Magazine article Information Today

Coming to America

Magazine article Information Today

Coming to America

Article excerpt

French innovators have come and gone. Datops S.A. was an early leader in visualization of search results. Pertimm offered natural language search in an interface that I found confusing. Datops and its Pericles analytics system became a unit of Reed Elsevier in late 2006 and have virtually disappeared as a stand-alone brand. When I could navigate the interface, the system returned extremely useful results.

Tumbleweed Tech

I was a fan of the metasearch technology and service EZ2Find. I thought the system could grow into a high-traffic service. But, alas, the brother and sister team of Luigi and Maite Castagna broke the Pariscentric grip on innovation in metasearch. Even today, I could make good use of its search function for key words and phrases. EZ2Find offered convenient access to a range of non-French-language resources.

I also liked the functionality and graphical design of KartOO, a meta-search company. A user's query was passed to various web indexes. The results were deduplicated and displayed on a relationship map. KartOO also has turned off its lights. The KartOO approach was more useful to me than the Vivisimo approach. One of the key developers of Vivisimo was Jerome Pesenti, educated at University of Paris-Sud before undertaking additional studies at Carnegie Mellon University. KartOO combined clustering and a sophisticated user interface that struck me as having considerable potential.

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But neither EZ2Find nor KartOO survived and neither had much, if any, impact in the U.S. market. In their place, LTU technologies, an image recognition company, has some lucrative U.S. accounts. The natural language vendor Lingway, a semantic search company, has also enjoyed some success in North America.

Renewed American Dream

I have been monitoring the search and content processing sector for many years. As I look back over the last decade, none of the French information retrieval companies have reached the top of the league tables for enterprise search solutions in the U.S. A number of companies have built solid businesses in France and Europe. But in the U.S., many of the companies have faced strong headwinds.

Three years ago, a French entrepreneur explained why his software company had to open an office in New York. He told Constance Ard, of Answer Maven Solutions, and me, "In France, the taxes are very burdensome for a software business, in fact, any business. If I sell a product and earn 1, [euro] I get to keep maybe 10% of the money. If I am an American company, I can sell a product for $1 and get to keep at least 30% of the money, maybe even more. I have to open a New York office and make sales in North America to stay in business."

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When I think of this entrepreneur's explanation about coming to America, it reminds me of the potency of the 19th-century American dream. I won't reveal the name of the entrepreneur who felt compelled to increase his revenue by moving from his homeland to a foreign shore. The company is still in business, and the firm has not been able to generate significant revenues in the U.S.

Some French search and content processing companies have been pecking at the U.S. market for years. Others, such as AMI Software, have focused on Canada, the U.K., and France for its customers. Most of the French search vendors are still waiting for the big American revenue to roll in. The U.S. offers a market arguably as large as that of the European community, along with comparatively favorable tax provisions and an internal heartbeat that slices the time for many procurement processes.

Quaero

If the travails of household names such as Exalead and Sinequa are indicators, the U.S. market is tougher to crack than it seemed at first glance. Exalead is a particularly interesting case. The co-founder of the company was Francois Bourdoncle, who worked on the Digital Equipment Corp. …

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