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The Internet

Alta Vista Selling Top Matches 126

Kaa writes Sent us this wired story about AltaVista wanting to serve advertisements as search results. For words with more than 100,000 hits, they will sell the number one result, indistinguishable from a normal match. Here's a great quote "They will likely implement this very quietly," the letter says. "One point to remember is that AltaVista is still a popular search engine among 'old time' Internet users who might react vocally to this change once they know about it." " I dunno how vocal I'll be. But AltaVista was my primary search engine. Update: 04/15 01:21 by CT : Wired retracted the comment that we posted here saying that it was unconfirmable.
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Alta Vista Selling Top Matches

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    From the FAQ:


    1. Why did my site became lower in the results?


    When surfers search for broad topic areas using one or two
    keywords, the search engine sometimes finds multiple pages
    containing equal or similar amounts of content. The ranking of
    these pages can change over time. Return to FAQs

    Note: We do not sell result rankings to individuals or companies. You can contact
    our advertisers if you wish to purchase advertising space in the ad banner above
    specific results pages.

  • This is capitalism at its finest. It's not as though they're milking the sweat of the masses. From what I can see, they're search engine is a web crawler. They've got my esoteric page, and I *know* I didn't submit it to them. How is this any different that the local Bell Telco charging big bucks for a big ad in the Yellow pages?
  • This is capitalism at its finest. It's not as though they're milking the sweat of the masses. From what I can see, their search engine is a web crawler. They've got my esoteric page, and I *know* I didn't submit it to them.
    How is this any different that the local Bell Telco charging big bucks for a big ad in the Yellow pages?
  • Because I'm sure it was some dork on commission that is bringing us this...

    In all seriousness, tho, complaining about this is important. From later in the article:

    "If they have few complaints about this, then expect them to include the full first page of results in the future. If there are massive user complaints then it's possible they may cancel it."

    The only relavent contact address I could find is:

    mailto:search-support@altavista.com

    chris
  • Actually, this is _completely_ different than targeted banner ads.

    The insidious part of this plan is that users will have no indication that the first search result item is not the best match for your search, but is instead an advertisement.

    chris
  • by drwiii ( 434 )
    I don't know about you, but I'd get a little suspicious when I enter "Linux" into AltaVista and get:

    1.) Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 [microsoft.com]
    2.) Linux NOW! [linuxnow.com]
    3.) Trinux: A Linux Security Toolkit [trinux.org]
    (etc.)

  • My favorite on Altavista is NEAR e.g.

    ( brown NEAR bear ) AND ( NOT zoo )

    I don't know of any other engine that has a NEAR capability
  • Since when is a consumer boycott (organized or unorganized) not a part of the "free market"?

    A letter writing campaign is just a nice way of letting the company know beforehand what the market will do.

    And this is completely different from selling banner ads linked to keywords. This is more like a newspaper not putting a "Paid Advertisement" disclaimer on an ad that looks just like regular content.
    --
  • I don't see this as a big deal. Searches which return 100,000 or more results are pretty much unordered anyway - the top 1,000 or so matches are virtually random, and partially determined by how well the pages try to cheat altavista's bots by stuffing their page with keywords. There's already really no correlation between usefulness or topicality of the page and your search for such vague searches, so I don't see selling the top spot as being any worse than giving it to whoever stuffs their page with the most keywords.
  • Posted by The Evil Dwarf from Hell:

    One things I noticed was they intend on selling the keywords for high hit subjects. My typical query only gets a few hundred hits, and for speed of results AltaVista is still best.
  • All this tells me is: every search engine worth its salt has sold out. They're all tainted. I still use AltaVista. I use heavy boolean searches to weed out the taint; AltaVista finds me the two pages I'm searching for -- will some free search engine find me that fan page devoted to some obscure Latvian composer any better? Somehow I doubt it.

    --

  • Right now, you get page after page of useless sites. If the better sites paid for position, maybe I would find what I wanted quicker. I find stuff on Altavista just fine, but I prefer using google when i'm looking for things with high popularity, as they have a calculated 'rating' system which tends to be pretty on the money. It would be a form of survival of the fittest. God the internet (and the world in a lot of related cases) has gone to hell. Survival of the fittest without money is one of the true attractions of the internet, not capitalism. Sometimes I wish the web was never invented. Other times, I just wish people weren't allowed to sell goods of any nature on the internet period. Then I think about it, and the internet wouldn't truly be 'free' without that aspect. Unfortunately money has worked it's way into destroying yet another good idea(tm). (hey rob, why aren't extended characters translated?) How utterly frustrating. I needà to kiss some ass and move to monaco or something. -Erik-
  • What AltaVista is trying to do here is to mix News, Comment and Ads. That is the problem I have with them, not the fact that they have ads.

    In fact, I have no problem with ads (or comments for that matter), but I want to be able to recognize them as what they are: Biased, not objective information.
  • I don't want to search for football, and come up with football bear, which is obviously not relavant. (yet you do get that now, and probably on top) If however the company buying the ads spends the time to make the first link relavant then I won't object, there is too much cruft to search through as it is.

