Clinton, Kasparov at the Accoona launch

12/18/2004 – Accoona is a new company that specializes in two things: creating and running an advanced Google-style search engine, and building business relations between China and the rest of the world. And they are interested in chess. Last week the company was launched, in a swanky restaurant in New York with a glittering array of special guests.

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Accoona is not an unknown entity for the visitors to our news pages. Accoona, and the associated company Chinacom, have in the past year have staged a number of chess events that took place on the Playchess.com server. Here are some articles for you to peruse, in case you missed them the first time they appeared on our site.

After a very intense year of preparation the Accoona search site was launched on December 6th. As friends of the company we were invited and duly attended. Especially since there were a number of chess personalities in attendance. The most prominent was Garry Kasparov. There was also a very prominent keynote speaker, to whom we will come to in a second.

The Accoona Launch

The long-awaited launch of the Accoona project took place in the swanky Tavern on the Green on West Central Park. A group of selected journalists were treated to hors d'oeuvres, and a sumptuous buffet with oysters, clams, leg of lamb, seared tuna, and other gourmet treats, with an open bar to round things off.


Security was tight and you needed a special invitation to attend. The reason was clear once you saw who the keynote speaker was going to be.


Before the start of the ceremonial launch there was a get-together in the VIP room. In the middle of this group photo we see Eckhard Pfeiffer, Accoona’s Chairman of the Board, Bill Clinton and Garry Kasparov.


The three pose for our cameras


GM Ron Henley gets to meet the president


The New York Sports Commissioner Kenneth Podziba, who has been involved in the staging of numerous chess events, with the president. In the background Susan Chen, a Yahoo Overture executive (Yahoo is cooperating with Accoona on the search engine project).


Paul Hoffman, who is also well known in the chess community, with his wife and the president


One more shot of the 42nd president of the United States with the strongest chess player of all time


After the social meetings in the VIP room the launch began

First Jonathan McCann (below left), Executive Director of the Accoona Corporation, introduced Zhang Ping, CEO of China Daily, the largest English language web destination in China, who read a letter of congratulations from the Minister of China’s State Council Information Office.


Ping: “I believe that this project will provide an opportunity for Chinese companies, especially small and medium-sized ones, to meet and do business with their foreign counterparts. At the same time Accoona will help foreign companies to find more business opportunities in China.”

Next came Eckhard Pfeiffer, who used to be the CEO of Compaq Computers, and is currently serving on the boards of General Motors and Ericsson. Eckhard, who hails from Munich, Germany, is now Accoona’s Chairman of the Board. In his speech he explained what the new Accoona search engine is all about: Normally a keyword search may retrieve either no significant results, or millions of them, which are impossible to process. Accoona’s Artificial Intelligence search technology greatly improves search productivity by returning more relevant results, based on the meaning of words, beyond just the keywords. In additions it provides ‘super-targeted results’, which are produced when the user ranks the importance of the keywords.

“I’ve been involved in search engine technology at an early stage, when I ran Compaq," said Pfeiffer. "We acquired Alta Vista, one of the most powerful search engines at the time. I can assure you that Accoona’s AI search technology is several step functions more advanced and truly revolutionary by comparison.

Accoona also incorporates a proprietary database of business information – detailed records of millions of companies worldwide, including five million Chinese companies. When you visit a commercial web site Accoona’s ‘Quick Profile’ function can provide information on the company’s annual sales, number of employees, the names of the executives, contact information and other significant details. Accoona has filed patents for hundreds of claims to cover their new AI search techniques. The cooperation with the Chinese government and China Daily guarantees Accoona access to literally millions of users per day. And it is a rapidly growing market: China’s currently 80 million Internet users represent only seven percent of the country’s population. At the end of 2005 it is projected that China will overtake the US as the world’s largest national Internet community."

And how can this new enterprise expect to make money? "The revenue model of Accoona is paid advertising, targeted to specific search terms" said Eckhard Pfeiffer. "Paid keyword search represents one third of the estimated ten billion dollars spent on online advertising in the year 2004."

