Does France dislike Search Engines?

Thread Title:
Google's Book programme isn't great for Europe
Thread Description:

Reuters are reporting that :

France's national library has raised a "war cry" over plans by Google to put books from some of the world's great libraries on the Internet and wants to ensure the project does not lead a domination of American ideas

they actually throw up some good arguements. I don't agree with all of them but they are quite persuasive anyway.

Jean-Noel Jeanneney, who heads France's national library and is a noted historian, says Google's choice of works is likely to favor Anglo-Saxon ideas and the English language.

That's almost definately true, based on who G have currently partnered with and who is most likely to partner with them in the future.

Jean-Noel goes onto say:

"I favor a multi-polar view of the world in the 21st century," he said. "I don't want the French Revolution retold just by books chosen by the United States. The picture presented may not be less good or less bad, but it will not be ours."

Again that is admirable but isn't the onus on a European organisation, a search engine, an academic institute or an individual to balance the viewpoint by launching such a beast. An alternative, which I prefer is to open discussions with those that can help and do something about it.

Jean-Noel, this is a message to you, speak to the guys at the plex and offer them your works to be scanned and incorporated into the Google programme!

I feel pretty sure they'll say yes , and you get your amazing amounts of content digitised at no cost to you!


To answer the question of thi

To answer the question of this post: No, I don't think you can say "france dislike search engines" but it is clear that Europe, in general, seems to ask more questions of what is right or wrong and how major, and dominating, companies should act. Europe also have other traditions for consumer protection than the US so yes, France and Europe, in general, do view search engines differently than the Americans. I am not saying which view is right or the best but it is definately not the same :)

Jason... well-balanced post!

I think this issue is fascinating, and reminds me also of the France - Ebay - Nazi issue (or was it Yahoo!? Ack, long week).

Personally, I wish Europe would engage in a bit more competing instead of regulating... but in many contexts, I do understand and appreciate their arguments.

I'm hoping Google does rise to the occasion and find a way to make many aspects of their service more multi-cultural. They've already done such a superb and admirable job with translating their main site into different languages... so I'm hopeful.

There is no doubt that Google

There is no doubt that Google will learn to adapt - one way or another. Look how "well" they've done in China ... it only takes a bit of preassure :)


Interesting argument - but it's hard not to see French national pride being the main motivation - after all, they actually legislated to remove all English words to preserve the "purity" of their language a few years back. I'll bet it's not a "multi-polar world" he's after, but a strong French-language knowledge base.

So true.

Believe me, I've seen French nationalism up close...

Fine Line

Guys, there are plently of fine french folks reading Threadwatch - let's take a step away from the "fine line" please :)

Obviously not enough "fine French folks" reading TW

The thread was bound to fan Nationalism of one sort or another. It could equally have evolved into an anti-American rant, if the readership of TW had been slightly different.

The French feel (perhaps rightly) that their culture is under threat from the English (read American) language. However the Head of France's National Library in the Reuters article sited by Jason, says

He wants the European Union to balance this with its own program and its own Internet search engines.
"Here we find a risk of crushing domination by America in defining the idea that future generations have of the world," he wrote, urging the EU to act fast.

Whilst urging the EU to act fast a great warcry, it is a contradiction in terms, and he is extremely unlikely to get the EU to set up "its own search engine"

As Jason eludes at, he would undoubtably be better advised talking to Google, Yahoo and MSN if he actually wants to get a wider readership of French culture.

Its an interesting and debatable point as to how (dare I say) minor languages can survive. On the one hand people wish to preserve them They are even reviving Cornish right now (it dies 200 years ago). Irish was (unsucessfully) pushed after they got rid of English rule in the 1920s. French was the diplomatic language of the world until recently. German might have been, Chinese could be, Spanish has a wide remit. Few people get beyond speaking one language after their own

History as has been said "is written by the winners". In the past the winners were military, today they are economic. And American domination does worry a lot of people

I don't blame the French

They give us the statue of liberty - and we rename french fries as freedom fries. They must think we are idiots. I was suprised and delighted at how nice I was treated in France.

I have wondered before on the lack of French members at the conferences. Maybe I just don't know them, but in the circles I travel - I don't think I have met any.

I assume there are probably a great many good quality French texts on various topics that would be great for inclusion in Google. However, since most of them are probably in French - that doesn't bode well for the idea.