    By relavant I mean that a store wanting to sell me a football helmet should have helmets on the page, but also links where I can get stats on all players, links where I can see headlines and scores. Links to experts for advice. Links to ... football related. In other words someone who searches for just football probably isn't getting to the right place on the first hit, if the first ad will link them to the right place, I don't object to it coming up first.

    Note that this puts a lot of burdon on the advertiser, to make a site that is probably relavant to the keyword. Football bear may in fact be good, but it isn't what I was searching for. When ads annoy me I will turn them off, when ads are helpful (hey, I gotta buy things, if you support something I do with ads I might buy from you just for that reason.

  • by elyard ( 928 )
    This explains why the only truly useful links out of a session with AltaVista were buried three pages deep.
  • Do we have another option?

    Someone make a 'I boycott alta vista' button and then pass it around, please.

    -Shanoyu
  • Absolutely. Using generic terms like "linux" and such will always bring up zillions of pages, most being completely the opposite of what you want. Learn to use a search engine and you'll be grateful for it.
  • Now how about uptime? ;>
  • Altavista has been getting steadily worse for some time now anyway.

    As for this new thing, well, just click on entry number two on down as a matter of course. That'll fix their sellin-out, advertising asses.

  • They've been selling keywords on some search engines for a while. My current company has done so, as a matter of fact. Put in a certain word, and the results and even the banner ads reflect same.
  • Amen to that!

    My number one choice is always Google, going to Altavista only if Google fails (like when I'm looking for an obscure IC chip).

    The fact that Google runs on Linux is just icing on the cake.

  • AV is selling the top words to the *highest bidder*, relavent or not. Therefore, what's
    to stop, say, Microsoft from getting the
    top position for any hits on "sex", beyond
    ethics?

    Or, even better, Microsoft getting the
    top position for any hits on "linux"...

    (I would not have a problem if the hit was
    marked as an ad, and such that I could still
    search AV with an option to ignore ad hits.)
  • I used to use Altavista as my main search engine, but after watching their web crawler being totally unable to handle the relative links on my site I've switched to Northern Lights [nlsearch.com]
  • "Most search engines place ads based on the search term you used. This really isn't that much different - its only seen as legit as the ad is put at the top as a banner, where most people expect it."

    This *is* different. Ads are currently recognizable as ads, not as search results. Notice that ads in newspapers that are crafted to look like articles have "ADVERTISEMENT" written on them. It would be unethical otherwise.

    "No one seems to object at the yellow pages, which offer up ads for every search query!"

    Ugh, good point. Aren't yellow pages nothing *but* ads? Every listing is paid for.
  • Also, how frequently to you search for a single word that would produce 100,000 hits?

    I don't know about you, but I never search for just "linux" or just "Microsoft" or just "cartoon". When I want to search for any of those, I always search for "linux+dialdc" or "microsoft+anti-trust" or "cartoon+"Jonny Bravo""

    Doug

  • I've used altavista for some time now. Altavista has been my search engine choice because it pioneered a true advanced search that allows many features not found in other search engines, such as + - url: link: image: etc.. However, other search engines have started to incorporate those ideas into their searches. What I am concerned about is your new sales policy that would allow people to "buy" the top hit on an engine. This reminds me of Amazon.com when it was determined that the reviews on the front page of Amazon.com were actually sold to booksellers and therefore extremely underminded the validity of all the reviews on Amazon.com. In moving towards a "buyers market" for search results you too would be diminishing the value of your search engine by making the engine return results that the user would not expect to see. By "not expecting to see" I mean that your search engine is expected by many to act in a paticular way. If I type +auctions -ebay and Ebay bought the work "auction" are you going to show me ebay as the first result?

    Not to deter you from making money, I think that selling the first result could work. If you added an option, such as "-spam" that filtered out the bought ads.

    Joseph Elwell.
  • "They are advertisements related to what you were seeking."

    They are not even that: I went to Altavista, searched for "football" and the first site up was www.snickers.com (a candy company) wanting me to sign up for an email list while I waited the 442 days until "Football 2000" - to be sponsored by Snickers, of course.

    And of course I should eat lots of Snickers bars in the meantime..

    It's pure-and-simple misrepresentation, and I say ta hell with 'em!

    - t_t_b

    --
  • This is a much bigger deal than the people who think they can get around it with more specific search terms realize.

    Right now doing a search for specific chains of words will reduce the number of hits below the 100,000 hit threshold where they sell placings. For instance I just did a search on 'linux'. It returned about 1.2 million matching pages. If I were a neophyte Linux user this would probably be my first search choice. It's pretty safe to say that there would be greater than 100,000 other neophyte linux users who would do the same thing. Now suppose I'm a company who has a vested interest in spreading disinformation about Linux. Say one with deep pockets such as Microsoft. It would be worth my while to either find a web site biased against Linux or create one and pay for its placement in the first hits. A lot of those > 100,000 hits will search through each site on the first few pages. By placing sites which fit into my agenda in the first hits I can influence peoples perceptions about linux. I can also do it to any other topic.

