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3/24/2006
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Search Engine Developer Paul Flaherty Dies At 42

Responsible for some key inventions in Alta Vista, Flaherty died recently from a heart attack.

Funeral services for Paul A Flaherty, 42, the computer engineer who developed key inventions for the Alta Vista search engine, were held Friday in Menlo Park, Calif. not far from the former Digital Equipment Lab where the pioneering search engine was launched.

Flaherty died March 16 of a heart attack at his home in Belmont, Calif., family members told The Associated Press, as reported in the San Jose Mercury News on Friday.

Soon after he received his doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University in 1994, Flaherty joined Digital's Network Systems Laboratory. Alta Vista was the Internet's first popular search engine and it introduced millions to online searching before Google took over the top position. Initially, the popularity of Alta Vista took Digital management by surprise, because it was first used to promote Digital hardware. Intrigued by the then-emerging World Wide Web, Flaherty thought of indexing the Web in 1995. Alta Vista was launched later that year and experienced immediate success, handling more than 20 million daily hits within a year.

But Alta Vista as a business never found much traction. There was an aborted attempt to take it public during the dot.com bubble, but Digital was under assault from investment bankers and the IPO didn't come to pass.

Alta Vista didn't even own its domain name during its heyday. After Digital and the search engine bounced around for several months, it ended up at Compaq Computer, which finally purchased the Alta Vista domain name for $3.3 million. Then Hewlett-Packard acquired Alta Vista.

Finally, Alta Vista ended up at CMGI, an Internet investment company. The Alta Vista domain still exists but it isn't visited much.

Flaherty, too, moved around working as a corporate strategist and management consultant.

In a last message on his web site, he left an almost plaintive message about the Internet. "The Internet isn't what it used to be," he wrote. "I've been hacking around here for more than a decade, and in that time, I've seen the 'net evolve from a collection of 56k lines and IMPs to the fiber/GigaSwitch morass that it is today.

"The Internet Community has also changed, from a small group of researchers and students to just about everyone. While technically the 'net has evolved for the better, it's lost the Small Town community feel. Times change."

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