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Altavista Redesign is more 'Portal-Like' 140

GeHa & others called our attention to the new AltaVista main page that went live late Saturday night (EDT). Apparently the formal kickoff for the redesign is scheduled for Monday and will include a live Lauryn Hill Webcast. I wonder what entertainer Google would choose to help publicize a major site change. Any ideas? UPDATE by RM Sunday morning: the new page is aparently on again, off again until the formal Monday launch. IMO it's not as useful as the old one even though AV is making much noise about it.
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Altavista Redesign is more 'Portal-Like'

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  • Besides running on Linux, and being a very fast and friendly (without large ads all over the place) search engine, it also has a very good approach to sorting results by quality.

    You can read more about it here [google.com].

    Quote: PageRank capitalizes on the uniquely democratic characteristic of the web by using its vast link structure as an organizational tool. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. Google assesses a page's importance by the votes it receives. But Google looks at more than sheer volume of votes, or links; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."


  • While I definitely agree that the loss of focus is ultimately a bad thing for consumers (Deja is utterly unuseable through their interface, and even through dejasearch, is still not what it used to be), I think Yahoo has actually done it fairly well. Their main page and main focus and main functionality aren't terribly different than they were 3 years ago. If I'm looking for a good index page on something fairly common, I go there first and it's extremely useful. (They have an entire category for traceroute servers, including links to several indices which would have taken me quite a while to find with a traditional 'search'). If it makes me pedestrian to find indices of useful things (insurance, airline tickets, weather, stocks) in one place *without it being obnoxious* oh well. I guess I get a lot more annoyed when it takes away from or eliminates the original service.

    As a side note, I think the utility of the pure search engine is decreasing by the day - regardless of what cruft their front page is filled with, their results are filled with even more. I usually search 2-3 search engines before finding one that seems to give what I'm looking for, and my order of operations is still altavista, yahoo, lycos, google.
  • No, it does NOT.

    No more usenet-wide searches, which was the most useful feature of AltaVista, or of any search site, hands down.

    DejaNews doesn't cut it for usenet searches because they just don't seem to index everything ...
  • Hotbot is the worst offender! Here's a quick example: Search 'Slashdot' [hotbot.com]. and see what happens. you get some links, but the first links on a search page point to the "Search Partners"???? ie:

    Search Partners

    Research "Slashdot" at AtHand.

    Find books on "Slashdot" at bn.com.

    Research "Slashdot" at DealerNet.


  • What is up with all these big players losing their focus? Yahoo wants to have a branded version of everything you can do on the Net. Deja News wasn't happy being a world-class Usenet index, so they've revamped themselves into a sucky consumer portal. Now AltaVista has decided that the thing to do is to is to forget what they used to do well and instead do 12 other things poorly.

    On the face of it, this is irrational. The value of the Net was supposed to be precisely that it would allow people to focus on doing one thing well, and then the rest of the world would link to them rather than reinventing the wheel. Why does the world need Yahoo! Auctions, for example, when eBay exists and has a near-perfect implementation of Internet auctioning? Wouldn't the logical thing be for Yahoo to just link to eBay and focus on improving their index?

    The thing is -- that would be the logical thing, but we're not living in logical times. All this "portal" BS is a function of the Internet stock bubble. Yahoo IS focused -- on keeping their stock price high, not on the quality of their index. This means that they must jump on every bandwagon that comes along in order to keep all those nervous day traders out there from hitting "SELL" on their Yahoo stock. Same deal for Deja (which is in the process of going public) and AltaVista (owned by CMGI, a public company), as well as Amazon and many others too numerous to mention.

    The point is, someday this Net stock bubble is going to burst, and then we'll probably see logic take hold of the Net market and Yahoo! will focus on its directory, Deja on Usenet, AltaVista on searching, etc. -- assuming they survive the downturn -- but as long as crazy investors are willing to throw money at any company that's more focused on being buzzword-compliant than focused on their core business, this weird diversification will persist.

  • I use two search engines. Google [google.com] and the text-only Altavista boolean search [altavista.com]. As long as I can link directly to these two pages, I don't care what happens to the front end.
  • LOL! Hilarious! Obsession - for women [adbusters.org] is funny. and the Gap add [adbusters.org] is a real Jolt-spit.

  • by cmc ( 44956 )
    Maybe the BSD section could talk about Yahoo, considering it runs FreeBSD.
  • Perhaps this is the old-schooler in me speaking, but I really detest portals. To me, they've always been nothing but another marketing gimmick aimed at keeping users attached to a single system. When the online services of old started dying, their proprietors needed a way to hold onto people... you can't let them wander around, not contributing to your revenue, after all.

    So what did they do? The portal was born. All the content of the old services, plus they don't have to provide you with dial-up access to see it! You just come on your own, look at their ads, provide them with demographic information... pretty sweet deal. For them.

    The beauty of the Internet is the unconnectedness of these things. Down with portals, and down with AltaVista for joining this insane movement!

  • I've never understood the appeal of portals. Do you seriously just go to a webpage, and use links off of it, rather than your own bookmarks?

    I make heavy use of the "Links" or "Personal Toolbar" buttons instead of using a portal site. Don't most people do this?