    This is only the beginning though, if selling placement in the search engine is succesful it will quite likely be expanded. Advertising that reaches a target audience as opposed to broad band broadcasting is more effective. That's why there are more commercials for toys during the daytime hours on network television than during prime time. So eventually it gets to the point that your more narrow searches are compromised as well.

    This plan is more insidious than banner adds that just happen to match what you are searching for. These 'ads' according to AltaVista will just appear in the rankings. These adds don't even have to be blatant either. Rather than Microsoft buying the top spot and adding in a hit for the corporate web page they add in a hit to an anti-linux site, or even more underhanded they add in links to the typical blind advocacy site "Linux RUL3Z!!!, Microsoft SUCKS!"

    All of this can subtly influence people. Linux was just used as an example since its near and dear to most of the hearts of Slashdot readers. Insert just about anything else from presidential campaigning to your favourite brand of feminine hygiene product.

  • While this is kindof ugly, it could be worse. After all, chances are if you're searching on something that has 100,000 hits the results you're getting back aren't worth much anyhow. Learn those boolean operators. :> At least Altavista isn't as f'ing ugly as Lycos etc are now...
  • As others here I've sent a letter and looked into using Google. The good thing is that ?text option to altavista. I wish I'd known about that earlier. Makes searching a lot easier
  • no, that's sesame street, with 'this episode has been brought to you by the letters M and S and the trademarked phrase "Where do you"- hhHey, wait just a minute....
  • I usually use Google, but I don't feel it does general searchs well, i.e. +GCC +Oberon to search for any Oberon frontends to GCC. Google works when you know what you're looking for.
  • I'm already using squid to block banner ads _because_ if I'm not looking for ads. I suppose this'd be OK if I were searching for exactly what was being advertised, but I have a feeling the ads will be marginally relevant.

    So you are a thief (stealing 2 to 5 cents worth of content for every page you visit), and you're complaining because you can't steal more, and will actually have to be part of the set of people that pay for the sites you visit.

    Ooh, you have my sympathy. Poor you.

    Eivind, who doesn't run any advertising-based sites, but understand how the revenue-model works.

  • Proof? search for yahoo in lycos and see what you get!
  • AltaVista used to be the first search engine I would visit. Up until recently, I was still entering the URL as http://altavista.digital.com/. None of the other search engines were detectably better, and so using AltaVista first became a matter of habit.

    ...Until someone pointed me at Google [google.com]. I did searches on some of my own stuff, and other stuff I was interested in. Relevant links came up very quickly. In fact, over the last couple of weeks, I found out how useful Google is. I went searching through AltaVista first, but couldn't find anything in that forest of links it handed back. Then I remembered Google, and the links I wanted showed up in the first three pages. Every time, Google beat out AltaVista for presenting useful information.

    As a result, I have now successfully retrained myself; Google is now the first search engine I check.

    As an aside, I've discovered that Lycos is a scam. I submitted my home page to Lycos some time ago to be indexed. Recently I tried searching for it. Lycos didn't find it. Thinking that they forgot to index it, I went to resubmit it, and found they have a "Check to see if your page is indexed" form. So I entered my URL, and it said, "Yeah, your page is indexed with us." So I went back to the main page and entered some search terms that are fairly unique to my page, and it returned nothing. So I conclude that Lycos is a scam. I recommend avoiding it.

    Schwab

  • Its not really very likely that MS would gain much from being at the top of a list of hits for a search for "sex", or even for "linux". People searching for a criterea like that have two features in common - firstly they know what they want to see already (porn in one case, Linux info in the other), secondly they do not understand search engines very well. Neither group is likely to say "oh, well, I'll buy a copy of NT Server instead".

    It seems to be a common misunderstanding about advertising that is somehow magically attracts you to the thing being advertised. In reality selling works best when the person you are selling to already wants the thing you are trying to sell them - they just may not know that yet !

    Randomly sticking text or pictures in front of someone who has no interest in them is unlikely to make a sale.
  • Since when does making a press release to Wired
    (and slashdot!) constitute part of a "quiet rollout?"
  • Dejanews is still a reasonably good choice for Usenet, so with the advent of Google (and the multitude of other choices), leaving Alta Vista behind is no great loss. I was already starting to see vast quantities of irrelevant "porn hits" in most of my AV search results anyway, and Google quickly proved itself given identical criteria. Thumbs up!
  • by trb ( 8509 )
    How the mighty have fallen. I'm one of those relics who still uses av as my main search engine. But I use the old-school text version at: http://www.altavista.com/?text so I don't have to deal with the ads. Every time I've compared quality of hits between engines, av always seems to fare well. It they're selling hits, maybe it's time for me to rethink my choice. F-ing losers.
  • Sure, valid point, but you can't advertise if you don't get any hits. Therefore, if enough people say, I like your product A, but if you continue practice B I will switch to competitor C. So, if you like Alta Vista (I do) hit the mailto [mailto] link. Otherwise, what do you care? In general, if the internet didn't have value to people, specifically certain pages, then companies wouldn't advertise on them. It is nice to think of an open source and free and and advertisement-free world, but it is not going to happen. Advertisements are good for the internet because it provides an influx of money to sites which *can* result in improved services, as well as providing a market for mass-appeal sites. Sure, maybe advertiser-free sites can do the same or even a better job, but the internet isn't just for hackers anymore; it is full of people who want to see Mickey Mouse dance (or whatever he does) when they go to disney.com [disney.com] in IE4+. That being said, let the people who put up with ads do so, it will only propagate interest in the internet and allow things that will benefit us all (ex. companies deciding it is worthwhile to provide DSL and cable modem services and compete [ie, drive prices down] with others currently offering these services)
  • My problem is with replacing content with adverts and trying to trick people into viewing them.