At the end of his speech Pfeiffer gave the floor to the keynote speaker, William Jefferson Clinton. It was certainly the highlight of the evening. Looking a little frail (from recent heart surgery) the 42nd President of the United States immediately had the audience enthralled. He was eloquent and intelligent, knowledgeable on the subject, effortlessly finding a rapport with the computer people gathered in the hall.

Photographing the president during his speech was not an easy task. Clinton has a habit of seeking and finding eye contact, especially with people he recognises even from brief encounters in the VIP room. He will formulate an entire thought without taking his eyes off you, and it would be boorishly rude to raise a camera and point it into his face at such moments.

Clinton obviously knew what he was talking about. Paul Hoffman, who had been to the White House on a number of occasions and had seen Clinton receive astrophysicist Stephan Hawking and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, told us that the president had spent hours quizzing each of these guests on details of their research. At the Accoona launch there were teleprompters installed for the speakers, but as far as we could see Clinton made absolutely no use of them.

We were so impressed by Clinton's speech at the Accoona launch that we have transcribed all of it for you. At the bottom of the page you will find a link where you can see and listen to all four speakers – McCann, Zhang Ping, Pfeiffer and Clinton. At the end of the video clip Pfeiffer and Clinton conduct the very first search on the Accoona site.

Bill Clinton's keynote address

I was thinking, as I listened to the previous speakers, that when I became president in January of 1993, there were a grand total of fifty – five, oh – sites on the Internet. When I left there were fifty million. And now there is a countless number, which makes the work of Accoona all the more important. Searching the net, I know, could take up your whole life, if you didn’t have a little help. I congratulate you on the technology, some of which I have seen demonstrated here, and on what you are doing.

I’d like to talk just a moment on why I think this is so important, not only for China, but for the advance of civilisation. We live in a highly interdependent world. For most of us in this room it has brought enormous benefits. Most of us are far better off than we would have been had we lived thirty, forty or fifty years ago. We have been brought into contact with one another as never before – and soon there will be no language barrier on the Internet. Translation from one language to another will become instantaneous, and people will have all kinds of conversations they can’t have now. Our world has been made smaller.

But I think it is worth noting that this interdependence, so far, is a mixed blessing. Interdependence simply means that we cannot escape each other. There are no unbreachable barriers. For those of us who have benefited it’s been great. But half the world’s people still live on less than two dollars a day. A billion people still live on less than a dollar a day. Interdependence has been seen in a negative way in health care where a sneeze in Hong Kong led to a SARS epidemic in Canada. But it has also been seen in how quickly the SARS epidemic was handled, thanks to the responsible reaction of the Chinese government, and the work that all the rest of us around the world did in turning back the tide. We see it in the AIDS epidemic, which was largest in the United States when I became president, and yet in eight short years, by the time I left office, our infection rate had dropped to under one percent, the death rate had dropped by over seventy percent. Seventy percent of the cases were in Africa. And yet, the fastest growing rates of AIDS were in the former Soviet Union on Europe’s back door, in the Caribbean on America’s front door, in India, the largest democracy on earth, and in China, the largest nation on earth. I see the interdependence all the time because my foundation does work in the AIDS area. We cut the price of generic medicine and testing equipment by about seventy percent, and we hope to serve two million people in China, India, the Caribbean – and now we’ve been asked to go into Russia and five countries in Africa.

What’s the point of all that? The larger significance of what you are doing here, is that it offers the possibility of bringing the benefits of the interdependent world to more people, and shrinking its burden. I can tell you that when 9-11 occurred in this city, I was in Australia, talking on the telephone to two of my former staff members who were in lower Manhattan. They talked me through the second plane hitting the tower. The second it hit the tower I said to them: “Al Qaeda did this – bin Laden did it!” They said “How do you know?” I said because there are only two organisations in the world who had the capability of pulling this off. One is related to the government of Iran, but they would never do it because they have a country in target. Bin Laden lives in the mountains of Afghanistan, the terrorist organisation is amorphous and often hidden throughout the world. What made it possible for them to pull this off? In part, access to the Internet and technology. They are highly technology-literate.

