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AltaVista revamps search engine

Old-timer playing catch up with newcomers

AltaVista is revamping its Internet search portal in a bid to fend off competition from newer rivals that have been gaining popularity, including Google.com and Northern Light, as well as established rivals such as Yahoo and Lycos.

AltaVista was once a clear leader in search technology, but lost its edge somewhat when parent company DEC merged with Compaq in 1998.

Compaq has since sold its majority stake in the search portal, and AltaVista is now hoping to regain some of its former glory.

The revised home page retains the search bar as its central feature, but adds four prominent links to other pages where users can find content specific to four areas - shopping, entertainment, news and technology.

Searching in those areas produces results that are context-specific. Searching for "stones" in the entertainment section, for example, produces results about rock group The Rolling Stones, but none about pebbles. Searching for Concorde in the news section, meanwhile, produces links to recent news stories about the supersonic jet.

The entertainment area also sorts results by media type, providing links to MP3 music files, MPEG video files and archived radio broadcasts, for example. That multimedia capability, as well as other context-specific services, will be added to the other three areas over time, said Andre Herring, senior manager for entertainment at AltaVista.

Another new feature is Power Search, which is linked from the home page and aims to help less Web-savvy users perform complex searches.

Such complex searches could be performed before, but typically required a user to be familiar with concepts such as Boolean logic and the intricacies of search syntax. The new tool uses drop-down menus to refine the search.

AltaVista has also added a Search Trends feature, which makes use of information it gathers about its users' searches.

This week, for example, the site lists the week's top 25 search terms (Yahoo was No. 1 on Tuesday), the top five women's names (actress Gillian Anderson), and the top five vacation spots (the Mediterranean island of Ibiza). Check out the revamped web site at http://www.altavista.com


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