The European Union on Thursday authorized Germany to give $165 million for research on Internet search-engine technologies that could someday challenge U.S. search giant Google Inc.
The Theseus research project — the German arm of what the French call Quaero — is aiming to develop the world’s most advanced multimedia search engine for the next-generation Internet. It would translate, identify and index images, audio and text.
The TechCrunch post portraits this as a governmental attempt to fight back against Google, which is not totally wrong. After all, Google has more than 90% market share in Germany and some other EU countries. Couple with growing anti-American sentiment, it is perfectly reasonable for Germany and France to want to seek an alternative. Imagine if Baidu or Mixi or Naver has 90% market share in the US. Americans will probably react quite strongly also.
However, casual chat with some European researchers shows that the European sentiment is more nuance. Yes they’d appreciate more viable alternatives in the market, but in some sense they’ve actually given up already. Google had won fairly, and European researchers are now so far behind that they think it’s pointless to challenge Google directly. The point of these government projects is less about usurping Google than to prevent a similar kind of dominance in the next generation of the Web. Therefore they don’t do much research on “Web search” per se, that is, in query log analysis, search result ranking, search advertising, etc. that Microsoft, Yahoo, and many American researchers still look at. Rather, they focus much more on semantic web and multimedia information retrieval, technologies that are more about the next generation of the Web, and where no one has clear dominance yet.