  • Something that I've been accustomed to doing is making my own "start" page, with my most used links, quick sumbit forms to the search engines I need, a clock, and other stuff like grabbing headlines from /.!. Having it load up locally, is a lot faster than visiting a portal site (which are often fairly lengthly) every time you start Netscape, no banner ads, no marketing schemes, no annoying windows that pop up everywhere...

    Portals are annoying, I can't even comprehend how any of them actually make money except for Yahoo.

    "the voices in my head say crazy things"
  • How did they manage to make it as ugly !?
  • by two_can ( 95474 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @04:21AM (#1592277)
    http://www.altavista.com/cgi-bin/query?opt=on&en c=iso88591&text=on
    Above is the Link I use, this removes almost everything except the search function.
    there are various settings you can set if you hunt for them.
  • > I wonder what entertainer Google would choose
    > to help publicize a major site change. Any
    > ideas?

    Weird Al?

    #include "ihateportalstoo.h"
  • For one thing, when you mean portal-like, do you mean Yahoo!-like? It doesn't look exactly like Yahoo! just yet but it's getting to be as obnoxious. The only thing I use Altavista for is for the search engine and the translation services, which Altavista is known for. The other stuff is fluff and makes Altavista currently look totally disorganized. At least Yahoo! can organize the fluff. Ever since Compaq bought Digital, things have gone downhill in my opinion. It's not just Altavista, but also with the entire structure of Digital itself. The idea of of having to use "Compaq Tru64 UNIX" as opposed to Digital UNIX is a sickening thought, but I digress. *sigh*
  • Google uses a new type of algorithm to rank the relevancy of pages based on how many other pages link to it. It's not just the fact that it runs under Linux - it's the result of a some pretty sophisticated new ideas on how to best search the web.

    Check this [sciam.com] out for more information in what is going on with search engines.

  • With all due respect, try searching for "to be or not to be" on google. It doesn't allow searching for sentences and it doesn't allow all those +s and -s which are so useful on altavista.

    When searching for something which is so common you will find hundreds of results and you want the most relevant one - you can't beat google. But for those hard-to-find tidbits altavista is still the best.

  • and other stuff like grabbing headlines from /.!

    Okay... I'm intrigued... how do you do this? I know about the RDF file used, but how do you parse it? I suppose writing my own utility to do so would be an interesting project, but I'd rather not do something so involved if I don't have to, as I'm not exactly a master programmer =)

  • For the record, I think 'portals' are dumb, too. But, The Masses seem to want pretty graphics, and My News next to My Weather next to web based email (Ack!). It's a market-driven phenomenon, and would quickly die out of people would stop using them.

    So, I wouldn't blame The Man for this, blame the people too lazy to explore what's out there. There were pioneers on the 'net, blazing new trails, as it were... Now, the homesteaders are coming in, building towns and stripmalls.

  • I've been using AltaVista almost exclusively, because of the text-based boolean searching features, for some time. This feature is, IMO, its greatest strength. This is the second redesign from AV I've seen, and each revision seems to become slightly less visually appealing and incorporates slightly more irrelevant cruft. The newest version is unslightly enough that I can hardly stand to look at it.

    Here's the question: it seems like many of us choose a particular search engine because of a set of features that it implements particularly well-- Yahoo for drill-down searching, AV for boolean queries and more results, etc. However, most portals look just about the same to me, and as a result search sites are looking increasingly homogeneous. Is it really more profitable to try and be all things to all people (and therefore please no one) or is it possible to actually be more successful with a smaller but highly dedicated core audience?

    I don't know about you, but I go to search engines to search, not to buy a car, read about the latest fashions, and bid on collectible Elvis plates as well.

  • I too remember when Altavista ruled the Earth and I still use it, mostly out of habbit, when searching for things Google is no good at. Yes, there are such things. Google has its strong points and its weak points like all the rest. You can't really support a blanket statement like "Google is far better than AltaVista ever was". I feel Altavista are still the good guys regardless of any portal nonsense because you can customise that stuff out and you don't even have to accept a cookie to do it.
  • Ouch. Apart from the fact that the day-glo yellow looks terrible, I can't help but notice a stunning resemblance between AV's portal headings and yahoo.com's, and in fact every other portal site around.
    Surely having so many of these sites, all containing the same mass of nested links is totally redundant, especially when it is far simpler to use the Bookmark function of a web-browser?

    - h2so4
  • As far as I'm concerned, this is the only Alta Vista page you ever need to keep around. Ignore their tripe.


    Although I don't, you might see spamverts in the response. These are trivially deleted with any spamvert blocking proxy.

  • with more and more sites using Open Directory data, it's making portals look more and more similar.

    I wouldn't say that this is neccesarily a Good Thing(TM)
  • Goodness, but silly /. has bugs. Sigh. Here I hope is the right version. If this fails, I surrender. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only Alta Vista page you ever need to keep around. Ignore their tripe.
    <FORM ACTION="http://www.altavista.com/cgi-bin/query">
    Altavista: <INPUT NAME=q>

    Although I don't, you might see spamverts in the response. These are trivially deleted with any spamvert blocking proxy.

  • I don't think the assumption that people want pretty graphics is entirely sound. While my own experience would tell that new Internet users are impressed my magazine-style websites, it also tells me that new Internet users slowly replace their appreciation for flashy sites with appreciation for functional ones.

    The popular portals give users, to a limited extent, convienient access to information. Portals also clutter the user's interface with 'noise'. I believe many users dislike this and would prefer more functional designs.