    Yes, this is the problem with what they are/will be doing, as I said. They will be lying. They will be deliberately misrepresenting the results of your searches.

    Anyone that will do this (and not tell you about it) is implicitly dishonest. The next step is filtering results (as opposed to sorting them, which is what they're doing now) based upon commercial/political criteria.

    They're free to do this, and people are free to use it -- but I won't. I want my searches unsorted (at least with respect to commercial concerns) and I certainly want them unfiltered.

  • How is this any different that the local Bell Telco charging big bucks for a big ad in the Yellow pages?

    The user of the Yellow Pages expects to find advertising. The user of Altavista up to now has *not* expected to find search results sorted by how much money Altavista has received from the owner of any given link. This is a significant difference.

    But even this is not the problem. The problem exists if and only if Altavista does not clearly and unambiguously make clear that the results of a given search reflect an advertising bias. The effect of failure to do this is to deceive their users.

    Altavista is surely free to do this -- but they shouldn't misrepresent what they will be providing to people. The results won't be equal. They are sorted, based upon payment received. Users have a right to know this, as far as I'm concerned -- to know what sort of information they are receiving.

  • Their objective is to buy as much as possible for the least money and make it look like they are getting robbed. This is what they do.

    This kind of thing is why consumers and the internet don't mix well. They want to get everything and give no money in return, but what they don't realize is that they are hurting the internet as a whole by refusing to pay up.

    This is why we should support pay sites that offer lots of advertisements (like Altavista).

    Okay, that was mildly silly. But the point is: both buyers and sellers try to get the most out of each other, while at the same time giving up as little as possible. It's called the free market, and it works.

    This is not the problem with what Altavista is doing. Their site is free. The problem is that they are *lying*. They are presenting "search results" as though they actually are "search results". They aren't. They are advertisements related to what you were seeking. This is a deception, and that's the problem.

    They could avoid the deceptiveness if they openly announced what they are doing everytime you search. Then the only question is: do you want search results that are sorted based upon how much money some people have paid to Altavista?

    I personally don't. I prefer commercially unprejudiced search results.

    And that is why I'm not going to use Altavista anymore.

  • Most search engines place ads based on the search term you used. This really isn't that much different - its only seen as legit as the ad is put at the top as a banner, where most people expect it.

    Let the market decide. If people don't like this type of tool, there are numerous excellent search engines they can use instead.

    No one seems to object at the yellow pages, which offer up ads for every search query!
  • Hey,

    They should put a disclaimer saying search results are wieghted by cash contributions. I loved Altavista... Why does money always ruin good things?

    Asta La Vista Altavista
    -Thomas
  • i stopped using altavista a while ago. i searched for something that should have had several matches- and got one "realname" match. obviously not what i wanted.

    sorry guys, but i want a search engine that searches the web, not it's own advertisements.
  • Slashdot is as free as Altavista is.

    For the time being you are correct.

    I don't mind having to load an add banner ever now and then. What I don't like is replacing content with advertisements (ie changing the first match in a search engine to be an advert, indistinguishable from a normal match).

    Right now I consider Altavista to be a free site. But if they try to trick people into following an advertisement link by making it indistinguishable from a match, that is where I have to draw the line.

    But that is just me.

    Although I am glad that someone took the time to let people know that this is the case.

  • by Dast ( 10275 )

    But the point is: both buyers and sellers try to get the most out of each other, while at the same time giving up as little as possible.

    Very true. I do not condemn business for what it does. I understand that this is the way things work.

    But this fails to explain why people would spend time putting up content that makes them no money. That is the heart of what is good about the internet.

    This is not the problem with what Altavista is doing. Their site is free.

    I was unclear on this. I consider Altavista (as it is at the time of this posting) a free site. My problem is with replacing content with adverts and trying to trick people into viewing them.

  • Their objective is to sell us as little as possible for the most money and make it look like we are getting something really great. This is what they do.

    This kind of thing is why business and the internet don't mix well. They want to give you nothing and get money in return, but what they don't realize is that they are hurting the internet as a whole by watering down the content with advertisements.

