Cultural eHegemony

Der Spiegel, as picked up in YaleGlobal and Eldis's ICT-for-Dev RSS feed reports a (French) worry about "the homogenization and commercialization of culture that could result from the concentration of control in the hands of just a few [US --ed] companies," based on the idea, as said by Chirac, that "There is the threat that tomorrow, what is not available online will be invisible to the world." Chirac's response is a state-sponsored Euro-centric anti-google, called Quaero.

OK. First: Sorry Chicken Little, the sky already fell, this is just the last few pieces -- the near-monopoly of Hollywood and American-centric media companies in TV/film has already won the day. Thankfully, though, there's been pushback from this, and non-Hollywood TV and film still exists, and even thrives, despite the immense power and money of Hollywood. EuroDisney was a spectacular failure, and McD's and KFCs are the first against the wall in almost every anti-globalization protest.

Second, There's a problem with Google. Ideally, technology and culture are not connected too tightly, but in reality there probably is a better indexing, globally, of English-language sites than there are of non-English sites. At the same time, trying to compete with Google means competing with their technology first and foremost.

Third, trying to compete with Google using a state-sponsored company seems, other than classically *cough*Airbus*cough* rather continental, but also probably doomed to failure. Google relies upon a much larger high-tech community to cherry-pick its developers from, and creating a Google in isolation wouldn't be the same. A more optimal solution is to work with Google and create a toolkit site that improves the presence of non-English media on Google's (and the Internet at large's) radar. This might mean sponsoring bundling translation software into desktops, finding an optimal way to enable sites to offer multi-language support without recreating content. You'll win (or hold your own) in a culture war by providing a valid, freely available, and interesting alternative.

To some extent, this is just competitive advantage; the US currently has a good supply of software innovators, and to counterbalance that, you'll have to put some long-term effort into it, but culture, OTOH, is a good unique to each region/locality, which can be capitalized on, and connected to the Internet without having to compete against Google.

There's another point which feels like it's in the subtext of Chirac's statements, not to mention the curious timing of this, which is a vote of no-confidence in US companies being independent and (reasonably, accepting inherent cultural blind spots that come with being American) neutral in the wake of the China dealings. This is also silly; Google/Yahoo/MSN are playing ball with the foreign, sovereign governments to cater to their specific needs. France (and Germany, who is also considering supporting Quaero) of all countries, should be ecstatic that these big names are willing to help them with their culturally-specific filtering (say, of nazi paraphrenalia, for instance). If they moved on it, they could maybe use the China-filtering as precedence for different treatment in the search engine. How about auto-translation of search terms to return relevant results regardless of language? Heck, that kinda sounds like a fun Firefox plugin...