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AltaVista Revamps

Barring non-Euclidian geometry, most high school math students know that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. AltaVista Co. is aiming to become that line for the Web with Wednesday's launch of a retooled search and navigation platform.

The new design is geared to providing a streamlined interface with one-click access to customized search centers, power searching and an email and tools section.

AltaVista's customized search centers enable a customized search of the Web specific to categories of interest like music or movies. For instance, a search for stones in the music search box will return results including "The Rolling Stones," "The Stone Temple Pilots," and "Sly and the Family Stone," but will not return information related to kidney stones or prehistoric megaliths.

The Power Search feature is intended to make Advanced Searches accessible to novices by utilizing a menu-driven interface rather than Boolean language. The Power Search uses drop-down menus that allow users to specify parameters like date, time, country of interest and language of interest.

At the same time, Web veterans have not been left out of the loop. The new platform's Advanced Search allows surfers to use up to 800 characters and connectors, such as wildcards, and allows searches to be performed in image, audio and video categories.

The new tools search enables users to find instant messengers, chat and audio players, and find the latest upgrades to email programs and databases.

AltaVista has also added:

  • Business Search -- allows users to find information on businesses, doctors and lawyers with parameters like industry area, metro area and state area
  • Multimedia Search -- searches through multimedia indices to find image, audio (including radio) and image files
  • Search Guides -- gives topic specific tips on searching for Web sites, products, images, etc.
  • Search Trends -- compiles "week's top 25 search terms;" top five lists of CDs, DVDs and other popular search categories; and other topics of interest
  • Channels -- dedicated area for AltaVista channel partners in areas like health, sports, cars and more.

Also, the new platform has a link to Raging Search, an engine AltaVista launched in May in an attempt to lure "high-end" Net veterans back from Google. AltaVista said Raging Search presents results faster and with more relevance than those on its primary engine. Raging Search also allows users to customize the results page according to their interests.

AltaVista is likely to rely on relevancy as its selling point. A recent test conducted by ZD Labs, commissioned by AltaVista, found AltaVista to be overall the most relevant search site among five competitors. The test used 10 "search refinement features," such as "title search," "related searches," and "case sensitive," and found that only AltaVista supported all 10 features.

"AltaVista's enhancements leverage its patented search technology, which captures more than one billion Web pages, analyzing each page for relevancy and quality by using the company's sophisticated connectivity formulas," the company said. "These formulas develop a three-dimensional map of the Internet and analyze how Web sites are connected together. AltaVista's technology, in addition to its extensive research on search behavior, has resulted in a 350 million-page index of the most pertinent sites for search."

AltaVista is hoping that this makeover will help it reach the long-sought goal of profitability. The five-year-old company has lost about $800 million over the years and indefinitely postponed a $19 per share IPO in April when high-tech stocks began to take a beating. But things have been looking up for the company in the past few months. A report by

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