Search engines

AltaVista put out to pasture ... but how fare its '90s comrades?

July 8, 2013 at 9:31 AM ET

AltaVista, Infoseek, Lycos, Excite, Ask Jeeves, HotBot logos
Respective trademarks via Archive.org

Google Reader isn't the only Internet institution being shuttered this month. Monday is the final day in the life of, if you can believe it, AltaVista, the search engine that started life all the way back in 1995. Thought it was already dead? You're not alone — in fact, more people probably thought so than actually used it, and that's part of why it's making the trip to the Great Internet Portal in the sky.

AltaVista (or AV, as it was known to the initiated in the late '90s) was one of the most popular search engines at a time when there was actually competition between them. It was picked up by Yahoo! in 2003 but never regained its former popularity.

Altavista
AltaVista via Archive.org
AltaVista, as it appeared in 2001.

Of course, these days, Google is the 800-pound gorilla and everyone else is just trying to get by in the margins. But it used to be that different search engines provided wildly different results, had unique looks and fought tooth-and-nail for every click.

AltaVista isn't the only one that survived, or at least, lurched on zombie-like through the years. Most search engines of yore are still around at least in name. Here's how they look today:

WebCrawler
Webcrawler via Archive.org
WebCrawler and the other Infospace sites now serve results from Google and Yahoo.

WebCrawler, the first service that actually "crawled" the full text of a site (now a given), still maintains a front page, although it and its Infospace-owned brethren rely entirely on Google and Yahoo for their results. MetaCrawler and Dogpile, which searched on multiple search engines back when that was a useful technique, are reduced to this.

Ask.com
Ask.com via Archive.org
Ask Jeeves with its eponymous butler character.

Ask Jeeves pioneered the idea of using natural language comprehension in search queries. So depending on whether you asked where or when Julius Caesar was born, it would give different results. It lost the "Jeeves" in 2006 but Ask.com (as it is now known) it still gives fact-based results in addition to Web pages, and commands a modest 2.7 percent of search engine share, according to the latest ComScore numbers.

Lycos
Lycos via Archive.org
Lycos as it appeared in 2001.

Lycos is still going strong, in its way, providing its own search results with image previews of each page and giving users a strong visual experience. Its share of search is microscopic, however, and it doesn't even register on the tracking services.

Hotbot
HotBot via Archive.org
HotBot, as it appeared in 1999.

HotBot, once useful in that it updated more frequently than others and let you search within its results, hasn't fared so well. It's operated by Lycos, but there doesn't appear to be any reason to use it instead of its parent company's search, much less something like Google.

Excite
Excite via Archive.org
Excite hasn't changed much since 2001.

Excite has perhaps aged the worst of them all, looking for all the world like a turn-of-the-millennium era Web portal, all text links and toolbars. It's clearly aimed at people who haven't changed their homepage since Bill Clinton was president. Feeling nostalgic? Excite.com will cure you of that.

Infoseek, always a bit player, has been completely destroyed. It redirects to Go.com, which itself just displays random links to Disney properties. Unless you are interested in perusing the many networks owned by Disney, there's no reason to visit.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.

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