    The question then becomes are there any websites('portals') that provide users with convienient access to diverse information with little 'noise' (lets define this as unwanted, distracting visual elements)? I can't find any.

    Slashdot is good since you can configure the interface greatly to both simplify and eliminate various visual elements. You still can't remove the advertisments (that I'm aware of) which are very 'noisy'.

  • av.com/?text=y [av.com]

  • Amen, I have not used altavsta since the beginning of this year, when I realized that it ignored anything that it recognized as a filename ( I do windows support, so this is imperative if you are looking up an error you haven't seen before). I used google for awhile, but have settled on alltheweb.com, it's database is not as large as altavista's, but it is WAY more up to date, it queries like altavista used to as well.
  • If you're using a version of Lynx that isn't horrendously outdated try typing av/?text=y

    Good ol' Lynx.

  • with more and more sites using Open Directory data, it's making portals look more and more similar. I wouldn't say that this is neccesarily a Good Thing?

    I think this is good. Most general-audience portals wind up looking pretty similar anyway, and there's the vast duplication of effort of having different people maintain their collections of links. (Specialized portals aiming at a given target market can always beat the generalized portals, of course.)

    A second effect is that this makes dmoz.org's data more important, and may make it worthwhile for companies to help maintain the database. For example, at work we've been considering helping maintain the Science:Engineering:MEMS section on dmoz.org, because we can re-use the data on our site, and this results in better information for the MEMS community, even if they use Excite or, now, Altavista. I hope Excite or Altavista will pay for a few staffers to be ODP editors.

  • Have you seen Alan Cox's Portaloo [linux.org.uk] yet? It provides a reasonably spartan display, and seems to focus on providing information only, rather than glitz.

    What's even nicer is that it's open source, [linux.org.uk] and so you can modify it to provide whatever you like. :-)

  • You didn't read my post, did you? Here's a quote from the first paragraph:

    [...]if you look carefully, you'll find a link to the text-only page (http://www.hotbot.com/text/).

    Try searching from there.


  • that large websites would all post the equivalent of a colophon. You know, an explanation of how and with what the site is built: backend programming methods (EJB, NSAPI, mod_perl), design tools, web server, database, etc.
    It's always fascinating to see a little bit of a publisher's design philosophies in the colophon for a book, and I think that goes double for a web site.
  • You have to learn a new syntax from Altavista. I know that I'm in the habit of putting everything in quotes with a + before it from using Altavista too much.

    Anyway, here's how you search for "to be or not to be" on Google:
    "+to +be +or not +to +be"

    If you + all the words, it ignores all the +'s. Luckily, 'not' isn't a stop-word, so you can un-plus that.

    If you need to search for a phrase that's made entirely of stop-words, simply add an 'a' without a +. It'll be ignored and the rest of the search will work.

    A bit confusing, but not nearly as confusing as the fact that Altavista will return pages where the words are nowhere near each other even if you put them in quotes.
  • I see that Slashdot is not amoung the channels you can to The Portaloo [linux.org.uk]. I wonder if there is a story behind this?

    Assuming that The Portaloo uses RSS/RDF to get its headlines they should be able to use many more existing channels (including /.).

  • iWon.com just started, they are ANOTHER portal copy and all they do different is give out like $10,000 per day. i saw a thing on abc on them, and the founders are harvard mba's, i swear this is the beginning of the end...
  • I saw it for a little bit and got the source of it and threw it on a Geocities page. So here is what is basically looks like:

    The New Altavista [geocities.com]
  • The change just happened this very second while I was searching.

    Even on Windoze browsers, the text on it is titchy. It's also not a lot of use either - looks like they might have changed the search algorithm.

  • Have to agree. At least the old page was a bit relaxing. It didn't really stir you up like this one does. Well, I guess I'll get used to it (and HotWired _still_ has worse colors), just like I got used to Freshmeat.

    I wonder who they consult for such things? External designers? Was this choice as hard to do as what way PacMan would be facing (left)? And most important of all, is this some kind of marketing stuff? (Santa is red because of Coca-Cola, you know...)

    /* Steinar */
  • Is it me, or are more sites these days using a font set that is just plain ugly in netscape on Linux?
  • Just go to www.altavista.com/cgi-bin/ query?pg=aq&what=web&text [altavista.com] if you don't want to deal with all the portal crap, and just want a quick-loading page so you can get your search done.
  • Or just av/?text
  • Can't argue with those facts...


  • I never used Dejanews that much so I can't really comment on how much it changed. But I think this indirectly leads to an interesting topic. It would be fairly easy to put your own front end and then go-between parser in front of these engines. Pretty much the "Run your search on other engines" that we see on Yahoo and Google, and the Metasearch type engines (Ask Jeeves etc.). I wonder when we will start seeing lawsuits like the ones that happened when another auction site was providing searches on E-Bay? Would it be illegal for me to slap my own front end on Dejanews? Technologically it seems really straight forward, just a few HTML forms and some Perl scripts to strip ads and useless links returned.

    I actually think this also connects to the recent IM wars over buddy lists and what not. I guess these are the intellectual property issues that are only starting to be addressed.
  • Ok, so the slashdot crowd tends to be largely against frivolous software patents - why is it ok that Google is patenting such an obvious idea?

