AltaVista relaunches itself ... as a search engine

Bringing Boolean word searches to the masses is just one of the tactics employed by AltaVista, the once-great search engine, as part of its decision to relaunch itself.

Bringing Boolean word searches to the masses is just one of the tactics employed by AltaVista, the once-great search engine, as part of its decision to relaunch itself.

AltaVista's vice president for Asia Pacific, Mel Bohse, was in New Zealand this week to talk with customers and partners about the new-look AltaVista and its new direction.

"In the 1990s we were the number one search engine and we tried to move into the portal space, to compete with the likes of Yahoo. What we discovered was we can't compete with them and we are better at being a search engine."

Bohse says the decision was made to reverse the course the company was on and to do away with things like AltaVista email in favour of becoming the number one search engine again.

However in the interim, the number one spot has been stolen from AltaVista by Google, which shows no signs of losing its grip on the market.

"We're going to focus on quality over number of returns. We may not have the largest index but it's the cleanest and that means better returns for any search."

AltaVista is trying to make searching easier for its users and has discovered only 10% of users have bothered with the advanced search function.

"Since that's a point of difference for us that was a concern. So we've made it easier to use and easier to narrow down results."

Part of AltaVista's research shows that users don't for the most part know how to do Boolean word searches - so clicking on the "more precision" button on the site will help users narrow any search down by categorising results for the user. Each of the 12 categories are based on the terms relevant to that particular search - looking for "beatles" for example will bring up a dozen categories that include "George Harrison" "Paul McCartney" as well as fan clubs.

Clicking on any of these categories initiates a Boolean search without the user having to know what one is.

"Our research shows that precision and relevance are more valued than speed."

Bohse also says AltaVista will be able to offer better searching on multi-media items - an area that is growing, she claims.

"We're the number one for multi-media searches."

But while AltaVista has spent time re-learning how to be a search engine, Google has added new strings to its bow as well. Google users can now add a Google toolbar to their Internet Explorer browser, or add Google buttons to launch a Java-based search. Bohse says AltaVista is researching these areas as well.

"We've got a toolbar that we could launch but we haven't. We've had it for ages."

Bohse also says the company is looking at searching technology for mobile internet users, although again the company has no launch plans at this time.

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