What the hell is Quaero? Yesterday I had a chance to put that question to Francois Bourdoncle, CEO and co-founder of Exalead, a leading European enterprise search company (and partner in Quaero, whatever it turns out to be). It was a timely conversation, as French President Jacques Chirac announced a $2.5 billion initiative earlier this week, a major portion of which was earmarked for Quaero.
If all you had to go by was Google results, chances are you’d be confused in your search to figure out what Quaero was all about. Wikipedia has an entry (in French, of course). Other news outlets seem to think Quareo is in fact a real search engine – albeit one with a multimedia focus – under development by the French and German government in partnership with private European media conglomerates like Thompson, and smaller startups like Exalead.
That’s what I thought, and in response I said that it was a deeply dumb idea. But turns out, we were all responding to the wrong thing.
Sure, Chirac seems to think he’s funding a European competitor to Google, but it turns out, eh…not so much. Chirac “doesn’t even know what a mouse is,” Bourdoncle told me. (The Guardian today was even harsher, wondering if Chirac “had been sniffing a little too much camembert.”)
So what is he funding? Well, according to Bourdoncle, there will be no single Quaero site. Instead, Quaero is a program, a long term effort to spur various European competitors toward creating better search related technologies. Participants will share R&D, for example, as well as become each other’s customers. In other words, this is a government funded attempt at pulling together a keiretsu of sorts.
Not exactly a European Google killer, I commented. Nope, Bourdoncle responded, and attempting to do that would be a pretty stupid move. I couldn’t agree more. Sounds to me, I thought to myself, that Quaero is simply a way for huge companies like Thompson to insure a steady flow of dollars from its government, and if using the Big Google Is Going to Kill European Culture meme helps along the way, so be it. Before I could even mention that idea, Bourdoncle addressed it head on, saying he was sure folks might see it that way, and he was not one to say if it was true or not. “I’m not really sure what (Thompson’s) strategy is,” he said. “They don’t tell me that.” Sounds like the keiretsu is shaping up nicely, no?
Meanwhile, Farber has more on Bourdoncle and Exalead here. Seems this company is one to watch, even if Quaero isn’t….