I read or heard a long time ago that when Altavista was the market leader of internet search, the decision-makers at Digital Corporation didn't know what it was and didn't realize that they were the market leaders because the directors of the board at Digital Corporation were mostly old men over 80 years old who didn't know what the web was. Therefore Altavista were not as successful as they could have been.

Is this story true or was it a rumour?

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    The reason Altavista failed was that Google came along and made a search engine that worked. Prior to Google, getting good results out of a search engine was very much a black art. – Mark Apr 17 '17 at 8:03
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    "Old men over 80" - Very improbable... – tofro Apr 17 '17 at 12:29
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    @Mark: AltaVista worked much better than the other search engines around at the time; Inktomi, Metacrawler etc. It didn't fail because it wasn't any good. Getting good results from Google is still a black art. – Chenmunka Apr 18 '17 at 7:35
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    They were one of the good full text seach engines before google became commonly used. Also look at northernlight as a temporary big player in that market in the early 2000s..... – rackandboneman Apr 19 '17 at 9:18
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    They certainly knew what the web was. What they didn't know was how to make money from (or even recover the massive costs of) providing search services to the world's users. – Michael Kay Apr 19 '17 at 15:58

Per DEC: The mistakes that led to its downfall by David T. Goodwin and Roger G. Johnson of Birkbeck College, University of London:

DEC was the first Fortune 500 company to have its own web site, launching in October 1993, and was the first with an online storefront. It's improbable that "decision makers" didn't know what the web was.

Possibly the kernel of truth behind your wild story is that CEO and Chairman Robert Palmer — then not quite 60, as if it makes any difference — valued AltaVista at $0 at the time of the the sale to Compaq. But the paper asserts this was likely a combination of not just failure to realise potential but also the need to sell the company, stemming from a decline in VAX sales attributable to overly-aggressive pushing of the Alpha and the sale of profitable but non-core side businesses.

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    It is helpful to remember that AltaVista did not have advertising. "Internet Search" at that time was a service like DNS or Gopher, not a market. It is easy in hindsight to say AltaVista was the market leader, but at the time it was not obvious that a search market even existed. There was no FTP market, or DNS market, or Gopher market, so why should content indexing presented via HTTP be any different? – Ken Gober Apr 17 '17 at 3:25
  • @KenGober I considered that "internet site + eyeballs = money, err, somehow" might just be the modern spin, but Compaq sold on AltaVista for $2.3bn in 1999, one year after acquiring DEC. Though in 1999 just being a dot-com was sufficient; it's not impossible that Compaq also thought a non-revenue-generating service was valueless at the time of acquisition in 1998. – Tommy Apr 17 '17 at 11:28
  • "DEC was the first Fortune 500 company to have its own web site" I'm skeptical of that… Apple became a Fortune 500 company in 1983 (#411), and registered its domain name in 1987. I can't find definitive evidence that it had a web presence at that time, but it certainly seems likely that it had its own web site hosted on its own domain name before 1993. What else was it doing with apple.com between 87 and 93? As for DEC being the first one with an online storefront, that's probably true. I don't think Apple started selling computers online until after the NeXT purchase, circa 1996–97. – Cody Gray Apr 22 '17 at 9:25
  • @CodyGray: The web did not exist until 1991, and didn't really get started until 1993 and the release of Mosaic. – Nick Matteo May 14 '19 at 4:24
  • @CodyGray: Email and FTP was what you usually used a domain name for. Some companies may also have run Gopher sites of their own. – idrougge May 14 '19 at 15:40

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