Google Envy

Subsidized search engines


In 2005 France and Germany decided to subsidize and develop a new Internet search engine, to go by the name Quaero (Latin for "I seek"). Germany-whose current chancellor, Angela Merkel, was never a fan of the project -backed out last December, but France plans to proceed with nearly a dozen private corporate partners. Germany, rather than sighing with relief at dodging a boondoggle bullet, will fund its own domestic search engine project, dubbed Theseus.

While Theseus will be a traditional text-based search engine, Quaero's architects hope to innovate in areas Google has so far failed to conquer-searches of sounds and images, not merely words. But France may have more in mind than a better product. A member of its steering committee has confessed to The Economist that one inspiration for the project was "to secure access that does not have to be channeled through American technology."

When French President Jacques Chirac first announced the plan to create a government Google, he hyped Quaero as being "in the image of the magnificent success of Airbus." By June 2006, alas, Chirac was admitting to "management problems" with Airbus. Its CEO was ousted after the company announced a delay in the production of its flagship superjumbo A380 which is projected to cost the "magnificent success" €4.8 billion during the next four years.

Fortunately for the French taxpayer, the original plan for Quaero had the French government committing less than half that amount over a five-year period. Google's market capitalization, as of mid-January, was $146.64 billion.