Ah, the irony ...

.. that the Lingua Franca of the web - and business - is English.

The Lingua Franca was not French though :)

Even more ironic, the French were responsible for the death of the original Lingua Franca

But this process was rudely interrupted by political changes that spelled the extinction of Lingua Franca in favor of French. The terminus ad quem of Lingua Franca is clear. It began to falter shortly after the arrival of the French in Algeria in 1830

Bloody pedant!

It was just a leetle bit. And German. And Italian.

Still, could have let it ride for the sake of a cheap laugh, n'est pas? :)

I think the french have a point

If you only had access to the fox network, your opinions would be very different to how the rest of the world think, no? I fully support this effort as the last thing the world needs is for everyones viewpoint to be "informed" by one or two dominant players. It is already happening in TV and print, please let us not have this happen on the web.

The small languages in Europe

The small languages in Europe, and the culture (art, traditions etc) that goes with it are not going to go away anytime soon - if ever. Anyone that knows Europe knows how devoted Europeans are to their local ways.

Having said that, I believe we are moving in the direction here that everyone speaks English on top of their own local language. At least, that is true for the nothern parts of Europe. There are many other countries outside of Europe that also use two languages - a local and a national (or regional, like Arabic). It works fine. The majority of all people can easily learn and master two languages if they grow up that way. But it takes time. Generations. But we are getting closer every day. The kids today, here in Denmark, speak so much better English than we did when I was that age. Most 12 year olds here can actually use english in a menaingfull way. Thats amazing.

But, no matter how well we will be at English I don't think we will give up our old local languages and definately not our traditions and cultures. With that also comes different regulations and laws in each country. If you want to do business in those countries you have to follow that law. And if you want to do well you better follow local traditions.

Many US companies have failed trying to enter Europe and more will come but as I said, I don't think the engines will among the failures. They will eventually learn to accept that Europeans decide what they want to allow here and adapt to it. After all, it's just business :)

Mind you...

...I don't blame the French for trying, but their efforts to bar (the) English (language) are quite extreme. There's even a subsidies system for French language pop songs. So - grin - whereas other European nations are happy to enter the Eurovision Song Contest with an English song once in a while,... well.

That said: being a designer, I know you sometimes have to aim high to compensate for your opponent's "low". That way, if you meet in the middle, you effectively get what you intended to achieve. (Also, French is a beautiful language...)

I just hope that's what people are after in most cases of extreme behaviour...


The French are probably the least capable linguists in Europe. When you watch French news it invariably focuses on France and the French ex-colonies - pretty much like US news is either domestic or follows their war machine around :)

France normally uses words like multipolar when it wants to use other nations for a political boost. Or specifially to polarize the rest of the world against the US.

I liked his example. He implies if Google does not publish French books, French readers will just go onto Google and read about the french revolution in English.... and pigs might fly.

Europe needs to plan it's survival...

The small languages in Europe, and the culture (art, traditions etc) that goes with it are not going to go away anytime soon - if ever. Anyone that knows Europe knows how devoted Europeans are to their local ways.

The last I read there are over 6500 active languages in the world and 4 go extinct each month. Experts estimate that 90% of the world's languages will die out:

One of the largest unspoken problems in Europe is the declining birth rate. Most European countries are not reproducing at a rate large enough to sustain their own populations. Germany has a birth rate of 1.38 children born/woman. That is 37% below replacement. To offset the ageing/dwindling population immigration programs were installed. Now, many European countries are facing in immigrant issue. France has started to take a hard look at the future and dosen't like what they see. So, you get France making laws strengthing their language and attempting to preserve their culture (think religious clothing at schools).

Why this concern? Because while the Europeans are not reproducing the immigrants are - at an alarming rate to some and they are *not* assimilating into the local culture... just ask the Dutch.


If I remember right, the Google library project involves Oxford University - so it's not just US uni's, just English-speaking ones.

It's simply hard not to see the reported comments by Jeanneney as simply as objecting to English as a descriptive language.

It's certainly a good idea to expand any initial documenting project beyond English - but let's see how the initial project develops first.

The single real concern I've seen raised on the project is as to what format the scanned documents will be in, and whether proprietary Google software will be required to access/display/analyse them.


