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AltaVista steps aside on Yahoo

Now that Inktomi will be powering Yahoo's searches, AltaVista will become one of a few "featured" search alternatives on the site.

With Inktomi now slated to become the power behind Yahoo's searches, the question becomes: what about AltaVista?

After two years of enjoying the spotlight as Yahoo's default search partner, the Digital Equipment search engine today got upstaged Portalopoly by the search technology firm, which will take over as the muscle behind Yahoo searches in July. Yahoo and AltaVista have agreed that AltaVista will become one link in a "premier search engine" category at the bottom of Inktomi-powered search results, said Yahoo chief operating officer Jeff Mallett.

Yahoo plans to feature up to three alternative search engines in that section, but it has not announced which search directories besides AltaVista will be included.

Both companies acknowledged that AltaVista's increasingly aggressive efforts to become a gateway to the Net or "portal" site became a conflict of interest, and played a role in Yahoo's decision to change its search technology license.

But among the slew of companies competing for dominance in the portal arena, some still have no problem partnering with rivals. The most notable example is portal player Excite's recent deal with Netscape Communications to power the search engine on its portal site, Netcenter.

For the past year, AltaVista has been moving away from a technology licensing strategy, and has instead focused on attracting e-commerce partners and advertisers, said Don Bradley, an AltaVista spokesman.

Over the last few weeks, AltaVista also has announced a string of deals to beef up its offerings as an entry to the Net. Aside from its search engine technology, AltaVista currently offers free email and a language translation service. Bradley hinted that further development of its content channels will be rolled out in the near future.

While Yahoo and AltaVista have pledged to continue their relationship on a limited level, a source close to AltaVista noted that the company now feels less restrained in its effort to distinguish itself in the portal space.

"We see it as liberating," the source said. "[Yahoo's decision] acknowledges that we're a full competitor."

Yahoo's new premier search engine category will be launched in unison with Yahoo's transition to Inktomi, Mallett said.