» Why Quaero will fail on the BBC

Why Quaero will fail on the BBC

Peter Day interviewed (and podcasted) me in his BBC show “In Business”, “Euro Everything” on why I thought that Quaero would fail. Thanks again Peter.

European politicians are worried about how the continent is falling behind the United States in innovation.

Some of them are placing their faith in big industrial and internet projects to boost the continent’s ability to compete. But can taxpayer’s money help innovation, or does it actually hinder it?

And does Europe really need a European rival to the current American-run Global Positioning System and its own version of Google? “

  • http://profile.typekey.com/benoitvandevivere/ Benoitv

    My feelings are:
    - are we talking about the failure of Quaero or the failure of the new innovation financing system that it represents, which is basically public-private joint-ventures?
    - then, how do one explains Internet, GPS and so many innovations public financing has led to?
    - in criticizing, maybe we should look where we come from: initially, we were having 100% publicly financed not projects but people! People were paid to do “some research”. Here we are talking about specific projects, with specific outcomes, selected on merits and where at least 50% of the money is private, hence ROI-centric, real life application focused
    - when comparing to US, I don’t see how US does better? To my eyes, it’s certainly one of the best public financing we can think of. Of course, public financing should NOT and NEVER be an exclusive way of financing innovation and can only be done in parallel to incentives to Venture Capitalism, business angels, private equity, LBO, etc.
    It’s not true to say those projects are large company-centric, they do involve start-ups.
    However, I overall agree that more small-company centrics programs would be of interest. And again, there exists public funding in US for small companies, it’s called SBIR Small Business Innovation Research, it’s mainly federal funds for military research through start-ups.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/ptinfrance/ ptiinfrance

    though a die-hard sceptic about this program, i realize france is trying to hold on to their skilled set (researchers) since they tend to opt to go abroad (u.s.) where the funding is for them, to further their research. it hasn’t been easy for them in france because there was simply too little funding (or none at all). now, at the same time, france is limiting immigration to skilled people.
    france needs educated/skilled people to compete globally and to be viable as a country in their own right. this project looks like an attempt to keep these educated people here (for 5 yrs at least). perhaps the r&d spent on the quaero project will indeed create something truly innovative in the 5 years of funding it (though nothing i’ve heard about it sounds very innovative) i hope so, but what will happen after the funds run out?
    will those very same researchers stay in europe? will they be able to find jobs in france (or somewhere in europe)? or will they be hired by google? :) will they even want to stay in europe? will they start new companies themselves (which is quite a pain to do particularly in france)? or will they leave to start businesses elsewhere?

