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Germany Quits EU-Based Search Engine Project 135

Posted by Zonk
from the not-enough-googillionaires dept.
anaesthetica writes "The Quaero project, a French initiative to build a European rival to Google, has lost the backing of the German government. The search engine was announced in 2005 by Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, but the German government under Merkel has decided that Quaero isn't worth the $1.3-2.6 billion commitment that development would require. Germany will instead focus on a smaller search engine project called Theseus. From the article: 'According to one French participant, organizers disagreed over the fundamental design of Quaero, with French participants favoring a sophisticated search engine that could sift audio, video and other multimedia data, while German participants favored a next- generation text-based search engine.'"
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Germany Quits EU-Based Search Engine Project

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  • Google Rival? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Google required 2.6 billion ANYTHING to get started. A true competitor for Google will not require a ton of money, but a ton of brainpower. Google is successful because their have a great philosophy and attract the best and brightest. They know how to treat their people (customers and employees both) right and do so.

    What would make them think that pooring money into a startup could create what numerous other companies couldn't? (MS, Yahoo, AskJeeves, etc) AskJ
    • Re:Google Rival? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mumblestheclown (569987) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @06:31AM (#17496578)
      You'll probably get modded up by all sorts of naive people.

      However, the fact of the matter is that creating a rival to an established brand CAN be a decent strategy if you see that the established company is either insanely profitable (thus suggseting that there is room for another market entrant), insanely inefficient / bloated despite its success, or geographically underserves some markets.

      In this case, #1 and #3 apply pretty well. Google, while great for english speakers, is quite a ways behind for other languages (not necessarily French, but when I use google in Japanese or in eastern-european languages, for example, it's pretty crap).

      However, the key often is that since the techology is established and there is a reasonably well established technology out there as to how this sort of thing should work (of course there is room for improvement, but this is less central), such projects require less brilliance, but more a high degree of competence. Such competence costs money. Such products cost money. Off the top of my head, Opodo is a good example of this. They entered a busy market with nothing particularly new. They build a nonspectacular but working system and muscled their way into a decent market share. Sometimes, that's just the way things are done.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by suv4x4 (956391)
        Google, while great for english speakers, is quite a ways behind for other languages (not necessarily French, but when I use google in Japanese or in eastern-european languages, for example, it's pretty crap).

        Google has very good internationalization features and I'm also looking up information in Eastern European language (Bulgarian) with it.

        You have to understand though: the results can only be as good and as much, as is the available content on the lookup topic. You realize the enormous amount of sites o
      • the established company is either insanely profitable (thus suggseting that there is room for another market entrant), insanely inefficient / bloated despite its success, or geographically underserves some markets. In this case, #1 and #3 apply pretty well.
        I'm sure anything created by Eurocrats will also fill #2 nicely.
      • by dkf (304284)

        Google, while great for english speakers, is quite a ways behind for other languages.

        One key difficulty for many languages is getting a good stemming algorithm so as to be able to break a sentence down into a group of meanings (thus all the words "jumping", "jumps" and "jumped" all go down to the same basic meaning, "jump", making it far easier to build useful indices). This is an area that has had a lot of work done in English, but I'm told (by someone who knows a lot more about this than I do) that the al

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The problem is that while top university graduates in the US may go to Silicon Valley and form a startup (like the Google founders did), the top university students in France are being groomed for lifetime jobs in civil service (witness the recent protests at attempted labor law reform). They're doing this with a big government program because that's the only way they know how to do things.
      • Re:Google Rival? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Guppy06 (410832) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @08:50AM (#17497154)
        "the top university students in France are being groomed for lifetime jobs in civil service"

        So how much of a stake of companies like Ubisoft is owned by the French government?

        "witness the recent protests at attempted labor law reform"

        You mean the "reforms" where they made it easier to fire somebody based on their age alone? About the only thing distinctly French I saw there was the fact that they protested instead of presenting legal challenges to a patently discriminatory law.

        I've seen these arguments presented an awful lot on Slashdot, but haven't seen much to back it up, not even decent anecdotal evidence of the "I spent some time in France..." variety.
        • by DavidShor (928926)
          Ok, half my family are Moroccan immigrants in France. They are unable to get good jobs because of France's labor policy. In France, nearly all employee's have the right to legal review if they are fired. However, temporary jobs do not count. So this creates a two-tier job system, with employees hiring and shedding temporary jobs, while retaining a couple of impossible to shed permanent jobs. And the reforms? it tried to eliminate legal review to termination. And I dont see why protest is necessary for a la
          • Ok, half my family are Moroccan immigrants in France. They are unable to get good jobs because of France's labor policy.
            That plus there aren't many vacancies in the car burning sector.
        • You mean the "reforms" where they made it easier to fire somebody based on their age alone?

