Project Quaero

The European Union\’s competition watchdog has appoved the use of €99m (£76m) of French state aid for a consortium attempting to build an internet search engine to take on Google.

It\’s French money being spent on a French project, so, good luck to them, no skin off my nose. However, I do smell at least a whiff of politicians being bewitched by technological dreams here. Google\’s a great search engine, there\’s no doubt about that. However, the actual company Google isn\’t valuable because of the search engine at all. The value is in Adwords, those little things up at the top left.

Seriously, in financial value, it\’s their near control of the online advertising industry that creates the value. If you launched a search engine that was 10 times better than Google, you\’d still not topple them from that position.

I (cynic that I am) get the feeling that the politicians doing the funding have been a tad starry eyed. If you want to get some of those hundreds of billions of $ of value that Google currently demands, you\’ve got to build a better advertising platform. The search engine is near irrelevant.

But then €99m of tax money to fund an advertising platform doesn\’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

4 comments on “Project Quaero

  1. Up to a point, Lord Copper.

    No matter how good your ad platform is, your ability to monetise is dependent on your having a product sufficiently compelling to attract eyeballs. Google certainly does have such a product, compelling to the point of ubiquity, but it’s broad range, and this is a vulnerability.

    In advertising the tighter your targeting the higher the rate you can command. Google certain ly professes to be able to deliver tight targeting, but it does not seem to me that it is entirely successful in achieving this. You get some pretty wacky effects, and although the peanuts mount up for people dependent on Google ads, they’re still peanuts.

    Frontal assault on Google with a broad range search product certainly looks suicidal, but products aimed at more restricted groups of users could, in principle, be viable.

    So if for example you built something that was specifically relevant and attractive to Francophone users, you might turn out to be able to get higher returns than Google in Francophone markets. Or you could drill that right down to specific sectors and enthusiasms – biker mags and sites get higher rate biker advertising because people who go to them are clearly interested in bikes. Not rocket science, how publishing has worked fro a lnog, long time.

    I don’t say Quaero will succeed, matter of fact I’m fairly sure they’ll contrive to cock it up, but I do say something along these lines could succeed, because the Mighty G is vulnerable around the fringes.

  2. I think you’ve completely missed why the French are doing it; they’d probably consider it a success even if it had zero income. The key word is in the “positive externalities”.

    Google is an American private company. As such, it has biases towards burying material that will get it sued (e.g. Scientology) or excluded from certain markets (e.g. China), and it probably has some nice people from US military intelligence asking for favours all the time.
    A French national search engine will have a different set of biases.

    Search engines do have a great influence on what people see on the internet and what does and does not make it into debate – probably more political influence than blogs, although indirectly exercised.

    “Consortium of 23 companies” does sound like a recipie for disaster, though.

  3. “But then €99m of tax money to fund an advertising platform ”

    Is that what the entire EU budget goes to?

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