  • http://profile.typekey.com/Cyril.Demaria/ Cyril Demaria

    The title is very catchy, but maybe there are a few nuances to bring to this charge against a… project so far (not a product, nor a services yet).
    1. Come on, we are not kids anymore. This may be a funny side comment, but not the number 1 of a 10 reasons list.
    2. Correction… There is a center in an open source project. What would be Linux without Linus Torvalds? What is an open source project without project coordinators?
    What could be commented/criticized however is the ability of Thomson to coordinate this initiative.
    I would not judge Thomson too early on its ability to coordinate such a project, as Thomson has an history of being able to co-manage the development of the MP3 format with the German Fraunhofer institute… Thus patenting it.
    This is interesting as the official documentation from the Quaero website mentions the future ability of Quaero to handle the future rights of content producers.
    This is probably where Google’s initiatives are the most criticizable and where none of the US and Japanese big firms have proposed a satisfactory approach for the end user.
    Thomson’s legacy so far is the availability free of charge for users to music (and the subsequent development of the on-line music distribution business. See http://www.mp3licensing.com
    I personally respect the MP3 standard definition achievement. It’s sucessful,r eliable and easy to use.
    The Vobis ogg format, even though open source, has not been able to go against the MP3 popularity.
    3. I agree… to a certain point.
    I would not refer to ARPAnet as Benoît Vandevivere. I believe that the cold war is over, and I hope that we do not need secrecy any more to build a project unless it is related to military aspects (and I do not think that Quaero is set up in that respect).
    I think that defining the core of Quaero may need some centralization, as well as the definition of a set of rules to cooperate and build this product. The kernel of Linux was defined by not a group, not a team, but one person – a student. Coordinating multiple teams of professionals for Quaero’s core is probably quite difficult.
    What I would criticize is the method used for the choice of the contributors, the secrecy around the reasons of this choice, the lack of transparency (I believe that there are EU competition rules for projects financed by states, as well as state subsidies rules) regarding the set up of the project. Whether Thomson and the others are good or not for Quaero is not the point. The debate is: who chose them? how? why?
    I would even go beyond and say: why not opening it to US companies? Sun, anyone? Microsoft (think about it, in terms aggregating firepower)? Apple (a good way to settle down the iTune dispute around proprietary format)? Sony (and get rid of their idiotic DRM system. Note: I am an owner a Sony MP3 player)?
    This centralization is a start point. Nowhere is it mentioned that at a point Quaero will not be opened to external contributions once its core is set up. That joins my main critic: the lack of transparency/visibility of the future processes.
    Did you notice so far that I did not mention Google? That may be time.
    I do not agree on Google’s “permanent beta” strategy (Note: Google is my default search engine on Opera and Internet Explorer and I own personally Google shares). That’s probably fun for geeks and ingeneers willing to compete in the Valley.
    If Quaero manages to offer a version of a “search engine” (and/or a set of related tools) which is stable, efficient and that I would manage according to my needs (thus customizing it), I would be pleased. I am tired of the fact that Gmail is slow, sometimes unstable, that it crashes with Microsoft IE because their engineers (both on a technical or top management side) believe that they are still on the kids playground.
    Quaero may have a smart more to play, by using the best of the market and deliver stability, reliability and power to the user. Not to absorb the content produced by the user to sell more ads. But to give him a simple way to use the tools the way he/she wants.
    4. Time will come when the ***product/services*** will be launched. When did you knew that two guys were preparing Google in their garage? or that disgruntled scandinavian guys were reusing a p2p technology in a remote place to create a VoIP technology?
    When you were able to use their products/services. Not before. Show me Google or Skype business plans on-line, we will then be able to discuss. Not before.
    And the fact that Quaero is under scrutiny is a weight that none of the aforementioned “competitor” had to deal with. The only pressure they had was from their VCs – secretive business guys.
    The buzz will come. And everyone will probably wait for Quaero down the street, right after a corner with sticks and stones to go after it if for some reason it is not perfect.
    5. Slightly contradicts point 2… And I would again not judge the companies involved on their track record but on results.
    Exalead and LTU technologies are real innovators, to my point of view. That’s an open debate, but I believe that there is a “European innovation model” which is quite different from the American or Israeli models. Big companies are involved in Quaero, and that may be a good thing considering the fact that innovation is more incremental than it used to be as for search engines at the moment and that they have resources that a pure start-up may not be able to provide.
    By the way, Loïc, would your comment have been more positive if the 90 million would have been given to a single start-up modelled on a Red Hat/Mandrake Soft-like approach?
    Let’s be fair and say that Siemens, DT and Thomson may bring something on the table – including contracts for a possible future company?
    As we do not know (again, lack of transparency) what will be Quaero (project? future company?), we can just wonder if the baby will be delivered healthy and at the right timing.
    6. Yes and no. Siemens is German, as well as other labs and universities involved.
    The lack of British and Scandinavian players is scary, I agree. Especially given the importance of mobility going forward as for content and search prospects. British Universities and Scandinavian giants should have been involved.
    They may opt-in if Quaero provides this ability and once it is disclosed.
    7. I agree on the fact that timing is crucial… Delays are the worst thing that can happen to a technological project. Especially has people tend to condemn it before it is born…
    This is the “Vista syndrom”, in a nutshell. Quaero, come to us!
    By the way, seeing a technological tool as Quaero as a “weapon” against Google is, for me, the bad way to present it.
    8. I agree… But nothing is impossible if:
    > Quaero is open to attract other players and able to be a discussion platform and is setting fair rules (call it a “W3 committee for search technologies” – and why not?)
    > Quaero becomes a real value proposition by offering something that none of the players is able to offer at the moment. What it is? A platform to discuss DRM matters without being the initiative of an industrial player.
    This is where public initiatives can be competitive and interesting: helping out to define standards profitable to customers.
    I would personally welcome the inclusion of American and European associations, such as the W3 Committe and the EFF, in Quaero. “Give power to the users” shoud be the motto of Quaero’s promoters.
    9. I do not agree totally. Whether Chirac was aware of it or not does not matter.
    The European venture capital industry is not comparable to the US venture capital industry in the sense that the cultural, social, business and sociological backgrounds are different.
    Europe is struggling to identify what is its own model – and that’s an open debate. But willing to see an equivalent of a Sequoia and a Kleiner Perkins to finance a Google in Europe is just not the right debate.
    First because there is no Sequoia in Europe (go to Israel for a proxy), as well as no KPCB. Then because Quaero is not a “better Google” at least on paper, but a set of search facilities.
    That may explain why VC financing is not the answer: this may not be a venture capital project. The average holding period of a company in a VC portfolio is 3 to 5 years. Quaero is at least a 5 years project.
    How could you convince a VC to go beyond its average holding period with such a risk? Isn’t it the role of the public financing to care about that?
    We do not have an equivalent of the Xerox PARC in Europe. Quaero may give birth to promising technologies, and provide a lot of positive externalities. Let’s be open to that…
    10. I agree on the conclusion regarding open source, but I would not welcome 250 M€ poured in start-ups.
    Europe has weathered its first growth crisis in 2000 as for VC and IT. The “web 2.0″, whatever it is (social networking, dating by mobile and so on), is expected to be the second wave (check capital-it’s website: http://www.capital-it.com).
    Quaero’s asset is maybe to focus on real technologies for the future, addressing technical challenges that VCs do not want to handle.
    Let’s see how it comes – if its promoters are allowing us to do that.
    This paper was adapted from an article to be published on http://www.360journal.com

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