          While in a way that's true, it's not the whole truth. The reforms were in fact an exception to a ludicrous law which made it nearly impossible to fire anyone at all.

          About the only thing distinctly French I saw there was the fact that they protested

          What's distinctly French about it is that only France had such a crazy law to start with - though Belgium & Germany run a close second, at least in the public sector.

      • Those with an entrepreneurial spirit go where the private money is; Dublin or London. There are numerous startups founded bf French informaticians. They've just started them in more business-friendly countries.
      • by nostriluu (138310)

        I can't agree with you. I have noticed many companies and projects based in France. For example, eXo, VLC and Nuxeo. In contrast, I rarely see projects based in the UK, etc. It's anecdotal, but there seems to be a lot of entrepreneurship.

    • by JJJK (1029630)
      Easy to imagine how projects like this immediately get support from politicians who do not have much time to get involved, but like to see their names on things that include keywords like "Multimedia" or "Internet" and will be finished in time to support their careers. There is probably a group of people who are really enthusiastic about this, for various reasons. But the majority of the supporters probably don't care about the outcome and just need something to look good on their résumés. Or mayb
    • I followed a bit this 'Quaero' quest and it seems that:

      - Public funding has not yet started and is not likely to start (french elections, EU commission blocking, etc ...)

      - Even though no public $$ has been spent yet, Exalead [exalead.com], a Quaero member, already has a Web search engine, with a few billion pages, and some nice features. (thumbnails and automatic clustering)

      Conclusion: this Quaero project is a french politic vaporware, BUT any private french or european company may still have a chance to produce somethin
    • by jo42 (227475)
      In order to rival Google, you need to be an ad sales company that happens to use search as the delivery method. Not the other way around.
  • Weird project (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @06:26AM (#17496548)

    I think it was a weird project in the first place, and quite a waste. Trying to make something better than Google would be like trying to catch up with Michael Schumacher while he's got 9 laps of advance on you. Why spend 2 billions on something as useless anyways, we (in France) have a trillion euros debt, an economic situation (among others) that could be better and we're pumping 2 billions into THAT?

    • by Dunbal (464142)
      we (in France) have a trillion euros debt, an economic situation (among others) that could be better and we're pumping 2 billions into THAT?

            Of course. This makes a lot more sense than say, creating work for unemployed youths. /sarcasm
      • Re:Weird project (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Gnavpot (708731) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @06:45AM (#17496644)
        we (in France) have a trillion euros debt, an economic situation (among others) that could be better and we're pumping 2 billions into THAT?

                    Of course. This makes a lot more sense than say, creating work for unemployed youths. /sarcasm


        Even here in the EU with all its strange use of money, I suppose that most of those 2 billions would eventually be spent on manpower. So it might actually also help in solving an employment problem.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Klaus_1250 (987230)
          I think the majority of that 2 billion would be spend on bureaucracy and moving the project from France to Germany and back every x months.
        • by jrady (127288)
          > Even here in the EU with all its strange use of money, I suppose that most of those 2 billions would eventually be spent on > manpower. So it might actually also help in solving an employment problem. at least when it comes to the german side of it, your statement is highly questionable, the "main designated" contractor for this would have been empolis, which belongs to arvato which belongs to the Bertelsmann Group... the money would have (has?) landed in diverse channels, definitely NOT in creati
        • This is Keynesian economics and it was proven wrong a long time ago. The public sector does not survive by fulfilling a demand particularly efficiently, if someone in the private sector spent inanely they would loose money and probably go bankrupt, so the people who use resources inefficiently are pushed out of the market by the efficient producers. Therefore, there is a much higher chance of a public sector worker to be wasting resources. This is because the money was stolen, and not voluntarily invested.
          • by 4D6963 (933028)

            This is Keynesian economics and it was proven wrong a long time ago.

            In case you're saying that Keynesian economics have been proven flawed, you must be either british or american, because it hasn't, and although a new wave of anti-Keysianism/ultra-libertarianism wiped Keynes out of the scope in certain countries since about 1973, some countries (such as France) are still more Keynesian than anything else and it works out, at least not worse as in ultra-libertarian countries.