    This is why we should support free sites that offer free content (like /.).
  • I'm already using squid to block [taz.net.au] banner ads _because_ if I'm not looking for ads. I suppose this'd be OK if I were searching for exactly what was being advertised, but I have a feeling the ads wil be marginally relevant.
    As a side note, isn't this kinda what lycos does? The banner ads are usually somewhat related to your search...
  • ...for the first or primary search engine Slashdotter's use?

    I use Google [google.com] myself and then MegaCrawler [megacrawler.com] then InferenceFind [infind.com]. But I rarely need to go past Google.

    So when will the poll be up? :)
    ~afniv
    "Man könnte froh sein, wenn die Luft so rein wäre wie das Bier"
  • Good to learn of another search tool to put in my box. But I'm initially unimpressed with Google. Feels like a phone carrier ad scam to me. As for its searching, its about as unfocused and scattershot as AltaVista or HotBot.

    I use MetaCrawler [go2net.com]. I don't see how any search engine can compete with a parasitic approach like MetaCrawler. Maybe you loose the ability to construct nuanced expressions, but for basic searches its great. And MetaCrawler's ability to collate and merge duplicates makes it far better (and only marginally slower) than MegaCrawler.


  • This will relegate the whole notion of the internet as "the great equalizer" to a mere footnote in its ongoing evolution. That's too bad.
  • Funny this should come up. I dumped Altavista as of yesterday, when I tried Google. I was trouble finding information on a drug a friend had been put on and remembered that I was supposed to try Google out. I'm NOT going back...
  • by Rexx ( 13426 )
    I have been using Google for some time now. It has become my primary. The search ads are only worth the amount of people that use them. And if enough people are turned off to Alta-Vista because of this ... they won't be worth much.

    I think it is to late to do it quitely, no that Slashdot took the story.

    It will be interesting to see how well they do.

    Thank god for search engine choice.
  • Any search engine created/maintained by commercial entities will eventually succomb to this.

    DOT COM = COMMERCIAL = PROFIT MOTIVE

    You can't provide a service like this for long without skewwing the search results towards the people giving you money. We should learn to accept this.

    The answer? A non-profit search engine. Govt. subsidies? Maybe. Does such an animal exist???
  • I'm curious, it seems as that paid advertisements have to be noted as such. Look at the political ads where they have to state at the end (this has been a paid advertisement), or infomercials....is there a law governing advertising masqurading as something else, as this would appear to be? Looks like I'm going goggle...too bad, always liked altavista.
  • By the way, Google automatically puts + in front of every word, so you just search for GCC Oberon and you don't need +GCC +Oberon.
  • Altavista is now owned by Compaq... What do you expect???

    This is just another reason to support the Open Directory project!

    http://dmoz.org
  • Nice concept and cute logo and all, but its database is woefully lacking. I did a couple of comparisions between it and Northern Light [nlsearch.com], AltaVista, HotBot, and Microsoft Search [msn.com], and Google just couldn't hang. Now, if you're saying once they crawl more pages that it'll be the best, that's one thing, but right now it seems like a glorified Yahoo!, in that it's more likely to find the most popular sites, but come up empty on some detailed searches that the others can handle. Plus, it doesn't even have an "OR" operator, and I might've missed it, but I didn't see how I could search single domains. I'm not sure that this is even second-rate searching -- it definitely isn't first.

    Why do I get the feeling that if the Google operators were Amiga advocates instead of Linux advocates, they wouldn't be getting all these swell reviews here at Slashdot? It's like the hoopla that goes one whenever someone actually comes out with a game for Linux --- no matter how inferior it is, or just plain bad, people rally around it to tell us how it's actually really really awesome. Anybody got a good term for this "Linux programmer welfare" phenomenon?

    For the record, I prefer Northern Light, but still head to AltaVista first out of habit quite a bit --- by the time I remember that I had meant to go to NL, AV's already loaded. MS Search seemed pretty damn good at the queries I threw at it today --- I hadn't tried it out since it was in beta --- so I might have to play around with it some more and really push it. Hotbot's not bad, Excite has some ability, but its interface is just horrible; those are pretty much the only ones I bother to use anymore (although I might add MS Search).

    Cheers,
    ZicoKnows@hotmail.com

  • It appears that the Wired story has been revised since it was posted on slashdot: A Search for the Highest Bidder [wired.com]

    Editor's note: This story has been corrected. Comments attributed to Doubleclick suggesting that AltaVista wished to downplay its strategy could not be independently confirmed and have been removed. Further, comments that the sold search positions were identical to regular search results were incorrect. Wired News regrets the error.
    So it could be that AltaVista is trying to backpeddle quickly, or it could be that Doubleclick was engaging in a little FUD. (And if Wired can't do an accuracy check *before* they post something, maybe it's time to boycott Wired).

    And yes, this is a big deal. Maintaining a separation between advertising and content is very important if you care at all about at least keeping up an appearence of integrity. It's always a worry that advertising supported media will be corrupted by their advertisers. If they were going to suddenly start selling placement in their rankings, without providing any visual cue about what was paid for, that would be clearly unethical. It might even be illegal (deceptive business practice?).