  • I put in my handle, which is highly specific. It won't find my page. Almost every other search engine will. It doesn't seem to be a bad search engine, it just doesn't seem to do anything remarkable. And as far as "searching algorithms" go, every search engine has one, and it's always the greatest new technology in searching. Woo.

  • by PD ( 9577 )
    In the beginning
    AltaVista was the best.
    Now it just finds spam.

    Google search engine
    Is much more spam resistant,
    And they run Linux

    Ask Jeeves is nice too.
    Questions are in real English.
    But replies are not.

    Jeeves is metasearch.
    It queries many engines,
    to summarize them.

    Can anyone say
    What the next idea will be?
    If you can, get rich.

  • The actual concern of Yahoo is perfectly legitimate, regardless of what its stock price is (or isn't). They want to keep you on their pages, so that they can display ads and get $ 0.005 cent per pageview. Yahoo users spend an average of somewhere around 30 minutes a day on the site, and they have around a pageview a minute, so we're talking about $ 0.005 * 30 = $ 0.15. So every minute they can keep you on the site through classifieds and auctions and what-not is a minute where they can make money by showing you ads.

    I've actually grown to like Deja's implementation of the ratings features. It's really pretty well done. Sadly, the puke blue and bile green colour scheme makes me shudder every time I enter the site. And I wish they hadn't changed the normal Courier or Times Roman in the message bodies to helvetica, which is barely readable under any Unix I know of.

    These annoying facts have caused my total visits to Deja to drop something like 80%. It's pretty sad, since I think what they're doing with the ratings is actually not half bad.

    Incidentally, www.epinions.com is doing a very nice job competing with Deja on the ratings category - check 'em out. I really like the "web of trust" and the "payments to reviewers" ideas. We'll see how they do.


  • If Google _does_ decide to sell out, get a live band to webcast, etc., then the band should obviously be Moxy Fruvous.
  • Altavista detects lynx automatically and switches to text mode. Just "av" will do :-)

  • this is one is newer than the above link []

    SlashMirror: Where to put files for fellow /.'ers

  • []

    SlashMirror: Where to put files for fellow /.'ers

  • If Frank Zappa were still around.....

    maybe They Might Be Giants????
  • Are you people all idiots? Does it really matter to you if a web site throws a bunch of useless links on the bottom part of their site? If it helps them stay in business and provide a service to us, then all the better. It's not as if you are paying for it. The efficacy of the search hasn't changed any, so it doesn't really matter. You are all a bunch of whiners.
  • In a word, yes. :-(

    Sites are increasingly using Helvetica/Arial or something similar, and it renders under Linux as a truly ghastly font that should have never been let out of the foundary.

    I don't know why they are - I think it's really ugly, and it's painfully tough to read, too. Even in Windows, I don't think it looks that hot.

    It's fairly well known that serif fonts (such as Times Roman or Palatino) are easier to read than sans serif (like Helvetica). But Helvetica looks more "modern", and I guess looking more "modern" is more important than actually being legible.



  • They want to keep you on their pages, so that they can display ads and get $ 0.005 cent per pageview.

    True enough, I suppose. Though it does beggar the question a bit of "What is Yahoo?". Perhaps Yahoo is a bad example, as they are fortunate enough to be the Big Gorilla net company -- they can be as vague as they want regarding their business plan and people will still bookmark them. Of course, there aren't many other companies that can apply this strategy successfully.

    I've actually grown to like Deja's implementation of the ratings features. It's really pretty well done. Sadly, the puke blue and bile green colour scheme makes me shudder every time I enter the site... These annoying facts have caused my total visits to Deja to drop something like 80%. It's pretty sad, since I think what they're doing with the ratings is actually not half bad.

    Yeah, Deja is in trouble. They were actually a prime factor that prompted my earlier rant -- their new ratings stuff is neat, but their Usenet search features have become highly difficult to use, and return spotty, inconsistent results. They'd be better off changing the name of the company again and ditching Usenet altogether, IMHO, rather than continue with their half-ratings, half-Usenet strategy. But why do one thing well when you can do two things poorly? :-)

  • You could try dejasearch http://homemade.hypermart.net/dejasearch/ [hypermart.net]...

    It's a perl script which will query dejanews for you and consolidate all of the found messages into one large html file which you can digest later off line.

  • It seems it is still worth the extra keystrokes I tend to invest in typing http://www.altavista.yellowpages.com.au [yellowpages.com.au] . It still only has a couple of ads and a few 'featured sponsers', and a nice big search text input box, free of travel advice and freemail...
  • if I can't find it on google. I rarely have to go to stop three. (general info searches)
  • The reason why sites are going to the 'portal' is two fold.
    1. it's what the masses want. slashdot is not the masses. AOL is the masses. the web's to complicated for them they way it is, so they want everything tied up into a nice pretty package.
    2. profits. if people start using your page as there basic portal to the web, you make more money from advertising.
    hey look at it this way, slashdot could even be considered a portal. it's got google, amazon, shopper.com, hey even news sites.

  • >I'd have said
    >The Invisible Man.
    >shrunk down to one pixel, of course, so as not
    >to interfere with the speed of loading.

    Or maybe they could get William Shatner singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"? ;D

  • Doesn't bother me. I've used it for so long, my fingers are still trained to type "altavista.digital.com" without errors and faster than I can even think it.

    So far the screenshots look like it's almost the same... not like the move from dejanews.com to deja.com... now that sucked.