            Otherwise, please disregard thi

        • by 4D6963 (933028)

          I suppose that most of those 2 billions would eventually be spent on manpower

          In the case of a Google-class search engine, I'd think it would pay a few highly-qualified people and that most would go to the pharaonic amount of hardware needed. If you want to invest in order to help with employment you're better off building a huge bridge or an aircraft carrier.

    • by rolfwind (528248)
      The EU is like that, always getting into things the government (or this quasi non-elected government) agencies have no business being in. But they have too much money (guess the unwilling source) and blow it on all types of stupid crap.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm happy when the EU levels the playing field for the computer industry against MS (so the others have a fair shot), but that should be it's only job. There are more than enough search engines around. Google is not a monopoly (yet). This is stupid was
    • I think it was a weird project in the first place, and quite a waste. Trying to make something better than Google would be like trying to catch up with Michael Schumacher while he's got 9 laps of advance on you.

      That's what analysts and experts said about Boeing, Airbus would never work out. It is also what they said about Microsoft in the mid 90's: Microsoft Windows NT would eventually kill off *nix and and dominate the Server OS market. As it turned out Linux appeared out of a dark corner of the Usenet and ate up most of the market share NT would have done and Unix turned out to be thougher that most people thought. Sometimes state sponsored competitors work out and sometimes a hobby project somebody posted a li

    • Re:Weird project (Score:5, Insightful)

      by melonman (608440) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @08:30AM (#17497052) Journal

      Because France is in the dying days of "Everything American private industry can do, Europe can do better by lots of public expenditure". This search engine was announced just before or just after Chirac announced that he was going to take on CNN and the BBC by setting up a public sector competitor. Expect that idea to be quietly downscaled too (if only because last I heard the plan was to do most of the broadcasts in French, which does restrict the international market somewhat).

      Personally, I think throwing lots of money into high-tech projects potentially makes more sense in job-creation terms than most of the French attempts to create jobs in the recent past (eg paying young people to carry people's suitcases to trains). Except that there is little social mobility and not much more career mobility in France, so you just know that virtually all those involved in the search engine project will be recruited from the French grandes écoles whose graduates don't have an employment problem anyway. It's virtually impossible to end up working in cutting-edge IT in France unless you start working towards that end from the age of 14.

      Most of this stuff is now about Chirac trying to build a legacy. He should be history in a few months' time, and I can't see either of his likely successors continuing to behave as if the président is Louis XIV. It's not inconceivable that Sarkozy could even try building bridges towards the US.

      • I think you're overplaying the "better by lots of public expenditure" aspect. Yes, public expenditure funds these projects, but "beating" the competition is not necessary. Providing alternatives is; it is one more manifestation of the French foreign policy of encouraging a "multi-polar" world, where there are numerous sources of power, knowledge, legitimacy, etc.

        In of itself, not a bad idea; we're all against monopolies, aren't we? I suppose that's no longer popular now that those terrible, terrible peop
        • Re:Weird project (Score:4, Insightful)

          by melonman (608440) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @10:21AM (#17497642) Journal

          If you check out my profile, you'll see that I'm relatively sympathetic to the French :) But the multipolar thing only makes sense if the alternative actually works.

          The Minitel was long promoted by the French as an alternative to the Internet, and, at times, it offered a superior user experience to the Internet, but failure at a national level to understand where the Internet was going has resulted in France falling years behind the US, Germany and the UK, for example, in terms of Internet literacy, especially among business leaders. The same happened with microcomputers, where the promotion of assorted French hardware long after it made sense resulted in a situation today where Microsoft has an even stronger grip than in other countries. And I could write books about how France Télécom's sort-of state monopoly has crippled telecoms in France, and, to some extent, continues to do so.

          If there had ever been any hope of the search engine project producing a useful alternative to Google, it would have been interesting, but that was never going to happen because the French elite doesn't "get" the concept of democratisation of knowledge (as the choice of a latin name for the project illustrates).

