June 11, 2008

ODP/DMOZ - a final word

Regardless of the shiny new "ODP 2.0" promised by staff in the official blog, the success or failure of DMOZ rests with its community of volunteer editors, and not with the machinery, appearance or marketing of the directory. Of course these things are important to keep it looking fresh, being relevant, and running smoothly, and technical improvements have been promised for several years, so an imminent date is certainly noteworthy.

But in the end, DMOZ is simply a directory of sites edited by volunteers.

So unless those volunteers want to spend their time maintaining and improving it, all the glitz and gloss will be pointless, and the ODP will suffer a sad, slow, and entirely preventable decline. 
It's so simple:
  • The ODP will be fresh only as long as volunteers are finding and adding new sites.
  • The ODP will be a valuable resource only while volunteers continue to create and build categories.
  • The ODP will be useful only if volunteers are writing accurate titles and descriptions.
  • The ODP will be trustworthy only if volunteers are prepared to identify and stamp out abuse.
  • The ODP will grow only while volunteers spend time reviewing applications and providing guidance and assistance to others.
Unfortunately, until the acknowledgment in that blog post (a milestone in many respects) DMOZ management has always seemed unwilling or unable to understand the importance of looking after those volunteers and supporting and encouraging them on an ongoing basis.

This distressing attitude was a major factor in my resignation several months ago, and soon afterwards I posted here about recent research into attracting and retaining volunteers. This subject is close to my heart, as many of my posts show, and over the last year or two I had seen this as an increasing problem for the directory, despite the best efforts of many of us.

The article was general in nature and positive in tone, so it was very disappointing that ODP management responded with an astonishingly personal attack, ridiculing my contributions and openly questioning my interest in the editorial community and the project as a whole. It seems bewilderingly counter-productive for the management of any volunteer organisation to indulge in such an inappropriate and short-sighted attack. Not only does it reveal a distressing lack of respect towards volunteers in general, but it must surely discourage others from contributing too much, lest they be similarly ridiculed.

Well, more than two months have passed, and I still dearly miss being an editor and contributing to such a wonderfully worthwhile project. So despite the lingering distress caused by the above incident I would probably have been ready to return by now, and I had even thought of asking for reinstatement at a less responsible level, to avoid many of the problems which contributed to my resignation. It would have given me immense pleasure to rejoin my friends and resume many of the activities I found so enjoyable and fulfilling.

Unfortunately, several recent events have demonstrated that despite the new additions to the team, DMOZ community management in general continues to be seriously out of touch with the needs and concerns of the editorial community. Without their commitment, support and leadership, the project lacks the team spirit and sense of collaborative effort that made it a fun place to be.
Perhaps one day that energy and enjoyment will return. If and when it does, I will be first in line for reinstatement (if they'll have me back after this post, of course).

Until then, I must turn my back on the ODP. Kudos to a friend for pointing me to a very apt Shakespearean sonnet:
And right perfection rightfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly doctor-like controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

1 comment:

Nathan Johnson said...

As long as RDK is in charge, nothing will change. He'll continue to promote those that agree with his idea of what the directory should be - or at least those he thinks agrees with him until they've reached the highest levels. This community management model is fatally flawed as it will always result in discussions decided by his flock, resulting in a continual regurgitation of the status quo. It is difficult to believe that a large Internet company thinks that a product designed in 1998 will continue to be useful in 2008 and beyond.


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