Sunday, April 10, 2005

Cherchez Le Web

The Académie Française was founded in 1635 with a national mission. It was to define the French language, to determine its grammatical rules and to make the language understandable by all who speak French. Except for a brief period between 1793 and 1803 (when the French were too busy chopping peoples’ heads off to argue about how to spell ménage a trois), the Academy has been beavering away ever since. 40 members (The Immortals) of the Académie are constantly reviewing punctuation, spelling, noun genders, and arguing about how to pronounce the French word for frog. The desire to protect and promote French language and culture is indeed a noble one. Unfortunately, politicians do not do noble.

Jacques Chirac, the President of France, has been alerted to a vile plot to undermine l’etat, to attack la gloire of France, and to threaten les citoyens. The enemy is not Al Quaeda, English football supporters, Turkish guest workers, George Bush or even Britney Spears. M Chirac is calling for the French to rush to the barricades in order to defeat the looming threat of omnigooglisation.

Jacques has declared war on Google. Ably assisted by Jean-Noël Jeanneney, head of the Bibliothèque Nationale and Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, Chirac has condemned Google’s plans to make the great literature of the world available on-line. These guys don’t have anything against literature – as long as the barbarian Anglo-Saxons don’t muck about with it. On learning of Google’s intentions, Jean-Noël described the plot as ‘confirmation of the risk of crushing American domination in the way future generations conceive the world’. Perhaps Jean-Noël comes from the part of France that borders Germany; he can smell an invasion from miles away.

The real problem seems to be that Google ranks information based on popularity. If you belonged to a group of 40 people who have been arguing over the past perfect subjunctive verb form for over 350 years, popularity is not high on your wish list. In response, France has decided to create its own search engine. Actually it has decided to create its own moteur de recherche. Of course there will be arrosage blockers to limit spam, and the service will be free of bogues. But the really neat feature is that the ranking of information will be determined by – consider this – a committee of experts. The judges of culture and good taste will review and rank the world’s 8 billion odd websites to safeguard those impressionable Frenchmen who decide to go en ligne. It is not clear whether the number of judges will be expanded to 4 million Immortals or the time allowed them will be expanded to 4 million years.

Another issue is the budget. Google is planning to drop about $200 million in loose change on their project. Since the French budget for their idea is about $1.5 million, the plan is to get the taxpayers of Europe to pony up. Great Britain (which is full of Anglo-Saxon barbarians) might decide to sit out this war. Since 74% of internet cherches in France are done through Google, the average Gaul may sit it out as well.

Google does have a counter strategy. If you google ‘Académie Française’ you’ll understand it. Don’t worry about the funny little bits above and below the letters; Google doesn’t. Then ask for their English translation of the site and click round it a bit. How do you say ‘gotcha’ in French?


Blogger Africanuck said...

Motorboat headings and fat? LOL

It doesn't translate most pages, is that normal?

10:04 AM  
Anonymous DV said...

Bring back the guys from the Spanish Inquisition, I say. They really knew how to stop people reading undesirable material.

11:16 AM  
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2:59 AM  

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