          • Worked in France for a year in 1992, just on the south side of Paris (Wissous). Yeah, Minitel was a rare hit. It actually took off to a certain extent in Ireland too in the early 1990s. A college friend of mine got his start writing games and apps and publishing them as a sideline for the main company that, I guess, licensed Minitel for use in Ireland. Made a mint on it! I hooked an AS/400 up to Minitel (with the assistance of local French "minitel" guys, it required some sort of Gateway to a network c
      • by 4D6963 (933028)

        I'll agree to say that this project is only one example of misplaced french/europeean pride. As for Chirac, I think he's gonna be the last of the gaulist presidents before a while. Of the two candidates likely to be elected, Sarkozy must be even less gaulist than Ségolène Royal, he's must be more libertarian than Tony Blair, and as you said I think he'd try hard to get closer to the US, I'm also afraid he'd make France flip to the wild side of capitalism and make us rival in capitalistic dementia

    • "Quite a waste" seems to describe most of the "European" initiatives and projects these days. Everything has to be "European." We can't go back to individual nations because that automatically leads to nationalism, and that auomatically leads to gas chambers and genocide, as everyone knows.
  • by butterberg (1046750) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @06:34AM (#17496592)
    Theseus is thought to be some /semantic/ search engine, so this would be at least something new compared with Google. But don't ask me what is exactly meant by "semantic search engine", nor ask me about Theseus, I did not find any link on its project page. I have this information from German Heise forum some weeks ago (it's in German!):

            http://www.heise.de/newsticker/meldung/82708/from/ rss09 [heise.de]
  • by zeromorph (1009305) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @06:52AM (#17496672)

    As much as I don't like the Google monopoly, I felt/feel uncomfortable with a state/big company founded alternative driven by a French/German/European resentment against Google/the US.

    So as a person born, raised and up to the Master educated in Germany I like the following statement from the article:

    "In Germany I think there was also resistance to the idea of a top-down project driven by governments,"[...]

    What I would like to see is a more community developed alternative to Google. And come on, Google is brilliant and huge but it can't be the end of development in the search engine field.

    And even Google started small, they just had something new and way better than what was there.

    And if it's true

    that some of Germany's top research innovators were not motivated to "reinvent the wheel."

    Well, they should invent either the engine to the wheel or get rid of the wheel idea and invent wings.

    • by MythMoth (73648)

      And even Google started small, they just had something new and way better than what was there.

      Absolutely. The best alternative, Altavista, was very good, but Google was outstanding. And Altavista had dissolved into a messy "portal" while Google had the clean minimal usability approach that Altavista used to have.

      Build a better search engine and the world will beat a path to your door :-)

      All the arguments I ever heard in favour of Quaero sounded extremely misguided big-government oriented. If a decent compet

  • Since Google tests and refines it's search using http://www.searchmash.com/ [searchmash.com], maybe they should be trying to out-do Google's future instead of trying to keep up with it's present?
    • by TheLink (130905)
      Currently searchmash doesn't give me any results. Maybe it's because I don't have javascript enabled.

      If that's where Google is going, I hope there will be an alternative. A UI for search shouldn't require javascript.
  • EU based? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Pardon my ignorance, but how exactly is this project 'EU based'?
    A project based in Europe, yes, but as far as I can tell only the Germans and French are involved.
    According to the article, the EU isn't funding this project.
    As for a geographical reason to call it EU based..
    The EU has 27 member states so it sounds a bit silly.
    You don't call a British project 'EU based', do you?
    Besides, it suggests a kind of pan-European cooperation which just isn't there...
    Well, besides the obvious Franco-German axis, but they
    • A project funded by California and Texas would probably also be called "US-based" in the rest of the world, even if no federal money were involved.
      • Yes, but then again California and Texas are mere States, not independent nations, no matter how much those two (in particular) like to think they are.
        • Well, the majority of national legislation in EU nations these days are simply implementing EU directives, so the question is how independent they really are. And in the question of state/national vs federal/union funding, the similarities certainly seem larger than the differences.
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Sunday January 07, 2007 @08:33AM (#17497066) Journal
    ... and thats how they want it. What they want, they get.

    I've noticed that there are a number of ways that innovative IT projects get done:

    1 - Somebody gets an idea, doesn't ask permission, just implements it and it grows
    2 - Somebody has an idea, pays others to implement it and it grows, or dies
    3 - Somebody has an idea, wastes untold funds on implementing it the wrong way, it dies
    4 - Somebody has an idea, government wastes untold funds implementing the wrong idea
    5 - variations on one of the above

    The trouble with saying that we are going to do something different than what the current market leader has done is that it seldom works if it is supposed to supplant that current leader. Some recent examples? VHS vs. Betamax? HD-DVD vs DVD? Zune vs. iPod?

