As of today, altavista.com has been officially shut down and is just another redirect to your “local” Yahoo! starting page. Who cares? Not many. Which possibly is one of the problems, considering altavista.com used to be the predominant search engine for quite a while back then before we saw the rise of Google.
And, all technological and product strategy aspects of things aside, there is a personal point of looking at this. Same as the (by then, for my tastes) rather peculiar layout of Sun workstation keyboards or, later, that chunky, clumsy, memory-leak-laden beast that Netscape Navigator for Unix platforms always used to be, the blue/white mountain logo that appeared on late 1990s altavista.com is pretty closely tied to my first ever Internet or WWW experiences – back then when GeoCities neighborhoods still used to be ‘cool’ and everyone tried to get her or his little site on the web listed in some sort of web ring all along with other sites, in the end just another way of trying to get visitors to pages and make people aware of whatever one considered important enough to spend time on it – time dealing with it, time to write about it, time to even at least partially learn HTML and all these things to in the end get things “on the web” through that noisy 56k modem dialup line.
Most of these things have changed. Modem lines have been replaced with “internet connectivity” way faster even via wireless links on most mobile devices. The need to know about HTML, CSS and friends, though still helpful and interesting, is not necessary anymore to the majority of users who “just” want to put content online, whichever kind of content it eventually might be. Web worlds such as GeoCities have been replaced by social networks, by Facebook, Google+ and a bunch of similar open and closed worlds doing effectively the same and more. And, ultimately, web rings, web directories and “early day” search engines have been replaced by Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo. “Replaced”, indeed: Though early technologies such as altavista.com kept serving users for quite some years, it seems most of them in the end failed to move ahead, failed to offer new reasons to make people come back rather than go with any of the new offerings out there.
And these other offerings, ultimately, by now will prevail while altavista.com is being closed down. Bad luck? Axed in course of a cruel business decision? Discontinued after virtually being “abandoned” without much vision of any kind for the last bunch of years, to say the very least? Maybe. In the end, to me, it’s the shutdown of a service I haven’t seriously used in ages. Same as I haven’t made much use of 56k modems recently – for good reasons, I’d say. So the only thing left is wondering whether, in the end, altavista.com might have been better off on their own, as part of a small, enthusiastic crowd of developers yet without Yahoo!, same as GeoCities or (eventually) Flickr and Tumblr. But that’s possibly another kind of story…