    I don't click on the ads anyway for large corporations (Digital/Compaq, Yahoo, etc)... /. gets my clicks, still, though.

  • Font readability depends on context. If Serif fonts were always easier to read than sans serif fonts, why do you suppose most traffic signs use sans serif? :-) Generally speaking though, for large amounts of on-screen text, if the font isn't so small as to be illegibly distorted, a good Times font is the way to go.
  • Word at the Open Directory Project is that the "new" AltaVista has been popping in and out of existence all day. Presumably, this represents a failed attempt to test the new site without showing it to the public.

    (According to CNET [cnet.com], there was a beta version of the new AltaVista at beta.altavista.com [altavista.com], but it was taken down when CNET phoned AV about it. Obviously, whatever AV's doing to hide the new page from the public now isn't working quite right.)

  • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @04:43AM (#1592342)
    I'm sure Google would choose the likes of Chilly Willy the penguin, of cartoon fame. Or perhaps the old penguin from the penguin and polar-bear duo of Arctic Circle fame (I haven't seen one of those restaurants in years. Mmm. And remember their Fry Sauce? Oh, now I'm hungry.).

    I'm so damn tired of every company putting a 'portal' online. I just want a page that I can search for things with. I don't want the same re-hashed AP/Reuters newsfeed that every other website has. I don't want the stupid celebrity-chats, java-games, weather, maps, webmail, shopping venues or discount long-distance phone deals.

    Give give me a damn field to enter my keywords in and a button to click.

    Everyone wants to corner every part of the market. What happened to 'Do one thing and do it well'? I'm not so lazy that I can't type a new address to go to a seperate webpage. If I'm on a search page that is done well (Google) and I need to catch up on the day's news, I'll take the two seconds to type in another URL.

    Marketing hacks and corporate clunkheads seem to think the average web-surfer wants to stay on one webpage forever and have everything they need on that one page. I find that as tacky as going to Castco and seeing the cars and home entertainment systems on sale. If you are buying a car or a stereo-system, go to a car-dealership or a stereo store -- where you can find quality items from people who specialize in them.

    I'm not going to buy my car in the next aisle down from the canned-food and I'll not get my news from the same place people search for pr0n.

    To be a successful online service, you do not need to spread yourself over everything. You do not need to plaster your site with a thousand banner-ads. You do not even need to register with a search engine. Just do what you do, like what you do, and do it well. People will notice it and appreciate it.

    My website, for example, was just something I threw together while I was telecommuting and learning Perl. I figured I would take the site down within a few days once I had learned how to read and dissect the script. And here I am a few months later with a very successful auction site for a very specific group of people. No search engine, no Reuter's news, no banners or advertising, no costs to anyone. And I've never even registered the site on a single search engine. (That's what robots.txt is for anyway, duh!)

    My point is not that my site is so special, but that you don't have to become a commercialized sell-out to do well and you do not have to offer every service under the sky. Find something you like and stick with it. Word-of-mouth turned Fight Club from a ho-hum box-office feature to a number-one hit. It can do the same for your site.

    Best of all, if you really care about what you are doing, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Let CBS and Tide throw a million dollars at a web project that looks and behaves like every other portal in the world -- you can have something unique to offer for a few bucks.

    Speaking of which, could you imagine a project manager with any corporation presenting a website project that can be maintained for $20 per month?

    The previous reasons are also why you come to Slashdot for your tech news and gossip instead of finding it burried in the back of your local newspaper, written by some washed-up entertainment editor who's greatest technical accomplishment was booting up their iMac.

  • Is there something special about google that makes it such a hot topic on slashdot? Or is it just that it runs on Linux? I think that's a pretty lame qualification for a search engine, if that's the case.

  • The main page is full of unnecessary tables and links and so forth. Searches are really poor, even if you use boolean searches, 50% of the results are irrelevant. And their database is so out of date (dead links). Adding more bloat isn't the right way to turn things right, IMHO.

    Altavista used to be pretty good, now it's pretty useless. This has happened to every single search engine I've used. They were good when they first came out, but as time passes their quality starts to deteriorate. I'm not sure why this happens, I guess they just aren't maintained properly. The only decent engine now is Google, but I'm really afraid it too will start to suck in a year or two.
  • by Money__ ( 87045 ) on Sunday October 24, 1999 @04:58AM (#1592347)
    I vividly remember when Yahoo.com was a great little index. Simple, quick loading, up-to-date, a joy to use. However, the trend seems to be that once a search engine gets noticed, they start doing things to track and keep users on the site. They add links that point back to there own "content" (which isn't really content at all, but just another step into the hierarchy) after 2 or 3 clicks down. the user is finally shown what he/she came for, but in the process, the user is shown a steaming heap of on-domain links. This exasperates even the most uneducated user.

    For example, this is the link-o-bar across the top of the page from yahoo.

    Yahoo! Auctions - bid now! Coca-Cola, Dragon Ball, Halloween, Britney Spears, Pokemon... Shopping - Auctions - Yellow Pages - People Search - Maps - Travel - Classifieds - Personals - Games - Chat - Clubs Mail - Calendar - Messenger - Companion - My Yahoo! - News - Sports - Weather - TV - Stock Quotes - more...

    [head spinning] Britney Spears, Pokemon ..I'm gonna hurl. . .