It's very easy to start applying broad brushstrokes here, let us not slip into using stereotypes. I used to work for a french company, without exception the french folks were very open to other cultures, very thoughtful (sometimes frustratingly so for the more action oriented colleagues) and very knowledgeable about the world outside of france. They also spoke many languages. My experience is obviously different to others as I was working for a multinational company but my experience on holidays has not been vastly different. I don't see what the problem is about france trying to protect it's culture, identity and have their own home-documented history. All it will take is for (etc) to have a high proportion of french sourced data and for those documents to not be pushed to the back of the queue when running queries.

Besides, I am sure I saw the english as being the worst capable linguists in europe..

If Google go for other languages, then which..

..arguably Spanish is now a more important world language than French. There are more Germans then French in this world.

On a model based on Thatcherite (read Reaganite if not English) economics, Google, lets face it, will only put up non English literature if it is their (or their shareholders) interests.

I suspect that the French National Library will never get support from Google, nor the EU. So the world will never get the benefit of reading French literature in the original - but there again tthe world is not capable of reading it in the original language.

At least not until...

...the majority of Africans get bb internet.

Staying on Topic

It's very easy to start applying broad brushstrokes here, let us not slip into using stereotypes.

In fact, let's just avoid any comments that could lead to racial/ethnic tension please guys.

If we can stay on topic, and away from political/racial issues then i can avoid having to lock the thread. As you all know, we pretty much let topics run their course here, but this one is making me more than a little nervous :)

Thanks everyone...

Not to defend Google, but...

They are one of the first web companies to early on and with open arms the rest of the world. About 50% of their searches are non english (compared to ~8% for French) and about a third of their revenues comes from outside the US.

To me this issue is pretty simple. The French have valid concerns. But as most of their writing on historical subjects is in French - it will not be read by english readers no matter how it is indexed - if it is in English - it might very well already be in some of those libraries. By the same Token - people searching using the French language won't be likely to run across any works by American authors.

As google has done with other programs - it starts with English. They quickly moved into other languages with things like Google News. If it proves to be successful - I'd be willing to bet $$$ they will scan in other languages.

I'm just waiting for...

...automatic translation to really take off. That could really open up the web for everyone.

Imagine all those people now making their first steps on the internet. Imagine all those people who DON'T use English on a regular basis. WE might be able to read and write it, sure, but there are whole countries, even continents (and France is just an example) where speaking or reading English is NOT so obvious. There has never been a reason for them to get into it.

I don't like the concept of "learn English first, then surf", and I hope technology will keep the internet from having "secluded" communities based on language.

Machine Translation and other things

Machine translation is still a long way away from being truly useful. Although it can give an overview, depending on the length of the text it is difficult when one has to answer a communication. For example, the english proverb "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" when machine translated into Russian and that text then machine translated back into English, comes out as "The Vodka is good but the meat is rancid".

I am one of those people who speaks 'minority' languages and would not like to see them disappear even although I just don't find Dutch, German and to some extent Israeli comedians funny - however their languages and their cultures should be preserved and learned from. I also didn't want to see the currencies disappear to become euros. I liked guilders, all francs and marks. I didn't mind at all carrying envelopes around Europe when changing countries.

I was raised initially in Edinburgh. 40 Miles away is Glasgow. The cultures are totally different. Pretty much as different as Edinburgh and New York.

I believe the figures now, is that there are more Spanish speaking people on the web than there is English. I am sure someone can spend the time and track this down. In the future, I believe Chinese is going to be huge. Wait until the Chinese start figuring out how to use Press Releases - something that is totally foreign to them at the moment.

It would be nice to see the search engines getting more foreign language content and speaking to those countries on how they can better serve them in thier own language.

The parliament in Scotland is trying to make their web site accessable to many languages including BSL (British sign language - try SEOing that one).

Rather than having a knock at someone who is trying to ensure that their culture is included, let's be inclusive.

Hope I'm not being too lefty.

I have to ask

if I saw this on any other site I'd assume they were taking the piss .

Does the Scottish Parliament have a very good sense of humour or ......

and the conversation went:

"Scots, - You mean Gaelic" (GĂ idhlig for the informed)?
"No, Scots."

"Can you give me an example?"
"Oor Wullie and The Broons."

"Are you serious?"

"Would you also require a spellchecker for Microsoft Word developed to go with that?"

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