactive or 'assisted search' tools and support for new media types and information sources. In addition, we have improved the freshness of search results significantly and are delivering our best-ever index while continuing to filter superfluous results, including duplicate pages, spam, and dead links."

Of particular interest to me is the upgrade to News 2.0, the next generation of the company's comprehensive news-specific search service. The free full-text News search now has more than 4 million fully indexed news articles from 3,000 sources going back over a year, with updates every 15 minutes.

Enhancements in News 2.0 include the ability to search news articles by date, region, topic, and selected sources. Another enhancement is access to articles from Forbes that date to 1997. News 2.0 takes advantage of AltaVista Prisma technology to suggest related topics in the news. In addition, audio and video images from News 2.0 will be added to the company's multimedia index.

The AltaVista News Search now takes its place with my other favorite news-searching tools, which include News search at Google and at AllTheWeb.com. It's definitely worth having multiple resources, since coverage certainly does vary for particular topics and time frames.

The search engines also vie with each other to implement desirable features. As I was finishing this, Gary Price announced in his blog (http://resourceshelf.freepint.com) that Google News now allows limiting to a specific site. Previously, this limiting option had been available only on the Google Web database. The format is "site: (domain of news site) keyword." AllTheWeb News had already offered this functionality.

In my book, there are two other big plusses for AltaVista: The Babel Fish Translation tool is still available, and pop-up and pop-under ads are now absent. (These were banned from the site in August in response to user feedback.) So give the new AltaVista a try-and let the company know what you like and would like to see.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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