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Quaero Search Project Ramps up Recruitment

Quaero, a European consortium developing new search engine technologies, is ramping up recruitment of researchers.

Although some of the consortium's research activities have already begun, the starting signal for much of the work came on March 11, when the European Commission said it had no objections to the French government giving Quaero €99 million (US$157 million) in state aid.

Until that contribution, representing about half the project's budget, received approval, some labs were unable to recruit needed staff, said Quaero project leader Pieter Van Der Linden.

"There was no certainty. The publicly funded research labs weren't allowed to take on anyone at all. Now, the different organizations and companies are building up their staff and preparing a big kick-off for the team at a meeting in mid-May," he said.

Van Der Linden was speaking from Portugal, where he will present the Quaero project at a meeting for those involved in the Commission's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for funding European research. The meeting brings together researchers working in diverse fields, including audio-visual streaming, personalization of audio-visual content and multimedia search.

Quaero is often mischaracterized as a European attempt to build a search engine to rival Google, thanks to a speech in August 2005 by former French president Jacques Chirac. His talk of the need to use technology to fight Anglo-Saxon cultural imperialism with a joint French-German research project prompted reports that he planned to build a "Google killer."

The two countries quickly parted ways: Germany decided to fund its own research project, Theseus, to study semantic search tools.

Now Quaero's goals are less headline-grabbing -- but perhaps more far reaching. The consortium's research activities are grouped into five application areas: developing tools to search within sound and video clips; improving access to multimedia through Internet portals; automating the personalization of video-on-demand services; simplifying the archival of video, for example for journalists, and automating the creation of relevant metadata when digitizing audio and video.

Some of those applications involve the creation of tools to automatically translate content, with the goal one day of enabling search engine users to discover documents, sound archives and video in one language using keywords in another.

Many companies and public institutions are involved in the research but the application areas are led by Exalead, France T�l�com, the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA), Jouve and Thomson, with support from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and RWTH Aachen University in Germany.

Quaero is less about battling cultural imperialism and more about practical necessity: the European Union vaunts its "single market" for goods and services, but with 23 official languages spoken across 27 countries, there is no single market for search or content.

Even within the Quaero consortium, where most of the researchers are native speakers of French or German, "Our working language is English," said Van Der Linden.

That also applies to the Quaero intranet being built to unite researchers scattered across 30 or more sites, he said. There are no plans yet to put the translation tools they are developing to use outside their own labs.

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