Throwback Thursday – Did You AltaVista?

internet

Early ‘Net

It was a new frontier, an exciting new world to explore.  Sure, we had grown up in the nurseries of CompuServe and later Prodigy and AOL.  But this was wild and untamed, not a boxed, prepackaged environment.  At last, the Internet was opened to the normal person.   Armed only with Mosaic, later called a web browser, we set off to explore this unknown universe where there were over a quarter of a million  websites (1996).  How in the world (wide web) could a mere mortal explore such a vast (cyber) space?

In 1996 Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) introduced AltaVista, a search engine that was far more advanced than anything seen up until that point. In two years AltaVista went from 300,000 searches on the first day to over 80 million searches a day.  In other words, we all used it.

The search engine helped us to tame this beast by allowing us to filter and find what we wanted.  Or perhaps it gave a starting point to let serendipity run its course.

Back in 1996, 1997 there was no such thing as social media.  A few early shopping sites were just beginning to crop up.  CNN had put up their web site only a year earlier (1995) and a few other news organizations were also getting into the action.  In other words, the things you currently do with the Internet either didn’t exist or were in their infancy.

At that time we used the Internet mostly to gather information.  Most of the content was text; that is, text and hyperlinks.  Back then “surfing the net” was almost literal.  You’d start on a site and see a link.  You’d click it to a new site, start reading, see a link and click.  In just a few minutes you’d go from looking for a hotel to reading an article about astrophysics, passing through how the fuel injection in your car works, the history of Paris, a commentary about Picasso’s Guernica  painting, Nazis in Spain and the V2 rocket.

One cool thing I used to do with AltaVista was put in two unrelated words, say “bucket” and “furious”, and see what would come up.  Really, in those early days this was actually fun, you never knew were you’d land.  And then a few clicks later you’d be a universe away.

Sadly AltaVista’s days were very limited.  DEC unraveled and was bought out by Compaq in 1999.  Comapq decided to make AltaVista into a rival of Yahoo, who used AltaVista at its core.  So AltaVista changed from a search engine into a web portal.  Everyone,including me, hated it.  There was a new upstart named Google.  Google was a pure search engine, like AltaVista used to be.  We all jumped off of the sinking AltaVista onto Google.  Too late they decided to change it back to a search engine.  AltaVista was bought by Yahoo and kept alive until 2011, long after it was relevant.

We often forget what it was like back in the early days of the World Wide Web.  That sense of exploration and discovery has been missing from the experience for well over a decade and a half.  We now have almost a billion websites.  We do everything on the Internet.  In fact, most of the time we never even think about being on the Internet, we think about an app without giving a thought about the fact it is tied into the net.  It’s fun to remember those days.

Do you remember the primitive days of the WWW?  Did you AltaVista?

construction

When the Internet was Under Construction…

Note – I created these images for a website I built in 1996

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18 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday – Did You AltaVista?

  1. Prior

    I just started using duck duck go as a search engine option even though I love so much about Google! When did bing come on the scene? Hm well I dos not know about alta vista. And the oneoru u have is behind forced to take a computer class in early 1990s and it was all code and I did ok but yawn yawn yawn. 🐌🐚

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Alta Vista was huge back in the day. But then people started wanting a portal, that is they wanted to be told where to go. And then, of course, Google came in. Bing is pretty new. I don’t know, maybe last 5 years? Maybe longer, but only relevant for a short time. Duck duck go sounds familiar, but I’ve never used it.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks! Yes, Bablefish was originally part of AltaVista so I can see why you did your translation there. Nice to see you back commenting on the blog. I hope a new post isn’t too far in the future.

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  4. sonyaliraphotography

    I remember how slow dial up was. We went to DSL next stayed there and kept upgrading to the faster version. Then low and behold came Uverse much faster than DSL so that is where we are now. I love the internet truth be told we would rather the TV be out than the internet.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      We’re still on DSL, though the speed has been increased many times. This summer (I hope!) we’ll be on fiber. As far as TV, I don’t watch it at all. OK, CNN on occasion, but I get most of my news from the Internet.

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  5. simplycomplex

    Oh man you brought back memories. Netzero free keys, 56k so no phone calls otherwise you get dropped.

    Amazing to see how the search engine has evolved. The early internet days were less graphically and aesthetically satisfying, but the amount of information was staggering. Endless indexes of hyperlinks, a lot less “filler” web sites seemed like the information then was more substantial.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      The other thing is the Internet was far less commercial. There weren’t any ads, or at least very few. People weren’t constantly trying to sell you something. It was thought of as a place where people traded information.

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  6. herheadache

    I was highly baffled by it and still am, in many ways. I remember, in the late 90s, I couldn’t believe there was a place like the Internet where I could look up anything I wanted, which as a teen girl first was mostly news on Beverly Hills 90210. So hard to believe this vast resource didn’t even exist just 25 years ago.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Beverly Hills 90210? Talk about Throwback Thursdays ;)

      Even back then there was so much to the Internet that human mind couldn’t really comprehend it all. But today we take it for granted so much that we can’t comprehend life without it.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I had a coworker who ran a BBS until at least 2005 if not beyond and yes, people still dialed into with their modems! I wonder if it would be possible to bring that sense of exploration and discovery….

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      1. nerdinthebrain

        Wow! I had no idea a BBS was still kicking in 2005…that’s pretty spectacular. :D I have no doubt that that same sense of exploration and discovery is still alive and well…it’s just focused into new channels now. :D

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