Whatever happened to …

… Altavista?

Peter Beens is taking a course and shared one of the activities from the course with us on Facebook.  The activity was to create some web links.  The example that he shared took a pretty nostalgic look at the web.  One was a link to the Altavista search engine.

Now, there’s something that takes me back.  I hopped over to the Wayback Machine and screen grabbed a picture.

I can remember this vividly.  It was the very best search engine on the web.

You had options too.  You could search the Web and Usenet on December 19, 1996!


That’s pretty old by today’s standards.  I wondered what would happen if I went to the Altavista site today.  I remember that it had been acquired years ago.  So, I went to http://www.altavista.com and it resolved to the Yahoo! search site.  The full history of Altavista is nicely recorded here in Wikipedia.

1996 was a pretty unique and formative time on the web.  There was no “The Google” or other things that we take for granted these days.

In fact, when you launched your browser, it didn’t search by default.  In the case of Internet Explorer, it went to the Microsoft website.  Similarly, Netscape called home on launch.  But, you could set a default webpage for the browsers – tabs?  What are tabs?  So, using all my HTML skills, I had created for my district a Student Reference Portal and our technicians made that the default web page when they did their summer imaging of the computers.  There were links to the frequently used student resources and to a slew of search engines.  In its time, that was important because there were significant differences in the results returned – critical search literacy really was a thing.  It also allowed me to direct link students and teachers to the “Advanced Search” portion of the website to help refine searching skills.

I looked on my hard drive here to see just where students were linked to for searching.  How’s this for a blast from the past?

The version that I have stored here was later in time and so also had links to Google, Bing, MSN, and Yahoo!. 

Of course, these days, your browser comes ready to search.

For example, here’s what I have available in this version of Firefox.

You can’t see it because it’s scrolled off the screen but a popular search engine for me is Diigo so that I can search my own bookmarks.  If you don’t like these, Firefox has this resource of 179 pages of things that could be added as Search Engines.

Search is big business and web browser developers make big money by having their browser listed as the default because some people just don’t bother to change. That drives traffic to the search engine where it generates revenue for them.  Some are obvious like Google being the default for Chrome and Bing for Edge.  But, it’s worth it to look to see what browsers offer as their default.  And, of course, you can change it to your own preference.  Earlier versions of Edge didn’t like that – Windows 10 would generate an error message and then revert to its defaults.  That seems to be fixed now.

I was pleased to see that the search engines listed above still work although I haven’t used most of them lately.   I periodically will use Lycos for general search or Canada.com for stuff about Canada.

Isn’t search wonderful?  How much do we take for granted that it’s just going to work?

How about your thoughts on this?

  • Did you use the Altavista search engine when it was in its prime?
  • What’s your favourite search engine these days?
  • Do you visit it intentionally or do you let your web browser handle all that for you?
  • Is it important to have your students use more than one search engine?


  1. I remember I used to pay $9.95 per year to have a canada.com email address. That was long before Gmail came around…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used AltaVista when it was still a Digital Equipment Research experiment. A friend of mine actually wrote a book about how to use AltaVista. Google came a while later. We all used Yahoo! which was much more of a directory than a search engines in the early days.

    AltaVista was too “polite” about crawling the web. While the newer search engines started crawling all the time AltaVista for a long time only crawled weekly or less to not overload the systems it was searching. That was probably their biggest mistake.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] … Altavista? Peter Beens is taking a course and shared one of the activities from the course with us on Facebook. The activity was to create some web links. The example that he shared took a pretty nostalgic look at the web. One was a link to the Altavista search engine. Now, there's something that…  […]


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