When French president Jacques Chirac announced that he was putting €450m into a project to create the Quareo search engine, a Franco-German challenger to Google, many observers thought he had been sniffing a little too much camembert.

There are few European competitors to the Californian giant, something that has been a particularly sore issue with the protectionist French. Even attempts to resist the Americanisation of technological language - such as replacing neologisms like "blog" with French translations like "joueb" - have proved unsuccessful. But instead of continuing to fight the language that is used on the web, it seems Chirac has decided to fight the web itself.

In fairness, Quaero is not an isolated endeavour: it is part of a much wider revolt against American dominance of the web. The battle between Washington and the rest of the world came to a head last year, when a consortium of countries opposed to US control of the web's root servers - the handful of machines that run the entire internet - brought challengers into direct conflict with the White House. In this picture, nations around the world are looking to exert their internet independence and Google is a bystander, drawn by its success into a wider conflict.

But can anybody take on the dominance of the little search engine? That question is already being answered in China, where the biggest search engine is Google's local rival, Baidu.com, now the fifth biggest site on the net. Many put Baidu's success down to being a local company with local knowledge, which allowed it to be in the right place at the right time to catch China's own dotcom boom.

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