AltaVista Makes a B2B Play

SAN MATEO (01/27/2000) - AltaVista will announce next week the launch of a new global business-to-business e-commerce unit called AltaVista Business Solutions. The unit is primarily focused on developing search technology for e-commerce firms, private label portals, and global enterprises.

The company will also announce the formation of a partnership with Borders bookstore, through which AltaVista search engines will anchor new information kiosks being planned for Borders' physical stores. Separately, Borders' existing Web site, http://www.borders.com, is also expected to eventually adopt AltaVista technology.

AltaVista officials said that better search technology could help companies increase the proportion of online visitors who actually make a purchase.

"We've done a number of studies and we find that sites still experience a poor conversion rate. About 2.7 percent of browsers become buyers. Search is critical to this. The closest thing to what [customers] actually want is represented by a search: 56 percent of e-commerce search attempts failed to develop relevant results," observed Jeff Black, vice president of AltaVista Business Solutions.

Officials said that AltaVista's search solutions can be modified according to customers' rules of relevance. For example, a bookstore might have searches for "pumpkins" bring up pumpkin pie recipes first around Thanksgiving, but pumpkin-carving books around Halloween.

The officials also said that AltaVista's ability to perform structured searches across unstructured multiple databases of differing types can also dramatically increase the query speed.

"Think of the FBI - they have a criminal database [consisting of] 400 million records in an Oracle database. They'd enter in a query and they'd say 'find all instances that are similar.' The typical time for the search would be about 22 hours. Once they put in AltaVista... it speeds up the querying to 9 seconds," Black explained.

AltaVista Co., in Palo Alto, Calif, is at http://www.altavista.com.

Geneva Sapp is an InfoWorld reporter.

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