‘Google killer’ slowed down as Germany launches own project

A European project for an internet search engine to compete with US-based giants Google and Yahoo! suffered a setback as Germany withdrew its participation over a row with France on what the engine’s main focus should be.

On 2 January 2006, the German ministry of Ecomomy and Technology (BMWi) declared that the joint venture with France on Quaero had “ceased” and that the Germany was instead going to launch its own, less-ambitious project labelled ‘Theseus’, after the mythological king of Athens who found his way out of the minotaur’s maze. The new poject will include most former German partners of the Quaero project. 

First differences around the ambitious project showed up just before Christmas 2006, when BMWi State Secretary Hartmut Schauerte said that “there will now be separate programs – Germany’s Theseus and France’s Quaero”. 

The conflict seemed to concern whether the consortium should aim to compete with the likenesses of internet search giants Google   and Yahoo. French President Jacques Chirac, who declared Quaero one of his political priorities for 2006, said: “We must take up the challenge posed by the American giants Google and Yahoo. For that, we will launch a European search engine, Quaero.”

The German side, on the other hand, wants to focus on basic research on search algorithms which could then be used in different implementations by the firms involved in the consortium. The French side focused on multimedia, while Germany concentrated on word-based searches.

Exalead CEO François Bourdoncle said: “Germany’s withdrawal reflects mainly one fact: The orientation that Germany wanted for the project was not along the same lines as the one that France favoured.” 

In spite of those differences, Germany leaving the project came as a surprise. As recently as September 2006, BMWi State Secretary Dagmar Wöhrl declared Quaero a “Franco-German ‘pathfinder’ project of special importance”, which, she said, “will develop new technologies for accessing and using digitally accessible knowledge that will result in a quantum leap in knowledge work and in new services for the internet of the future”. The 2007 BMWi draft budget foresaw €8.6 million for what was labelled “Franco-German innovation project Quaero” – the first slice of a total investment of up to €2 billion to be carried jointly by Germany and France. 

A spokeswoman for the French Agency for Industrial Innovation (AII), which funds research for the French Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industry, said: “There are still German partners involved in the Quaero project (but) the configuration of partners will change. When you work on something international, it’s more complicated than when it’s just the French involved.” 

Germany relinquishing Quaero and the ensuing re-orientation of the project are set to bring about further delays in the Commission’s authorisation of French state-aid to Quaero. As the project’s possible future competitors Google and Yahoo! are innovating very quickly, Quaero officials hâve expressed fear that any slowdown, particularly with respect to video search might result in Quaero no longer being able to compete with its US-based counterparts.

The project, labelled 'Quaero' after the Latin for 'I search', was launched by French President Jacques Chirac and then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in April 2006. Both countries pledged to invest €1-€2 billion in the creation of a localised search engine with advanced capabilities especially for multimedia search. Companies and academic institutions from Germany and France joined the consortium in charge of Quaero (see EURACTIV, 16/01/06). The project also received backing from Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, who criticised, however, the high amount of public as opposed to private funding (see EURACTIV, 24/01/06). 

Quaero partners included on the French side ThomsonFrance Télécom  and search specialist France Exalead, and on the German side SiemensDeutsche TelekomSAPFraunhofer Gesellschaft, Bertelsmann internet search subsidiary Lycos  and the universities RWTH Aachen  and Universität Karlsruhe

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