Sunday, January 7, 2007

Germany Quits EU-Based Search Engine Project

Germany Quits EU-Based Search Engine Project: The Quaero project, a French initiative to build a European rival to Google, has lost the backing of the German government. The search engine was announced in 2005 by Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, but the German government under Merkel has decided that Quaero isn't worth the $1.3-2.6 billion commitment that development would require. Germany will instead focus on a smaller search engine project called Theseus. From the article: 'According to one French participant, organizers disagreed over the fundamental design of Quaero, with French participants favoring a sophisticated search engine that could sift audio, video and other multimedia data, while German participants favored a next- generation text-based search engine.' (Via Slashdot).

This quote from the original article summarizes well I was skeptical about this project from the beginning:

"In Germany I think there was also resistance to the idea of a top-down project driven by governments," said Andreas Zeller, chairman of software engineering at the University of Saarland in Saarbr├╝cken, Germany, which supplied advisors to Quaero. "Success in the end is something that can't be planned but is something that begets itself."

The top-down project model does not work for building widely used goods and services because it is not responsive enough to early user feedback. The effectiveness of a search engine cannot be predicted, but it can be measured in the field. Bureaucratic top-down projects do not seem to be able to build something simple early, measure its effectiveness, and use the metrics to quickly evaluate proposed improvements. In other words, the design and development processes are not adaptive enough.

I like the analogy of learning how to ski late. One of the hardest things is to learn to trust fast low-level feedbacks and small adaptations, and push conscious control out of the way, because it is way too slow to do the right thing on time. Low-level adaptation comes from trying small adjustments and getting immediate feedback (oops, I'm out of balance!). Good teachers use exercises to decompose motions so that the student becomes aware of small perceptual and motor effects and can put into place robust adaptation processes.

In other words: effective complex artifacts or processes are unlikely to be designed as whole, they are much more likely to evolve through a process that quickly evaluates combinations of robust, field-tested pieces. Like biological evolution.

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