    Each one of these demographically focused links is pointing back at the main page to prevent "leakage" (the term used when a user actually gets what they came for, and leaves the site). What's more is even *external links* are 'pass-through' links for (tracking reasons) so the user doesn't really know when they are leaving the site.

    Alta-vista started out as a text only robot running on Alpha. It was fast and effective. slowly, little by little, they grew it into a link farm that is distracting and annoying to everyone. Another little trend I recently noticed , while clicking through my.CNN, is using pop-up windows that turn off the navigation and location tool bar. While it's very interesting, it forces the user to stay on-domain (because there's no nav bar) and the user doesn't know where the content is coming from (because the location bar is gone). But anyway, I digress. Back to the issue at hand.

    Google is starting out the same way. A superior indexing robot generating links that are fast and effective. This week, Goggle added 2 links on the main page. Mark my words . . over the next 6 months, you'll slowly see more and more (mostly on-domain) links added to Google until it to will become a towering heap of babble.

    What we users want is a link farm that actually points to content! That's why /. is my portal. That's why It's under my HOME button. That's why /. is an indispensable information source.

    A link farm that 'gets to the point, and points to the get'

    Now.. if only someone could build a general user link farm on the /. model?

  • I noticed this last night... I was fixing a computer for someone, and needed something from the web. Went to Altavista, and it was *totally* different. Then I tried to search for something... and lo and behold, got the message:

    "We're sorry, but the server is unavailable right now." (or something to that effect)

    Tried it twice with the same results. Went to another search engine. Came back later, and AV worked again... but had the same old interface. Who knows what they're thinking? If they're trying to *hide* the new interface, then accidentally taking it live isn't a good solution... :-)


  • You may want to check out http://multiagent.com/bk2site [multiagent.com]

  • The efficacy of the search hasn't changed any, so it doesn't really matter.

    I think you've missed the point...the forces driving these changes DO end up harming the usefulness of the site...just look at dejanews, or the IMDB... Neither of these sites are nearly as useful as they once were. Dejanews is practically useless when used through the official web interface. Just wait, in a few months altavista will be rendered almost useless as well.

  • You didn't read my post, did you?

    I did read your post, and I tryed the link you sugested.

    Hotbot still blows.

  • As a computerless person, forced to surf from public terminals and thus unable to use bookmark files, I can definitely see the use of personalized portals. I have made myself a bookmarks page online with links to some pages I like that are difficult to find/type/remember so that I can access them easily (most URLs I just memorize & type in manually). I can't stand commercial portals, and generally don't use them myself, but I can imagine other people in a position like mine using them in the same way I use my bookmarks page.

  • AltaVista used to be my favourite search engine, basically because it gave you a good interface to a good spider/robot. AND that Spider had lots of bandwidth to go crawling.

    AltaVista going the portal root is terrible. Aren't there enough of the things anyway?

  • If you haven't already, check out the Open Directory Project [dmoz.org] at www.dmoz.org. It's like Yahoo!, only fluff-free, and volunteer-edited, so it's about as up-to-date as such things get. Because it is volunteer-edited, it tends to be spotty -- some areas are really well done and thorough, others not so much so. Overall, I find it meets my needs better than anywhere else does. And, in the grand tradition of open source, if I look for something and can't find it there, if I find it elsewhere, I can add it into the directory, so no one else has to suffer from the lack.
  • Boolean statements and partial word completion. Google does none of these things, and altavista is about as good as any search engine of it's type i'm aware of. If google can't find it it's nice to be able to still have a simple layout on AV. Altavista's text-only section, yahoo and google all have their places depending on the specific search term..
  • Correct, and that - of course - was my point.

    It's true that sans serif fonts are in fact easier to read in large sizes and at a distance. That's why many people use helvetica in headings and times roman as body text, which I think generally looks pretty good (or rather it would, if the Linux helvetica wasn't so ghastly).


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

    For those who didn't know that wonderful option..
  • The real tragedy, of course, is that they're the only company but AltaVista with the huge archive, and when I tried both I seem to remember Dejanews (the old version) was far superior to AV.

    Unfortunately for your theory about loss of focus creating prolblems, dejanews.com started sliding downhill about a year ago (or maybe even more); each change of their user interface made the service harder and harder to use. I still remember my discussions with their very nice tech support chap, who said the idea was to make it easier for newbies. Well, I don't think there was a single grizzled old verteran user who didn't despise the changes :-(.

    I'm wondering how they do now with the average chap, their targets. Ratings seem to have been a reasonable success, at least judging by the number and variety that have been created. But the USENET archive is, as you said, saddled with a horrid user interface now. It almost makes me tempted to do my own archive, if I could afford the massive capital needed to do it :-(.


  • With regards to the idea that "portals suck," yes, a lot of portals do suck. However, I am of the opinion that putting together a good portal is like anything else...You have to use your brain, you have to be doing it for the right reasons, and you have to be willing to keep pushing the envelope. The reason why a lot of portals have been lame is because the people who code them often aren't willing to take this approach.

    The right portal formula, IMHO?

    1. First and foremost, you have to take customisation/personalisation to the max. As someone else said in another message, your crucial objective is to give busy users the information they need quickly, and eliminating the noise that they don't. So have passworded individual accounts on the site, the way they do on this one, and customise, customise, customise! If you can do this correctly, you'll be providing an invaluable service to a lot of people...It doesn't have to have much to do with making a buck.

