Monday, February 20, 2006

Quaero, the Airbus of search...

In a speech last year laying out his 2006 agenda, Chirac spoke to those concerns, saying: "We must take up the challenge posed by the American giants Google and Yahoo. For that, we will launch a European search engine, Quaero."

Quaero, which means "I seek" in Latin, still faces several hurdles, including scrutiny of its public funding by the European Commission and uncertainty in Germany, where no single company has taken the lead and a coalition government elected in November has yet to publicly endorse the project. Organizers are also fighting some skeptics who maintain that Quaero could waste taxpayers' money in academic research that produces no commercial benefit. With Quaero, the French and Germans are hoping to build expertise in the technologies that are shaping the distribution of information and entertainment. The project aims to develop next-generation leadership in search technology, software for managing copyrights and digital ownership and what one document called "cultural-heritage management."

Some observers suspect this last category is a reaction to separate plans by Google, Microsoft and to catalogue, digitize and index the world's books, many of which are still under copyright protection. French and German publishers have objected to the projects, and a separate European scanning effort is under way. Who's participating so far:
  • Heinrich von Pierer, a former Siemens chief executive who is an adviser to the newly elected chancellor, Angela Merkel, is leading the private effort in Germany,
  • Jean-Louis Beffa, chairman of Saint-Gobain, the French glass and ceramics group, is leading the French side.
  • Both national phone companies, Deutsche Telekom and France Télécom, are members.
  • Empolis (part of Bertelsmann) probably joins
  • LTU Technologies (Paris-based image search technology expert) is part of the project
  • RWTH-Aachen University, is contributing speech recognition and language translation technology to the project.
  • ...
Airbus, standardizing GSM, Galileo... European collaboration delivered some impressing results, but will Quaero work?

Compared by some participants to an Airbus-style cooperative effort to increase European standing, Quaero has also been met with skepticism by some industry experts who fear the program would be costly and unwieldy to administer and would produce no tangible commercial advances. February 15th is mentioned as the deadline for all proposals regarding Quaero. Today there is still no news, no website, no nothing. Searching on quaero gives hardly any results at all. Let alone some practical details:
  • Try typing q u a e r o on your keyboard, then type g o o g l e... maybe it's easier on an AZERTY-keyboard ?
  • Next take a look at - this domain probably needs to be bought, or will it become a .EU domain ?
  • ...
My opinion is that if the focus is on competing with Google or Yahoo, who invested MUCH more in the first year, the plan is purely a display of megalomania. Only if all European countries would exclusively provide their content to Quaero there would be a slight chance, but why would they, what's in it for them? Hence, the focus should be on other content, content that cannot be disclosed in large amounts yet by available technology. Large amounts of 'spoken documents' and huge amounts of audio/visual content - non textual - that's what the focus should be on. Hopefully Quaero will become the largest search engine for multimedia content, that would be something. That would be a sane investment in research and development. Oh, and guys, let's not reinvent 'metadata languages' like RDF and OWL since they are co-created with non-europeans. Well probably hear more about this, sooner or later. Keep on Googling for "Quaero" as long as doesn't work.

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