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AltaVista gets a facelift

Search engine sharpened up to do precisely what it's designed to

Internet search engine AltaVista has been given a makeover with the addition of a number of new tools designed to make finding that elusive fact or figure less time-consuming. The extra features along with a new logo (pictured) were announced today.

Chief among its freshly tweaked features is an improved news service — no surprise given that rival search engine Google announced the addition of a news gathering function just two months ago.

Though AltaVista has offered a news retrieval service for some time, News 2.0 introduces a region-specific search facility and the option to access news stories from its 4.6m-page archive as far back as 1997. Google, by contrast, has concentrated its news service on North America.

Users should find far fewer dead links, duplicate or outdated information, as AltaVista claims half its pages will be refreshed each day. The company also claims it has managed to reduce spam by a factor of 10.

Additional file formats can now be retrieved, including a range of multimedia file types and PDFs (portable document format). It will also be possible to search across several languages simultaneously and get a rough and ready translation using the site's built-in Babelfish engine.

The updated search site will now also be able to make more refined searches using a new More precision option. It will also benefit from assisted searches in which topics and phrases indirectly related to the original keywords are listed separately from the standard search results. This approach, which AltaVista calls Prisma, is similar in concept to mind-mapping.

AltaVista CEO Jim Barnett says the changes reflect a six-month survey of user experiences and expectations. "We have carefully researched what users want from a search engine and, based on the findings, have taken radical steps to ensure AltaVista delivers the best search service . . . increasing functionality and [focusing] on improvements that will have a direct impact on the effectiveness of users’ internet searches."

As if to prove his point, another welcome improvement is the removal of pop-up and pop-under adverts. Instead, the search specialist is triailling Tracer ads which are intended to make use of surfers' search histories to pair them with advertised products that are likely to appeal.

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