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The Quaero Oxymoron

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If you’ve been following the story of the Franco-German Quaero project – a planned European multimedia search engine, the answer to Google and brainchild of the French government – you’ll know that European politics have contributed to the mire it’s been in for some months.

The Quaero website used to be online and provided useful information on the project. No longer is it online. Or, rather, you now need a user ID and password to access the site. Try it and see: http://www.thomson.net/EN/Home/Quaero/

News Sunday in the Financial Times that things might get moving again with German media conglomerate Bertelsman close to signing up as the German leader of the project. The FT’s article has a good summary of the project and where things now stand:

[...] It is part of an attempt by French and German governments to mobilise public and private resources to close the research and development gap between Europe and the more innovative economies of the US and Japan.

Funding on the French side of up to 150m will come from the new Agency for Industrial Innovation, set up on the recommendation of Jean-Louis Beffa, chairman of Saint-Gobain, the glass and ceramics group. Thomson, the media services and equipment group, will lead the French team, along with the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

The formation of the German team was stalled by the German elections but the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology on Friday will assemble potential members to a meeting in Berlin. Heinrich von Pierer, the chairman of Siemens who is close to Angela Merkel, German chancellor, is playing the same co-ordinating role on the German side as Mr Beffa.

The most striking proposal seeks to create a search engine for the general public that can sort through audio, images and video as well as text. Current multimedia search engines rely on written descriptions of audio, images and video, which lead to inaccurate results.

Quaero would incorporate techniques to transcribe audio automatically as well as image and video recognition.

The idea of Quaero is a terrific one. Yet I can’t imagine anything more oxymoronic than “government-backed search engine.”

Financial Times | Bertelsmann set to head Quaero web project (paid sub)

Related – Seek and you may not find from the FT also yesterday. An analysis of the history of Quaero as well as some commentary on additional ideas for Quaero (it’s more than just about the internet). My favourite snip from that article:

[...] “There is already a good French search engine – it’s called Google.fr,” jokes one blogger. The French satirical newspaper Le Canard enchan has also poured scorn on Quaero: “Compared with Microsoft’s 30bn [20.4bn] profits or Google’s 100bn capitalisation, Chirac’s announcement is really going to spread panic in Silicon Valley.”

True, any panic has thus far been taking place in Europe. The continent’s fears about its lack of progress in research and development, faced with the challenge from the US and Japan, are felt acutely in France and have played a part in the setting up of Quaero.

Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.

The Quaero Oxymoron
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