The Age of European Search Engines: Quaero, Theseus, and Pharos

By March 12, 2007
Keywords : Innovation, Europe

Quaero: A European Google? Have Google and Yahoo spurred European search engine development? In April 2005, Jacques Chirac and the German government launched Quaero (Latin for "I seek"), a project to develop a multimedia search

engine with the ability to index images, sounds, and videos. In this spirit of French-German technological collaboration, 50% of the anticipated €250 million cost of the digital-content search project over five years was to come from public coffers. Thus far, the only funds guaranteed are €90 million from the French Agency for Industrial Innovation (AII). Over the past few weeks, however, the multimedia search engine seems to be faltering. In fact, Germany officially pulled out of the Quaero project last December. The German about-face arose primarily from diverging visions of the project. France wanted to create a multimedia search engine that would index and automatically translate multilingual digital content, while Germany favored a text-based search engine. In addition, the Germans were not much interested in turning Quaero into the European Google. They couldn't justify spending public funds on a project that the private sector, namely Google, had already developed and quite successfully brought to market several years ago. Quaero is thus now a purely French project, but still supported by two major players: Thomson and French search engine Exalead (article in French). Theseus: The new German search engine Berlin nonetheless decided to create its own text-based search engine, Theseus, named after the Greek mythological hero. According to an AII spokesman quoted in French magazine L'Expansion, "There will be a French project and a German project, and because their target areas are different, they will complement rather than compete with each other. There will be two programs instead of one." Germany wants to develop an engine that can analyze the meaning of a word and its context. The idea is that if you typed the word "Ferrari," Theseus would know how to differentiate between the famous red car and the French Canal+ journalist of the same name. Pharos: The future of the European search engine? Pharos, another search engine project, was initiated by the Norwegian search solutions company FAST (Fast Search and Transfer) and has been in development since the end of December 2006. Making a solid entry into the digital era, Pharos (Platform for Search of Audiovisual Resources Across Online Spaces) will be focused on multimedia and audiovisual searching, similar to French engine Quaero. FAST announced that its goal is to implement "a next-generation audiovisual search platform that is designed, developed, and used collaboratively by a worldwide consortium of academic and commercial players." Thirteen partners from nine European countries (Germany, France, Finland, Spain, Austria, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom) will participate actively in this project. Furthermore, the development of Pharos is being financed by private and public funds: The European Commission recently released €8.5 million of the €11.2 million pledged. In any case, Pharos has understood the importance of developing a site that can index audiovisual content at a time when platforms such as YouTube and DailyMotion already offer several million videos every day. FAST estimates it will need three years to successfully complete the new project. An initial version of Pharos could thus be launched online by the end of 2009. Although strong European competition seems unlikely in the short run, Google should keep an eye on these new developments. You never know…..

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