The Multilingual Search Blog covers Exalead CEO Francois Bourdoncle taking a big stick and swinging at Google in a keynote talk at SES Paris. He positions his own service as potentially the savior for those in Europe worried about the "Google monster." Beyond Google, he also criticizes Yahoo and Microsoft for collaborating on a "closed" sitemaps protocol. I'd say the Cold War against American-based search engines is going up a notch.
Let's deal with the Google Monster idea first:
The press in particular should be worried about becoming sub-contractors of Google, he said. Whilst at present Google News brings plenty of traffic to sites under the brand names of the press outlets, this would change to Google's brand in the future.
Actually, Google News has always operated under the Google brand. So much for that secret Google master plan, I guess. In fact, despite using the Google brand, I just covered some stats yesterday showing how Google sends upwards of 22 percent of traffic to newspapers sites.
Of course, Bourdoncle may have meant that in the future, Google will actually host content on Google itself, saving people from making a click through to news sites. Possible. And if so, ironically the newspapers may have themselves to blame. Go back to my write-up about the AP deal with Google. How exactly Google will make more use of AP content remains to be seen. But I explained that there's good reason that Google might host AP content on Google itself, similar to what Topix does.
Google's largely seen to have cut the AP deal in part because the AP may have been threatening legal action. Do a deal, the issue over spidering goes away -- and Google can host news content on its own site. As more companies clamor for deals (such as in Belgium this week), Google might transform into a content hosting service rather than pointing to content elsewhere.
By the way, Yahoo News already operates this way, hosting plenty of news content of its own. So even if Google goes that route, why haven't news organizations been complaining about the Yahoo monster? My guess would be that once you cut deals to host content, you seem less monstrous. And that works again against what Bourdoncle warns. If Google does host content, the news organization should be happy given they will have done the partnering to make that happen.
Bourdoncle isn't the only search engine to swing a torch around to rally the villagers against the Frankenstein's monster of Google. Microsoft just did this last month. CEO Steve Ballmer positioned Google as "transferring the wealth out of the hands of rights holders." Microsoft, of course, does much of the crawling and content gathering that Google does. It's hard to see how it is somehow more altruistic.
Such statements make good headlines, and I'd say they're going to play even better in Europe, which has watched the search industry rise into generating billions of dollars for America, rather than euros for Europe. There are also some serious cultural and political issues to consider. Many people may simply be more comfortable using a service that grew natively from their own country. I don't discount these worries and have great respect for them. I just dislike much of the scare mongering I also see that often feels like politicians and private companies hoping to position their own agendas, rather than a common good.
Such worries are one reason the Quaero project emerged, a planned multimedia search engine that will get government funds. I've likened this to being a Boeing versus Airbus challenge in the search world -- and also covered how Europe has had no lack of native technology already that grew without government subsidies.
Exalead is part of the Quaero project, though I remain confused about how to find more about it and what exactly it is doing. There used to be a site here that brings up nothing but a logon page. I've also seen the Quaero.org site referred to as the home of the project. That's entirely in French and German, and my German remains pretty bad. But I'm pretty sure I don't even see the word Quaero mentioned there.
Anyway, it's long been on my list to catch-up on the project. Chris Sherman's out in France today, and I think he's actually planning to talk with Exalead about Quaero more. So stay tuned.
Finally, Google wasn't alone for criticism:
He also criticised the new sitemaps collaboration announced by Google, Yahoo and MSN at Pubcon in Las Vegas. He said, “The sitemaps specification is not nice and open and it not nice and closed”. He believes the initiative aims to close the door to new entrants to the market place.
Frankly, I disagree. Google's had a sitemaps system out for over a year. In that time, I heard not one word out of Exalead that it thought it made sense that this should be expanded to be supported by other search engines. Now Google, Yahoo and Microsoft agreed to a common specification. Exalead could jump into supporting that now, if they wanted. They could also produce a rival format, if they wanted (and what joy that would be). But instead, what they support is a single page-by-page submission feature. Criticizing a bulk submission feature of your rivals when you offer none of your own doesn't win points in my book.
Instead, I'd say the real issue is that Exalead didn't get to sit at the big table in working out the agreement along with the other three. That is unfortunate, just as I felt Ask should have been included as well. Exalead is an excellent search engine that deserves the attention of both searchers and the search engine industry alike -- as is Ask.
Not being included from the start was unfortunate, but forgivable, as long as we see a working group expand going forward. I'm all for that, though I don't want expansion to slow things down. It also makes sense that the market leaders -- the services with the most queries and thus the most attention from site owners -- are going to take the lead in these things.
Postscript: Quest for a Euro-Google from the BBC earlier this year provides a longer look at Quaero and Exalead's involvement.