    How would you feel if you found out that the headlines of your local newspaper could be bought?

  • Ads I don't want, but if they were selling website placements, that might be different.

    Right now, you get page after page of useless sites. If the better sites paid for position, maybe I would find what I wanted quicker.

    There are times when I want high quality commercial sites. Take for instance Star Wars. Do you want every page where someone is daydreaming about seeing the next episode, or do you want some sites with quality info?

    Someone needs to come up with some way to rank the quality of sites returned in search engines. If someone was paying, they are also betting they have a better than average site.

    It would be a form of survival of the fittest.
  • I can see it now... the Yellow Pages selling the first full-page of every section to whoever pays the most. "Hmm... flipping through for 'pizza delivery'.... Honey's Escort Service? Whaaaa?"


    Just the next step in the whoring out of the Internet... anything and everything for sale. Feh.
  • It now says that the sold advertisements will be clearly distinguished from the normal search results. Also, it says that the part about them wanting to keep it quiet couldn't be verified.

    It doesn't sound so sinister anymore...they're simply using the search terms to return ads which they hope are relevant to the user, as opposed to, say, slashdot which (I assume) just throws any old ad at any old user.

    --joe
  • I'd have to agree with that statement. The interface is very simple, and loads quickly! Its straightforwared with none of the crap all the other search engines put on them.
    Google rocks.

    Too bad it will never stay like that.

  • I use a combination of newhoo (or directory.mozilla.org or whatever it is today) and google. It's a good pair. Replaces yahoo and AltaVista quite well. Sometimes you just want to "browse" the web, not search it. Newhoo, which is a lot like Yahoo, only better, is good for that.
  • This is why we should support free sites that offer free content (like /.).

    This has got to be one of the most clueless statements about /. I've seen. Slashdot is as free as Altavista is. And they both have ads. (in fact I'm looking at a nice VA research ad as I type this in). So what the heck are you blabering about?

  • I sent the following to search-support@altavista.com. I hope as many of you as possible protest in a similar fashion. It is indeed /. time.


    I am quite distressed to see that AltaVista is selling out search results to the highest bidder (see http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/19 110.html ). When I search the web through AltaVista, I expect to get actual hits, not ads some company has paid you to return as hits. As an "old-time Internet user" in Doubleclick's words, I find this abhorrent. AltaVista is no longer my search engine of choice.

    Sincerely,

    Daniel Wislocki
  • I usually use Inference Find [infind.com]. It's pretty fast and I like the way it summarizes.
  • Yeah, Google is good. Mamma is OK too. And www.askjeeves.com is great for parents and young siblings.

    - My 2 cents...
  • Yeah, but they are in beta right now, and they
    do scheduled crawls, so give 'em some time to
    build up a database. It still gives better
    results than anything else out there.
  • At the risk of getting a hundred "it's already been done!" responses, I suggest a "favourite/best/most popular search engine" poll. I'm pretty sure it /has/ been done already, but I think that was a while ago, and things have changed since. I'd really like to know, since I use InfoSeek (out of habit more than anything else), and to be frank, it sucks. But I don't know what a good one to switch to would be...
    --
    - Sean
  • Go back and re-read the article again. Wired changed some of the contents -- apparently some of the stuff in it was just conjecture, and a retraction has been made of a few points. Specifically:
    • The paid links will not be indistinguishable from the regular search results. They will apparently be clearly marked as paid links.
    • They (Altavista) have no plans to "quietly" introduce these changes -- they are being up-front about the whole deal.

    Looks to me like someone jumped the gun a bit there. Not so bad after all...
    --
    - Sean
  • Before Compaq bought out digital that wasn't
    necessarily true. Altavista was originally
    a showcase for Alpha and the Altavista technology.
    So in a way, it's always been advertising... but
    it was advertising for digital.

    I'm not thrilled with this new development though.
    Guess me moving my searches to google was well
    timed.
  • I've been using Direct Hit (directhit.com).. Its kinda wierd, as its based on "popularity". You miss alot, but most of the time I'm looking for something very specific. Great for research.

    It was turning up consistently the best results on sherlock, and now they have there own site.
  • Google is ok, but I feel like they don't have as many pages stored as other engines. I usually use google first (I configured Netscrape so it uses google for a 'url search'), and if that doesn't work, hotbot is next.
  • by 16384 ( 21672 )
    my default search engine is now google [google.com]

    If I don't find what I was looking for I try altavista or some meta search engine (metacrawler, dogpile)

  • Yahoo! will "review your site more quickly" if you pay them for promotion. It's difficult to get listed these days without due to their backlog.
  • When I use a search engine, I try to use one that offers the following:

    • flagging words as "required"
    • flagging words as "recommended but not required"
    • flagging words as "required to be absent"
    • boolean logic "(A or B) and C"
    • the ability to search inside certain tags: image tags, link tags, etc.
    • looking for alternate versions of a word "automate", "automatically", "automatic" are all matched with the appropriate syntax
    • ranking higher for documents where the match is in the title/level 1 headers/level 2 headers
    • lower ranking for documents where the words are all found, but so are many other irrelevant ones
    • reasonable speed
    • a good idea of what the page will contain before it's actually visited
    • as few ads as possible
    • a reasonable quick interface. (not necessarily easy, but not like hotbot where an advanced search requires you to fill in 50 input boxes)
    • reasonable time between updates
    • old documents removed (so not too many documents found by the search get a 404 response)

    Altavista was my choice because it did most of that well. If they're even considering this I'm switching.

