AltaVista

late Friday postponed its IPO, citing the poor market, according to

Reuters

. The company didn't say when it might try to bring back the offering, which already had been postponed once before.

The following column was originally posted April 14, 2000 at 8:02 PM EDT.

Will the

Nasdaq

turn from a savage, green hulk back to a mild-mannered moneymaker in time for

AltaVista

to make good?

The search engine is slated to go public next week, selling 14.8 million shares at 18 to 20 each after delaying its March 27 outing. But while AltaVista's heavy-rotation television commercials featuring the

Incredible Hulk tout its ability to soothe the savage beast, technology stocks are nursing their bruises from a

Lou Ferrigno-style beating.

Sina.com

(SINA) - Get Report

and

Corillion

(CORI) - Get Report

snuck into the public markets this week, to less-than-furious gains, while most tech offerings were shelved. As of Friday afternoon, AltaVista said it was still firm on its IPO plans -- it expects to finalize pricing early next week.

Believe it or not, AltaVista first found itself on the IPO path back in 1996, but overseer

Digital Equipment

decided a nimble search engine like AltaVista would be better off snuggled in its flabby arms than in the public markets. While

Yahoo

(YHOO)

was undergoing its first stock split -- a September 1997 3-for-2 job -- DEC shelved the IPO and AltaVista CEO Ilene Lang hit the road.

A New Owner

AltaVista picked up the www.AltaVista.com URL for $3.3 million and CEO Rod Schrock under its next guardian,

Compaq

(CPQ)

. But after two years -- which included the departure of Compaq CEO Eckhard Pfeiffer but not an IPO -- AltaVista was thrust into the keep of Internet incubator

CMGI

(CMGI)

in August 1999 for over $2 billion. Relief, at last!

CMGI lent an Internet-swollen teat to the starving search engine. AltaVista immediately hired advertising agency

Wieden & Kennedy/Portland

to nurture a brand that had been unnaturally stunted. In November the company bought investor site

Raging Bull

and was simultaneously beefing up its

Shopping.com

e-commerce property. By mid-December AltaVista had filed to go public. Sweet victory! "There's no doubt about it, it was a big morale builder," CEO Schrock said in late March.

But hefty competition remains. "AltaVista is right up there. It has an interesting business, but trying to be a Web-based portal is going to be a difficult run," says Charlene Li, of

Forrester Research

. "It's distracting for AltaVista to pursue so many channels. Its strength has been search. It could be very focused on shopping search, for example."

Look at what it's up against: After an IPO at 13 so many years ago, Yahoo! has split four times and finished Friday at 116. Lesser

Lycos

(LCOS)

made an April 1996 debut at 16 and has split twice, closing Friday at a still-respectable 38 3/8.

"There is a bifurcation between those companies with a significant foothold in content, commerce and communications, and those that don't. Clearly

the soon-to-be merged

AOL/Time Warner

has all three. Yahoo is doing what it can to become relevant in a broadband world," says Jordan Rohan, a vice president at

Wit Capital

who refused to comment on AltaVista because Wit is an underwriter of the company's IPO.

Searching for Hope

Then again, Rohan holds out hope for search-specific competitors

Ask Jeeves

(ASKJ)

and

Looksmart

(LOOK)

. "

Ask Jeeves has differentiated its business model by offering services to consumers and the B2B space. Looksmart has done similar things. It creates a more stable business plan," Rohan says.

But AskJeeves is sulking below its lofty 56 3/4 first-day finish from July 1999 at 27 11/16, and is well below its November all-time high of a stunning 186. Looksmart rests five points above its 22 3/8 August 1999 opening-day close, deflated in comparison to its spring run-up highs of just below 70.

Only a month ago AltaVista's Schrock was showing off version 3.0 of his company's search engine and deals with B2B software slugger

Ariba

(ARBA)

, boasting that the company was "search excellent in everything we do." He had that pre-IPO glow about him. Today Ariba stands halved (despite an investor-tickling 2-for-1 stock split).

Beyond a sick market, AltaVista's IPO must contend with a month-to-month traffic decline in February.

Nielsen NetRatings

showed AltaVista numbers going from 11 million in January to 10.1 million in February (compared to Yahoo's step up from January's 43.2 million to February's 46.1 million). It is, however, planted solidly among the top 15 largest traffic-gathering Web sites, ahead of Looksmart and Ask Jeeves, but well behind Yahoo and Lycos.

But as the once-docile Nasdaq issues howl to the heavens, their eyes turn white with fury and their expanding green biceps shred a perfectly dry-cleaned button-down shirt, it seems AltaVista's gratification may be delayed even further.

Tish Williams' column takes at look at the people who make Silicon Valley tick. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she does own stock options in TheStreet.com. She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She breathlessly awaits your feedback at

twilliams@thestreet.com.