Magazine article Information Today

Search Engines, European-Style

Magazine article Information Today

Search Engines, European-Style

Article excerpt

Organizations that are headquartered in the U.S. such as Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! continue to dominate the Web search space, but does Europe have anything to offer in comparison?

At the moment, the answer is no. However, the underlying reality is more complex. For one, the land of the 30-hour workweek hasn't totally given up on offering the Americans a bit of decent competition in the consumer search space. And after last year's attention on Verity, the only two pure-play enterprise search firms that matter are actually headquartered overseas in the Cambridge, England-based Autonomy and Norway's Fast Search & Transfer (FAST).

Plus, FAST has a real link with the Web search market since its AllTheWeb product became the basic engine of the Yahoo! search offering. The European influence on the global search market may be bigger than at first glance.

Neither firm is keen on playing up its non-U.S, affiliations. "As over 50 [percent] of our sales come from the U.S., our customers there see us as basically an American company," said FAST's chief technology officer Bjorn Olstad. Autonomy, on the other hand, prefers to report its results in dollars, not pounds (let alone euros).

"Clearly as in nearly all technology markets, the centre of gravity in the search world is in the U.S., especially in consumer search," according to European-based analyst Neil Macehiter. "Things aren't so clear cut in enterprise search, though, where Autonomy-Verity and FAST are clearly the big players now [that] Convera has effectively left the stage."

Enter Quaero

While the European search community isn't conceding completely to the Americans on the Web search front, Quaero Corp. (a Latin term for "I am looking for" or "I seek") is being billed as "the European answer to Google."

Specifically, this public-private industry initiative was announced by French president Jacques Chirac and former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2005, with Chirac declaring: "We must take up the challenge posed by the American giants Google and Yahoo!. For that, we will launch a European search engine."

Quaero has clients including France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, French engineering giant Thales, the University of Karlsruhe, and content providers such as Studio Hamburg. The goal is creating a multilingual, multimedia search engine for the Web that is allegedly capable of handling all sorts of documents and digital information.

As with all things relating to the European Union, multiple agendas now exist. It's simply a matter of fact (not a culturally biased attack) to note that France is very reluctant to surrender the Web to the Anglo-Saxons. Just take a look at its rigorous attempts to keep the French language pure of Anglicized solecisms such as "le weekend," etc.

The project is already surrounded by controversy, however, with critics objecting to the (still unclear) price tag of as much as 1 billion [euro] to 2 billion [euro] ($1.3 billion to $2.6 billion) being committed (over 5 years) to a project with little obvious chances of commercial success. The French and German governments are likely to end up paying for much of the project. Indeed, much has been created over the years in any number of dubious "informatics" multicountry research programs where Brussels has tried to keep up with Silicon Valley (usually less than impressively). …

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