    What do others consider important criteria in a search engine? What do others use? Any suggestions?

  • As far as I'm concerned, they pretty well already do. I've noticed times when I've searched for things like "guitars", "pickups", "amps" etc. I get ads related to these subjects. Samething on dejanews. I'm willing to bet more than these search engines do this sort of thing.
  • When altavista started, they only had DEC banners, no other ads. Once many people are using Google, they will start doing the same crap altavista is starting now - Bet on it! In the meantime, of course, Google is a Good Thing.
  • I agree that the amount the web site owner is willing to pay can be a good measure of relevancy.

    When I'm searching for commercial enterprises, I use goto.com. They have been explicitly selling search engine 'hits' since day one. Seems to work pretty well.
  • "dunno how vocal I'll be. But AltaVista was my primary search engine."

    In that one statement you have been more vocal than most people could be by yelling with a bull horn. . .
  • I would argue that people searching for overly simple, generic terms like 'dogs', 'sex', or 'canada' are using search engines incorrectly.

    Back in grade school it seems like the library staff never tired of teaching us how to use the card catalog. There are Subject, Author, and Title cards, and they look like this, and this is where information is, and here is the call number, etc.

    I picked it up pretty quickly (being a naiscent computer geek back then even). But now I can reflect back on it and see that searching information is a skill that must be learned. Technology can help or hinder this (as countless proprietary one-cheecked computerized library card catalogs can attest to), but it still must be learned.

    In a post above, a reader hypothesizes about doing a search for 'football' and wanting to get various results. I'd say that the correct way to go about finding things (helmets for sale, player stats) is not to do a generic search on 'football'. If you want to buy helmets then you want to look for sporting goods stores. If you want player stats, you want some sports site.

    Granted, most users don't want to learn each engine's specific grammar for complex boolean searches. Most don't want to see something full of (),*?+. But people who really want to find information will be willing to learn ways to improve their search results.

    For people who just look for 'cats', and ad to a site will probably bring up things that are just as relavent as all the porn-site hits that will come up.

    All this said, I think that schools should be teaching information searching skills. The Web (or whatever eventually replaces it at some level) will only get more and more prevelant, and those who know how to look for things will have a big advantage.

    So finally, about the ads, sneaking ads into search results really does bug me on a philosophical level. Doing it for broad terms alreay has its problems (ie, buy the Linux term and use it to sell whatever). Once it becomes accepted practice, ads will get worked into more and more complex searches just as an established practice.

    On the bright side, as sites like Google show, there is still room for new players to attract users. We can always just jump ship to better sites and proxy out the ad banners.

    Thanks for listening.
  • No, it's specifically unlike what Lycos does. When Lycos tailors a banner ad to your search (a good thing, IMHO), it separates the ad from the real data. By their nature, a banner ad screams that it is an ad.

    When you mix the ads in with the real data, you start truly deceiving the user. When you set up shop as a search engine, you imply that the result of a search is a list of the most relevant sites it can find (isn't that what "sort by relevance" means?). I know that this is wrong. I'd be surprised if it's legal.

    OTOH, somebody like the Yellow Pages can get away with putting ads in. They're the Yellow Pages--they carry an implication that everything they have is a paid advertisement.

  • If this "top match" goes through, I openly wonder how much it would cost to "buy" all the single letters, and the numbers 1-12. If we set up a fund to do that, we could give all the links to the Children's Television Workshop for use with Sesame Street. If today's episode is brought to you by the letters F, R, and the number 3, why not the other way around? There shouldn't be too much demand for these matches anyhow. The possible exceptions would be A, E, I, O, and U, which will likely be snarfed up by the Wheel of Fortune ASAP.
  • How long do you think it will be before they start selling priority for links? Pay X amount of money, and you're guaranteed to be returned as the Yth link on a search for "football".

  • Gotta be Lycos faithful as a Pittsburgher :) They don't pull that stuff and they also host lots of cool movies..

    my 2 cents
  • Altavista has been getting steadily worse over the last year or so. It is a wasteland of irrelevant query results due to porn spamming and other placement tactics.

    My question is, will AV mandate that the buyer of a "keyword" have a relevent site? I mean, will they let Hustler.com buy the rights to first placement when someone searches for "football"?

    I think hiding advertising in with legitimate content is a bad trend ... although I don't see it getting any better.

    This all reminds me of listening to talk radio, when the person doing the show starts talking casually about something ... and it turns out to be a paid advertisement. Man that's annoying.