But, all over the world there are positive benefits in education and health care, in economic development, only now beginning to be realised. In the Andean mountains of Bolivia where we are struggling to protect the people from the dangers of narco-trafficking and organised crime, there are small entrepreneurs who are marketing their products in the United States thanks to the Internet. So the idea that China will now be connected will first of all help to spread freedom of information and knowledge and understanding across the globe. Eventually it will help the Chinese to solve what I think will be one of their largest long-term problems, which is an almost unsustainable movement of people to the large coastal cities where the economic opportunities are, breeding all the kinds of social challenges you have when half your population moves to town, and the absence of similar economic opportunities in rural areas.

It is something you see in every country on earth. In India we recently had an election where the governing party was thrown out after having established a remarkable economic record – looking at the numbers. The problem was that the economy, though the numbers were great, was only benefiting a third of the people, who lived in and around the seven big high-tech centers in India. The other seven hundred million people decided they wanted part of it. There was no way – no way – that can happen without the benefit of information technology.

So I ask all of you to think about this. We live in a world where there is a great deal of emphasis now on fighting terror and protecting all the countries from terrorist incidents – whether it is what we experienced here, or the horrible incident in Bali, or the terrible blow-up of the train in Spain. Everybody is focused on stopping the big bad things from happening. That’s a good thing. Contrary to the conflict between the United States and much of the rest of the world over Iraq, everyone is working together to try to take down the Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks. Thousands of people whom you don’t know, unless one of them happens to be in your family, are working every day, silently and anonymously, in the intelligence agencies, the law enforcement agencies of the world, using the Internet to cooperate to take down terrorist cells and prevent terrorist attacks. But in an interdependent world you cannot possibly kill, jail or occupy all of your adversaries. It cannot be done. No nation is strong enough to have a modern diverse economy and kill, jail or occupy all of their adversaries within or beyond their borders. So in the end we have to build a world with more partners and fewer enemies. We have to be reconciled with each other, and in order to do that we have to understand each other. We have to find specific positive things to do that will give people something to look forward to in the morning. People who get up in the morning in a positive frame of mind, with something to look forward to, are not much interested in making bombs. They are more interested in giving an education to their children, and having a dignified old age, and having a coherent family life. I don’t believe any of that can occur in the timeframe in which we have to work without spreading the benefits of information technology.

And so I say again I am grateful to you, I hope you all make a lot of money, I hope this is very successful, I think you will all get rich. But remember there is a larger social purpose here. If you do this right, every time we get another million people in China on the Internet, we minimize the chances that ten, twenty, thirty years from now there’ll be a destructive conflict over water, over oil, over territory or over anything else. And we maximize the chances that we will live in peace and harmony, widening the circle of opportunity in the 21st century. We’ve got to build a world where we share responsibilities and we share benefits, because we think that our common humanity is more important than our very interesting differences. Technology is key to achieving that goal.

So I hope you get a big run-up on your stock price, I hope you have a great time doing it. But remember you’re doing something profoundly good for humanity and the future as you do.

Thank you very much.

Here's a little postscript for those of you who have made it all the way through this report. The very nice lady who gave us our accreditations and looked after us at the Accoona launch, Polina Balaban, was quite exhausted at the end of the ceremony. She stepped outside the Tavern on the Green for a quick smoke. There she was approached by a guest, who crossed the lawn to speak to her. "You shouldn't do that, you know," said the man. "Smoking is bad for your health." Polina returned to the Tavern and told us: "What can I do, I have to quit smoking. The President of the United States told me to do so."

Frederic Friedel

Links

The name "Accoona" derives from the Swahili phrase "accoona matata" which means "no worries". If you visit the site (click on the logo above) you will see that the search engine looks very much like Google. One immediate difference is that unlike Google, which give its virtually ads in a column on the right, the Accoona search lists sponsored results at the top of the page. These look like normal search results and can confuse the visitor. For instance a search for "ChessBase" will list 24,191 entries, but with commercially sponsored entries on the top, e.g. "Chessbase on eBay". The meaningful results start on the middle of the page after the subtitle "Web results". This is not the case for "SuperTargeted" searches, where the ads appear in a separate column on the right.

The Accoona site and the search engine are still under construction and will be running at full power at the end of January 2005. Incidentally a Google search for "Accoona" this weekend retrieved 266,000 results.


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