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How to Use AltaVista


What is AltaVista?

AltaVista is a crawler-based search engine, meaning that it sends out software programs called spiders, or crawlers, to search the Web and index websites.

AltaVista One of the Oldest Search Engines

AltaVista has the honor of being one of the oldest search engines on the Web, since it started way back (this is a long time in Internet years) in 1995 with the Internet's first Web index. Just as a quick age comparison, Google started in 1998, and Yahoo started out as an Internet guide in 1994.

Here are some other "firsts" and notable highlights of AltaVista, straight from the About Us page:

  • Delivers Internet's first Web index (1995)
  • First multilingual search capabilities on the Internet
  • First Internet search engine to launch Image, Audio, and Video search capabilities
  • Most advanced Internet search features and capabilities: multimedia search, translation & language recognition, and specialty search
  • Awarded 61 search-related patents, more than any other Internet search company

AltaVista Search Home Page

The AltaVista home page is sleekly elegant. There is a search bar smack in the center, with various tabbed search options, including Images, MP3/Audio, News, and Video. Search filters are available immediately; you can choose to limit your search just to the United States (default), or you can go worldwide. You can also return results in all languages (default), or choose to go with just English or Spanish language results.

Underneath the main blue search bar area, there are textual links going to Translate, Toolbar, Directory (this link goes to Yahoo's Directory, since AltaVista's results are all provided by Yahoo), Shopping (which goes to Yahoo Shopping), Travel - Yahoo Farechase, Yahoo Yellow Pages, Yahoo People Finder, and then (as if that wasn't enough!), there's a link to More, which sends you right into AltaVista's Tools section. Lots of good stuff here, including a text-only Web search tool, AltaVista's Family Filter, and a nifty Conversion Calculator, which I bookmarked immediately.

Searching with AltaVista

A casual search for first grade math returned results that were exactly like what I got in Yahoo for first grade math. Again, that's because AltaVista's search results are all powered by Yahoo. The search results page is as sleekly streamlined as the home page, a refreshing contrast to some other search tools that inundate the searcher with ads as soon as they land on the results page.

What I liked best about AltaVista's results were the "Related Searches" at the top of my search results page. There were a lot better searches than I had originally come up with, including first grade math worksheets.

AltaVista Search Features

You might be asking yourself, Why should I use AltaVista if I'm already using Yahoo? A good question, which I'll answer with the reasons why I use AltaVista - their special features are awesome.

AltaVista BabelFish

Case in point: the Babel Fish Translation Tool. I've already profiled this particular tool in my online translation tools article, but let me just tell you it is worth the bookmark. For this reason alone AltaVista has my vote, but there's more.

AltaVista MP3, Audio, and Video Search

AltaVista's MP3 and Audio Search also returns excellent results, and their Video Search ain't too shabby in the results department either.

AltaVista Advanced Search

AltaVista also has Advanced Search options that allow you to set some pretty stringent parameters on your search, including Boolean expressions and file types. And, last but not least, the AltaVista toolbar gives you standard toolbar options along with the Babel Fish translation tool right there on your desktop, easily accessible once you install the toolbar.

Why Should I Use AltaVista?

A few reasons I can think of right off the bat:
  • History. AltaVista has been around for a long, long time in the search world. They have this search stuff down to a science.
  • Features. Their Babel Fish translation tool alone makes AltaVista worth the time.
  • Webmaster Tools. Something I haven't mentioned yet, but definitely worth a look. You can find your pages in the AltaVista Web index, or find pages that link to your site.

Note: Search engines change frequently, so the information in this article can and will get outdated as more information or features about AltaVista is released. Be sure to check About Web Search for more updates as they become available.

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