    Anyways, no more Altavista for me.
  • Huh, I had some friends over from Holland, and I was proudly showing 'how easy it is to get round California', using Mapquest.

    So we where driving round fer a couple a days, til one of my friends asks, why everytime we use Mapquest we get routed via the Fry's parking lot.

    For example:
    [from suicide-alley take a right into Fry's parking lot]
    [go strait and look around to see that there's really ample parking space!]
    [when you are back in the car, continue to the north exit]
    [the best buys are always, at Frys!]
    [take left onto El Camino]
    etc.

    Go figure!

    Breace.
    from the that's-not-really-true-right? dept.
  • Gentlemen and Ladies:

    I used to have Altavista (Advanced Search) as the top link in my bookmarks file, but I just dropped it. I was *_VERY_* distressed to see that AltaVista is selling out search results to the highest bidder (see http://www.wired.com/news/news/technology/story/19 110.html ).

    When I search the web through any search site, I want actual hits, not ads some company has paid you to return as hits. I find this to be disgusting. Altavista's value was its ability to return unbiased (or relatively so) lists of hits.

    As a result of this, I will no longer use Altavista or recommend it to my clients and friends.

  • I'd have to agree. Altavista was my primary source of searching. I dont mind the ads of top that are
    revelant to search topic. But purposely disguising Ads and return results, that just plain wrong. Altavista can sell all the ADs they want, but they shouldn't sell search position. Guess I have to try Google or Northern Lights everyone is talking about. Hasta Lavista AltaVista!
  • Don't forget you can use AltaVista in text-only mode; point your bookmarks and custom search boxes to:

    http://www.altavista.com/cgi-bin/query?text

    This gets rid of the RealName stuff, banner ads, third party news sources, and all the other stuff on the front page. Won't help with the rigged search results, tho.
  • Open Text did this--sold top ten results based on keywords. And where are they now? The search engine still exists, but is not exactly a household name.

    BTW, there was a boycott movement when Open Text did this. Icons, linked to an information page. And Open Text did back down...

    I have been a user of Alta Vista since the day they opened. But I will certainly dump them if they sell results.

  • Check out Altavista's own words from their URL submission page:

    "AltaVista is an index, not a storing place for pages of low or misleading information value. Attempts to fill it with misleading or promotional pages lowers the value of the index for everyone. Left unchecked, this behavior would make Web indexes and our search experience worthless ."

    Their words are so true...
  • My initial reaction to this was the same as everyone else's seems to have been - that it is a Bad Thing. When you do a web search you want the results sorted by word count, not amount payed, right ?

    Actually I do not think so. When I do a web search I want the results sorted by *relevancy*. The big deal in designing a search engine is working out just how relevant the results are, and bear in mind that most users are, as ever, clueless. They are going to do stupid searches for "sex", "football", etc. Search engine usage statistics bear this out. Keyword count is not a sufficient standard of relevancy for a search like this - how much people are prepared to pay may well be a better one. Yahoo and some of the other search engines have been producing adverts more-or-less mixed in with search results for some time now.

    What disturbs me more than anything else is the proposal that this be done 'quietly' (though clearly now it will not be long until most of the world knows). People should know what they are getting.

    Of course, I do not do searches for "sex" and "football", because its a waste of time, and I have better sources for such things. Google (which is now may favourite search engine) has a much better way of trying to find relevant links, which is much more appropriate for the kinds of searches I tend to do.

  • I agree with this post. When you use a search engine, you trust that the sites are listed in an order of relevance and not one of advertiser preference. You expect that a banner ad will be placed according to your query, but if the results are skewed, what's the point.

    This isn't a case of commercialism vs. the web. It's a case of Alta Vista not understanding their customer base. If they change the product, they will change their customer. Alta Vista's best business practice is the one which will earn them the most money, not the one which will make the most /.ers happy. In the long run, though, they are one and the same. Alta Vista is number one because everyone recommends it. They have a reputation and they return good results. If they place those results for sale, they lose both the reputation, and, to a degree, the good results.

    Many posters have recommended Google, both for its banner-free site and for the quality of hits. I try Google first, but Alta Vista was always my second choice. It's an excellent search engine. Google will have banner ads, or it will go away.

    TANSTAAFL. But the lunch you pay for should be edible.
  • I've been using Google.com [google.com] very happily for some time now. It has increased my research productivity by leaps and bounds!
  • Use http://www.google.com [google.com]

    It's by far the best search engine I've ever used. What you are looking for almost always shows up in the top 3 matches, if not the first.

  • by Palin ( 3182 ) on Wednesday April 14, 1999 @09:29AM (#1934455) Homepage Journal
    Lately I've really only been using Google [google.com]. It seems to me that the google people have created a great serch engine that actually returns GOOD results. At the moment they (google) don't even have any add on their site. Don't know if it will stay that way, but I hope it does. I've since stopped using excite/yahoo/altavista/hotbot/etc.....

"Be there. Aloha." -- Steve McGarret, _Hawaii Five-Oh_

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