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End game

AltaVista, my home for several years, has been bought by Overture. I think congratulations are in order.

The price was $60 million in cash, plus $80 million in stock. How times have changed; AltaVista paid $163 million for Raging Bull, a few years back, and of course CMGI paid $2.9 billion for AltaVista back in the day. Still, I hope that the employees will get a small liquidity event (damn, that sounds coy these days).

I learned how to do what I do at AltaVista, and had some of the best mentors I could ever ask for. I’ve missed the place ever since I left, although I’ve never regretted the decision to leave. This, for me, is just the poignant coda to the story of a company that ought to have been one of the core companies of the modern Internet.

Most of the lessons one could learn from AltaVista’s decline are painfully obvious, but here’s one that perhaps isn’t. Brands don’t mean shit on the Internet. It’s not like most brick and mortar businesses. It’s very easy for a customer to get up and move somewhere else. Brand awareness is important, but it will not in and of itself retain customers. It will merely convince them to give your service a try.

AltaVista, at one point, thought that brand was a magic wand. Netcom, where I also worked, thought that brand was a magic wand. Both didn’t make it.

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