April 30, 2008

DMOZ/ODP Community Management

It is now a month since I resigned as a volunteer meta editor in the Open Directory Project, and I continue to have very mixed feelings about that.  At the time I left, there were good reasons for doing so, and subsequent events have shown that the decision was the right one for me. Nevertheless, I still feel a great sadness at having left something which was very important to me.
I doubt I will ever stop using DMOZ as a resource, and nor will I lose interest in efforts to fulfil its social contract and maintain its reputation.

I still fervently believe that the volunteer model is the surest way of achieving this, which is why I feel so strongly about the way keen volunteers are recruited and "managed". It is very unfortunate that the ideas, concerns and observations of the volunteers themselves have so often met with disinterest or a negative reaction from DMOZ management. In addition to this (or perhaps as a result of it), a great many experienced editors have resigned, drifted away or reduced their input in the last couple of years, so it is clear that the community urgently needs renewed interest, direction and enthusiasm from those in positions of leadership and authority.
Fortunately, it appears that this might now be happening.

About a month ago, shortly after I left, there was a dramatic development within the ODP, with the surprise appointment of several new volunteer Administrators
These individuals were selected from within the community by AOL staff (in particular, the Editor-in-Chief), and they were accordingly granted wide-ranging access and permissions with which to manage the editorial community and the directory as a whole.
(Note that the list of names at the bottom of that page is several years out of date, and does not reflect the current group.)

With responsibilities and powers higher than those of all other volunteers, it is reassuring to know that these individuals are chosen not just for their obvious abilities, but with certain important expectations, and I have highlighted those which indicate to me that this might be the long-awaited turning point for the editorial community:
"Administrators are expected to:
  • Take an active, visible role in managing the project.
  • Communicate a shared philosophy and vision of the directory to internal and external parties.
  • Work with editors of all levels to ensure that quality standards are being met in terms of editing, ontology, and community management.
  • Evaluate and implement innovative proposals designed to improve the directory.
  • Encourage self-regulation at all levels, but resolve escalating contentious issues when necessary."
For example, two of their most important management roles, with direct effect on individual volunteers, are editorial "promotions" (an increase in the level of permission) and having the final say (except for staff of course) on whether or not decisions reached by those lower in the hierarchy will be implemented. 

Hence my optimism. Now that there is a larger group with the power to carry out these roles and provide the leadership and guidance necessary for a large organisation, there is the possibility for positive effects to be felt at all levels, resulting in increased confidence and motivation throughout the whole volunteer community. 
Potentially exciting times for the ODP, and as before, I wish my former colleagues and friends all the very best with this. :-)

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