Sorry, “Froogle” is already taken

April 1, 2005

This was posted on The Economist website on March 31, which would suggest that it is not an April Fool’s Day hoax: Google à la française (link via Marginal Revolution):

…President Jacques Chirac wants to stop this American cultural invasion by setting up a rival French search-engine. The idea was prompted by Google’s plan to put online millions of texts from American and British university libraries. If English books are threatening to swamp cyberspace, Mr Chirac will not stand idly by.

He asked his culture minister, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, and Jean-Noel Jeanneney, head of France’s Bibliotheque Nationale, to do the same for French texts—and create a home-grown search-engine to browse them. Why not let Google do the job? Its French version is used for 74% of internet searches in France. The answer is the vulgar criteria it uses to rank results. “I do not believe”, wrote Mr Donnedieu de Vabres in Le Monde, “that the only key to access our culture should be the automatic ranking by popularity, which has been behind Google’s success.”

I would be tempted to dismiss this as a joke, if I hadn’t seen previous evidence of how seriously the French take their language.

What does Jeanneney suggest instead of "popularity" (i.e. market forces)? A "committee of experts." Even more disturbing is his reason for doing so (the following is quoted from the Google translation of this story in L’Express):

If you type "Robespierre" on Google, I fear extremely that, according
to American sights’, it is, as of the first references proposed,
initially compared to the guillotine, which is at the very least
reducing. The French must be able, them also, to propose their glance,
less simplistic, on the Revolution. This question does not interest
only Europe but all the countries, all the continents… If we count on
the only American mirror, we will end to a deformation of our vision of
the world.

So what we’re really talking about here is centralized control over the flow of information, not just condescension toward unsophisticates or avoidance of commercialism…this does not sound promising.

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One Response to “Sorry, “Froogle” is already taken”

  1. Big Bopper Says:

    You cited The Economist as a source here — the content seems to lend itself more to The Onion. Remember that one of the most popular people in France is Jerry Lewis.

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