    2. The banner issue:- This isn't about being money grubbing and commercialistic, but as I'm sure Commander Taco could tell you, running a popular web site costs money...and sometimes lots of it, hence his acquisition by Andover. Do the banner thing intelligently...Set up perl scripts which are able to match particular banners to people who'll be interested in them, based on account profiles...but if you do it that way, not only are people likely to not see your banners as intrusive and click on them, but who knows? If you have business users, and you're showing banner ads for business suppliers or courses, you may really be helping the user out by connecting him to that information.

    3. The Web-based email issue:- Yes, there are some web based email services which really do blow goats, (Hotmail is the main one which immediately comes to mind) and yes maybe they are inherently not as secure as straight POP3, however I would argue that Joe Average User isn't going to really need absolutely bulletproof security anywayz. You put in all the standard disclaimers about not including credit card numbers in emails...and if you're really worried about it, maybe you could try and rig up pgp support somehow.

    4. Spiders VS Directories:- Of course a spider is going to be tons better than a directory. A spider updates itself, whereas with a directory like Yahoo the user has to submit a site manually...and if your portal is popular, you then have to employ a batallion of auditors to go through all of the submissions. Try getting a submission on Yahoo within a week or two, and I'll be surprised if you succeed unless you're someone extremely important. Try getting a site on AltaVista, and if you've got your Meta tags and possibly a ROBOTS.TXT written correctly, it'll be there within 72 hours in many cases.
    My suggestion is that if you're thinking of putting a portal up yourself, don't even think about trying to run your own directory...Take advantage of other people who have good spider technology, but maybe a sucky portal by linking to them with one of the affiliate programs that many of them run. Use your head, and your users will thank you, the people who run the spider will thank you if they like getting exposure, and you might even (horrors! ;) make a few bucks on the side.

    I think that about covers most of the issues that people here seem to have grizzles with. And as I said, if you don't like the existing portals, put one together yourself! I'm in the process of doing it, and it really isn't all that difficult.

    People can say portals suck, and maybe in 90% or so of cases they're right, because the faceless corps who run them *are* only interested in making money. But done correctly, I believe a good portal can be an invaluable service to everyone involved. A portal is like anything else...you do a bad portal, and it'll suck...you do a good portal, and it won't.

    Slashdot itself, while not a portal par se, is I believe a good example of what I'm talking about. The customisation (the most important element of a portal, IMHO) is done cluefully, and the article system works well. It's a shame that some of it's readers aren't perhaps just a little more broad minded, but hey, you can't have everything. *grin*

  • I can't really see why they're calling it a redesign, and paying Lauryn Hill for the webcast. Come on, it's only minor changes. Above the fold in my 800x450 Netscape window it still looked 99% like the "old" AltaVista.

    I don't see why they call it a redesign when I have to scroll down to see what's happened. Besides, I never do scroll down, since I'm there to search, and nothing else. If that's what it takes to do a redesign most news-sites get redesigned every time the main headline changes.

  • It's one of the oldest search engines, and still the one I use most often.. As long as they don't mess with that, I don't care what else the put in.. Personally, I didn't even notice the change as I use the nice stripped text mode.

    Gotta keep the money people happy, and portals are the thing right now.. Portals might be useless to your average slashdotter, but way back when, I bet you used something pretty portal-like as a homepage at one point in your early days on the web.. Personally, it was the NIN homepage back when I had to telnet to a freenet to get at Lynx... People outgrow it, but you can make some money off their eyeballs before they do..

    Man that Jane's IT quiz banner flashy and annoying..

  • I've done something similar : I'm also learning Perl, and I threw together my personal portal [planetinternet.be], containing just links to the headlines I want, the single stock quote I'm interested in, and a funny banner. I can also send stuff in by e-mail, and it gets added to the bottom of the page (like the link about Doom System Administration)

    The page might not be up to date when you read this : due to technical reasons, I can't host a site at home, so I added a crontab entry to automatically upload the page every hour. But I'm booted in windows right now, because I wanted to play some games after reading SlashDot. If you're interested in the source, or if someone has suggestions to improve it, mail me :-)

  • Is there something special about google that makes it such a hot topic on slashdot? Or is it just that it runs on Linux? I think that's a pretty lame qualification for a search engine, if that's the case.

    That is not the case.

    Here's a quote from http://www.google.com/doing_business.html [google.com] Google offers an advanced patent-pending technology called PageRankTM to deliver the most relevant results. PageRank ensures that the most important, relevant pages always come up first and that your users will always find what they are looking for. The PageRank algorithm was developed at Stanford University by leading computer scientists for more than three years before the company was formed.

    My understanding of the algorithm is that it uses the pointing text in the hyperlink as key words for rating relavance. For example, If you have a site expelling your thoughts (about the spooky resemblance between Britney Spears and Pica-chu and why they're never seen together), if 50 people point to your web site with a "britney" link, and 100 people point with a "pica-chu" link, you're site gets rated as highly relevant pica-chu. As a result of this rating system, the engine is 'self moderating' and very scalable.

    The other thing that rocks about google is there isn't any junk to distract the user. And yea... ..and ummm...it hapens to run on the worlds most powerfull operating system ;).

  • The two feature I use in "my.yahoo.com" is new email alarm and local movies theater showtime. Since you don't need to login to see if you have email, it's faster. And I havn't find any alternative to the configurable movie.yahoo.com No movielame (movielink/moviefone) is not better. I hope somebody can point me to a better one, because yahoo only let you put 10 favorite theater in it.