    Google has not quite been iconized to the point that Hoover or Kleenex have been, but trying to replace Google at this point is the same as the Intel vs. AMD issues except that Google is way ahead of anyone else (don't bother pointing out the other available search engines at this point since it is not germane).

    Germany and the EU may well demand that there is an EU equal to Google, but it does not follow that this government alternative will become self sustaining. If it can't function without life supporting funds from governments, it will be discontinued at some point.

    Even if the technology is mature, there doesn't seem to be any business model to make this EU funded search engine self supporting. When the funds begin to dry up, so will innovation at this new search engine company, and that will signal the end of it. If Google stops innovating, it too will find its own end of life coming. Lack of innovation == lack of relevance in the fast pace of high tech. Governments are notorious for 'lack of innovation' problems.

    Whether this is a good idea on Germany's part or not, there doesn't seem to be any historical evidence to indicate that this project will be long lived.
  • They could quietly grab the bookmarks from everyone as an initial base set of "quality" links.

    Then of course they would be evil and in direct competition with Google.
    They already have the fox in hell, so might as well make him work ;)
    • They could quietly grab the bookmarks from everyone as an initial base set of "quality" links.

      You mean like "What's related"?
  • Why will this project cost billions when someone just needs to download an open source solution like Nutch (http://lucene.apache.org/nutch) and start injecting URLs?? While the Nutch algorithm is not on par with PageRank, it has parser plugins for virtually all popular doc types and should scale nicely due to the Hadoop distributed file system. Perhaps some European governments could even donate money or code to the project. Presumably the reason for a European effort is coverage/content quality and priva
    • It's quite ironic that the sites invites me to "Search this site with Google"
      • Ironic, indeed. There was some discussion that they don't have the personnel to maintain the project search engine. LOL
    • Have you ever tried to manage a Terabyte of search engine database? It's not a task for the weak-willed or overly optimistic, and Google is well beyond that size of search information to manage. The infrastructure to do the web-searching, as well, is large and expensive to manage. Even a great search tool, by itself, has no chance against that kind of infrastructure. It would take billions to build that from scratch.
      • Software is definitely only one piece of the equation. But I'm pretty sure that we are talking millions and not billions for the infrastructure/people to run a large search engine. Is the purpose to compete with Google and all of their various services or to provide an EU search engine alternative ?? Google spends tons of cash on projects like AdWords, GMail, GTalk, GMaps, Finance, GooTube and others that are not directly search engine services.
        • It might be one billion euros instead of 2.whatever. The infrastructure needed to do a search engine well is enormous: mny of Google's other services seem to be built from leftover cycles and resources of their core services, so leaving them out is not as much of a savings as one might hope.
  • as a 'loser in 2007'. This was in their January 2007 Edition. Kind of interesting that Germany has already pulled out. See: http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/jan07/4842 [ieee.org]
  • I am so sick of the default answer to all things in a capitalist economy; "competition will make the products better". Sure, in the short run all of the products get optimized, but not necessarily "better". Car makers have plenty of so-called competition in design, fuel efficiency, production, etc, but where is our uber-efficient electric car? All we get for our money are SUVs and sports cars. If you want an efficient gas-electric you need to wait a year or two for Toyota to allow you to have one. That is
  • I may be missing something, but isn't searching text (all types of documents) much more important for **real work** that searching pictures and video?

    On the other hand, I believe in the utility of next generation text search that clusters documents and allows search for words by word sense (search for "bank" in the sense noun, financial institution - and not return results for "by the bank of the river", "bank the airplane to he right", etc.). Also, support better search within search, etc. I am working on
  • There already is a french googlish clone, exalead.com. One isn't enough? Now they need a franco-german search engine to?
    • There already is a french googlish clone, exalead.com.

      I'm surprised the French didn't call it Froogle instead.
    • Exalead is the Search Engine developed by some French researchers, one of whom happens to be Corps des Mines. Corps des Mines is a very high Civil Servant position, open to only the 10 best students from Ecole Polytechnique every year. Since they get after two years (with 25) very high positions in ministries they also tend to have very good contacts with politicians... and are therefore able to influence what an interesting project would be (make a European competitor to Google) and which start-up to choos
  • Why would the French and German Governments be interested in a European search engine? Shouldn't it be German and French companies? Unless some other motive was behind this....

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