Europe's 'Google killer' goes into hiding

Europe's future search engine doesn't want to be found just yet.

A project to develop advanced multimedia search technologies led by France's Thomson SA has gone into hiding in the face of intense publicity this week that it is building a "Google killer" that will help to improve Europe's standing in the high-tech world.

The project, called Quaero, found itself in the spotlight following remarks last week by French President Jacques Chirac in a speech laying out his agenda for France in 2006. "We must take up the challenge posed by the American giants Google and Yahoo," Chirac said, discussing the importance of technology to Europe's economy. "For that, we will launch a European search engine, Quaero."

His remarks prompted some commentators to describe Quaero as Europe's next Airbus SA, the aircraft maker that competes with The Boeing Co. in a contest symbolizing the economic rivalry between Europe and the U.S. There was talk of a coming out party next month where Quaero's goals would be described in more detail, although a spokeswoman for the project said no event has been planned.

The scrutiny was apparently too much for Thomson's chairman, Frank Dangeard, who imposed a "news blackout" Thursday on Thomson's media staff and ordered the project's Web site, at http://www.thomson.net/EN/Home/Quaero, to be taken offline. "There's been a lot of noise and our chairman decided we should stop making any comments until a more official press event," said Thomson spokesman Philippe Paban.

That makes it hard to determine Quaero's precise ambitions, but the emergence of a direct rival to Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc., at least any time soon, appears less certain than Chirac's comments suggest.

Quaero appears not to be a single product but rather a project to develop search and content management technologies for end users, media companies and service providers, to address the growing volume of digital multimedia content on the Web. They will include technologies for annotating and searching all kinds of content, including video and text, and even translating results into other languages, according to a description from the Franco-German Economic Cooperation Working Group.

"The growth in the quantity of information accessible in diverse forms such as audio and video libraries, and soon even 3-D reconstructions of scenes, in addition to the text and still images already accessible on the Web, will be of no use unless there are tools to search and select this information, either over public networks or in personal databanks," the working group said.

The consortium's members hope to license the technologies for use in products and services, according to Thomson's Quaero Web site, which is cached by Google. The other participants include France T

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