    I think this is something only big portal can afford. As for their "reviews" and "discussion", I never touch them. I still use my old channels to get movie opinions.

  • ..why don't you go to Google [google.com] and, well, figure it out for yourself? If you can't be bothered with clicking on a link, entering in some text, and clicking a button, I'll give you a couple of highlights (although IANATEOG.. figuring that one out shall be an exercise for the reader -- crack that one, Signal 11 ;): 1) uses a search engine that is actually intelligent .. it checks not just for the words you wanted, but filters out any "common" words you entered (those that would index, oh, a couple billion sites or so), and checks to see if the words are close to each other in the document (which means entering in Sun Microsystems is more likely to yield what you'd expect than many other search engines) 2) there are no stupid banner ads (you'd be amazed how excited this makes a lot of people) 3) there just aren't any damn frills, period. You have the logo. You have a short blurb. Then you have a search box and a couple of buttons to choose from (along with a couple of specialized sections). I don't even think it causes a scrollbar to manifest on the front page. Nothing fancy. It just works. And it works well, unlike any other search engine I've ever come across. I could care less if it was running fscking Minix. All I know is that I have a lot better chance of finding what I want than with Yahoo!, which practically the only other "user friendly" engine I can think of (a lot of the others make me want to vomit.. oh wait, Yahoo! does too..).

    So, yeah. Google sucks, but it's cool because it runs on Linux. Yeah.. or something.

  • I'd have said

    The Invisible Man.

    shrunk down to one pixel, of course, so as not to interfere with the speed of loading.


  • try http://www.av.com?text=yes [av.com]
    for those bad browser days

  • Portals are the waste-disposal centers of the net. AltaVista used to be a good search engine, but this should be the kiss of death. IMO Google had already made AltaVista obsolete. (I just realized how long it's been since I've wanted to go to AltaVista or any of the other search sites, and how long it's likely to be before I do so again, because Google just works better, so that's where I go when I want to find something. Would you take a car with a real problem to a department store or (assuming you can find one) a reliable mechanic? It's a no-brainer.)

    Google is a great site because it finds things for you on the web, and does a superb job of it. Portals, by definition, attempt to do everything, and must perforce do them all more or less badly.

    Alta Vista - a once-great search site of the early web that faded into insignificance in the wave of millenial suicides that was triggered by the passing fad for all-purpose portal sites. (from The Twenty-second Century Encyclopedia of Technology)

  • Check out the start page [netdoor.com] I made for myself. I keep it up-to-date and have gotten some good compliments on it. The tools are the best part of it. I use them often.

  • Yep,
    portals aren't much good for an experienced web citizen. I don't like them either. However, I will probably keep AltaVista as my start page because I like the search engine, and search engines are what it's all about!

    So even if the new design makes AltaVista look more like Yahoo or Netscape Netcenter etc etc etc, the search engine still rules.
  • It's true that sans serif fonts are in fact easier to read in large sizes and at a distance. That's why many people use helvetica in headings and times roman as body text, which I think generally looks pretty good (or rather it would, if the Linux helvetica wasn't so ghastly).

    Actually, on the normal display screen, the general rule of thumb, is for using a san-serif font for any text displayed under 12 pixels.

    Although serifs work great for print, there is a huge difference in resolution between the computer screen and paper/ink. While on paper the serifs may add visual distinction ease reading, it mostly ends up just being visual noise when displayed on screen.

    Lastly, is that generally Unix/X has really crappy font rendering compared to m$/mac systems, and also generally the fonts on X have inferior hinting.

  • The only thing I find that makes it useable is the hack to sneak it into the classic interface by adding =dnc/ to the url straight after the hostname. So my bookmark to dejanews now points to: http://www.deja.com/=dnc/mydn_forums.xp [deja.com] At least it gets rid of the horrible cringeworthy colours... The free email account also makes a useful spam bucket. ian.
  • Yep, I can't see a damn thing! It's not too difficult to detect the platform and use another set of fonts. In fact we're doing this... and Altavista is surely much powerful than us!!
  • Netscape's bookmarks are just a Web page. Make that your start page!
  • My intranet site is chock full o' CSS and it looks just fine, so it's not that.... (unless they are specifying 'doze only fonts)
  • Yes, this is a well put together page, nice use of fonts. Sans Serif can be used in a legible manner, it's just not that way on the new altavista page.
  • Thankfully, the new (dis?)improved Alta Vista once again has a link to the 'text only' page, which was missing for a while. (The text-only page was still accessible if you'd bookmarked it, mind you, but the link from the graphical page was missing.)

    Now if only they'd get rid of the flarking fonts and style sheets...I can live with the stupidly designed way-too-wide table since what's trailing off the right edge is crap anyway.

  • Amen, bro!

    The internet is by its very nature distributed and decentranlized. But Big Business can't grasp that concept. They desperatly want to take a piece of cyberspace, fence it in and charge admission. You don't pay this admission in cash, but by giving up a bit of your freedom, by narrowing your spectrum of possible choices, by submitting demographic data, by being exposed to banner ads.

    Nobody would try to build a portal that was truly free of charge and really benefitted the customers cause there would be no way of making money from it. And this game is all about the money.


To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus