A Gaullist Google?

by on April 5, 2005

They are at it again. Last year, I posted a comment on the French government’s attempt to create a worldwide competitor to CNN–which would be in French only, but not available in France). With that success under its cultural belt, the French are now exploring a new challenge: creating a French competitor to Google.

Google, everyone knows, has transformed life as we know it–providing individuals with easy access in seconds to anything and everything. It’s arguably the greatest invention since, well, air.

France’s government, however, isn’t so happy. Where others (including most French) see an immensely useful tool for spreading knowledge, Paris is worried that Google will end up spreading Anglo-American culture at the expense of French culture. Google’s recent announcement that it would post millions of texts from American and English libraries only heightened the concern.

Thus, reports The Economist, Jacques Chirac has asked his culture minister and library chief to create their own system for searching French texts. How will the system work? The officials swiftly decided that Google’s method of ranking results–mostly by popularity–was too vulgar. After all, who would want a search engine that simply gives people what they want? No, instead, the culture minister is pushing for a “committee of experts” to decide how search results should be ranked.

As The Economist put it “He appears to be serious.” A committee of experts to decide what results will appear when searches are made. The mind boggles. One can just imagine the committee’s deliberations: “Let’s start with “A”. Aardvarks. What should come up? What if someone types “Big Aardvarks”? “Small Aardvarks”?.

The whole thing would make a very good Monty Python skit. It also serves as a vivid reminder of why entrepreneurs (a French word, by the way), rather than French bureaucrats, made the Internet a success. And, perhaps, why English–rather than French–is the world’s lingua franca.

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