In an effort to pave an easier path to all that the Web offers, AltaVista has upgraded its search engine to seek out specific video and audio files as well as text references. Although largely aimed at home users, the service also draws upon the resources of a number of partners – including Corbis.
The new version, activated Monday, is designed to search more than 30 million audio, video, and image documents for specific content and display the results immediately. The hot areas are expected to be photographs, movie trailers, and, of course, MP3 files.
AltaVista is now a wholly owned subsidiary of CMGI Inc. The search engine was part of the deal when Compaq bought Digital, but the PC manufacturer soon sold off that part of the business. This is AltaVista's first major upgrade since the ownership change.
The enhanced interface provides five tabs for different search parameters: Standard, Advanced, Images, MP3 Audio, and Video. Visitors select the category and issue search instructions. For instance, you might select the Images tab and type in "Abraham Lincoln". In this case, almost 7000 images appear in thumbnail representations, 12 to a page.
Clicking on the image takes you to the source page. A similar process is used for music and video. The search may require some filtering. If you enter the name of a musician, you will receive links to every sound clip and record cover image preserved on a music electronic-commerce site.
Multimedia material comes up through AltaVista from various partner sites, such as Corbis and CD Now. Users can filter in--or filter out--material from any of these partners. Or, you can specify file types and formats. For example, the Images tab allows you to select color, black-and-white, or both.
While much of the content is supplied from AltaVista's database, the collection is not in the public domain. That means you can install that famous picture of George Harrison and Gerald Ford on your desktop to enjoy as wallpaper, but you are required to pay royalty fees for any for-profit use.
AltaVista includes basic downloading instructions on the site, and plans to update the database daily. The company promises access to the freshest and most current index of multimedia material. The service is specifically designed to respond to the estimated three million MP3 searches each day, according to AltaVista representatives.