Monday, July 8, 2013

Alta Vista brand history

Yahoo announced a couple of weeks ago that AltaVista would close down today. A good excuse to go through AltaVista's history in logo form.

For those of you who don't remember it, AltaVista was an early search engine, one of the first to use crawlers and indexing to give you results on whatever topic you wanted. It was developed in 1995 by Digital Equipment Corporation, partly to showcase its processors, and would soon become the leading search engine as the Internet was welcomed into people's homes.

The name meant "view from above" and was partly imagined because the company was based in Palo Alto, California. In its heyday, its logo featured an image of a mountain range and the name written in Peignot.

AltaVista didn't have its own URL when it launched, you had to type to get to the search engine's proper homepage. was owned by another company and it wasn't until 1998 that the search engine bought the URL. By then, Digital had been acquired by Compaq.

Having a proper address would be vital if the plans to transform the site into a portal were to be successful. Around that time, the mountain logo was updated and the typeface changed from Peignot to Interstate.

Compaq never really wanted to run a search engine and sold it on to venture capital firm CMGI during 1999.

CMGI doubled down on the portal strategy and relaunched the site in the autumn. With this came a "bold new look", unveiled on October 25, 1999 at a gala event in New York. It was launched with a 120 million dollar ad campaign dubbed "Smart is beautiful", featuring people running into questions that they could google enter into AltaVista.

Significantly, the new logo dropped the familiar mountains. Market research had shown that consumers saw them as cold and distant, and the company wanted its brand to be more personal. A dash of orange was added for the same reason. The new text-based logo used lowercase letters in an edited version of Helvetica.

By now, Google was quickly eating up Altavista's lead on search, while the portal audience was lost to Yahoo.

Apparently someone got cold feet and the mountains were brought back after a few years.

In a last ditch attempt to halt the steady erosion of its user base, the site was relaunched in November 2002 with a clearer focus on search and better algorithms. At the same time, the company also rolled out a new logo with a snazzy monogram. In a press release, the logo was said to reflect "the company's re-energized approach and focus on search".

We now know this relaunch couldn't stop the decline. CMGI sold on AltaVista to Internet advertising company Overture Services in 2003, which in turn was bought by Yahoo the same year. After that, search results started coming from Yahoo Search and only remained as a shell. The 2002 logo remained in place for almost eleven years until the site was closed down on Monday.

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