November 07, 2009


I recently read yet another long-winded complaint from an ill-informed webmaster about the "lazy" editors in the Open Directory Project, so I decided it must be time to revive the issue of volunteering. If these persistent critics were willing to give to the Project even a tiny fraction of the time they spend complaining, we would see the directory grow by thousands more sites every week!
After all, it's really very easy to become an ODP editor.

We've had volunteers ranging in age from 12 to 80, from all over the world, of all educational levels, and even some with disabilities like blindness.
There are no time requirements other than at least one edit every 4 months (although many editors do a lot more than that), so even if you can spare only a couple of minutes every month, that is still a worthwhile contribution, and certainly way more productive than all those people who keep on and on and on about what somebody else should be doing on their behalf.

All it takes to apply is half an hour or so of your time to read the application instructions, find sites for the category where you want to edit, and complete the form carefully and honestly. Then wait for a volunteer meta-editor to review your application (usually in less than a week), and Ta Dah! you are a DMOZ editor.
How easy is that?

Unfortunately, the vast majority of new editor applications are completely unacceptable, and having personally reviewed over 12,000 of them, I still don't understand why. It's not as if the form is at all complicated (see my comment above about the range of people who have had no trouble with it), but in any case there are numerous guides and hints for those who do need assistance with applying - including the comprehensive FAQ that I provided here last year.

As with many aspects of DMOZ, there are a lot of misconceptions about the application and approval process, despite all the many explanations that have been provided by my colleagues and myself over the years. So once again, here are the most common reasons for rejection (based on the many thousands in my own personal experience):
  1. Not bothering to read the instructions (which therefore contributes to the following).
  2. Not completing the form honestly.
  3. Not understanding the category.
  4. Suggesting sites on the form which are already listed in the category.
  5. Suggesting only their own site(s).
Note that this list does not even mention the titles and descriptions provided by the applicant, despite the fact that these are often cited by misinformed people as the "main" reasons for unsuccessful applications.
Certainly it is sensible for an applicant to show that they have at least read the editing guidelines, because if they are accepted they will be expected to follow them. But it takes weeks to months of editing before these guidelines become second nature, so it is obviously unrealistic to expect an applicant to demonstrate familiarity.

There are frequent calls for more people to be accepted as DMOZ editors, so why are all these careless or dishonest applications a problem?
Firstly, the integrity of the ODP depends entirely on the honesty of its editors, so applicants must show they are willing to abide by the Conflict of Interest policies. A dishonest application is a very poor start.
Secondly, a person is unlikely to be able to contribute much to the directory if they cannot manage to find even 2-3 worthwhile sites that belong in the category they want to edit, but which are not yet listed there, and which don't all belong to them.
Thirdly, careless applications are a waste of everyone's time. Many hundreds of applications are received each week, and every single one is reviewed by one or more volunteer meta-editors or catmods, taking up to 30 minutes each, and every applicant then receives feedback, so the time involved is considerable, even when it does not lead to another editor joining the Project.

Let me finish with a reminder to all those whose applications were unsuccessful: the feedback you received was intended to help you complete a more careful and/or honest application, and many current editors were accepted only after doing just that.

Please consider re-applying - it's a fascinating hobby, and DMOZ (and the internet community) needs YOU!


nexDimension said...

I read your request for volunteers with some angst. We had submitted a site for consideration and since it was taking so long to be approved, thought that it would be a good idea to become an editor to help out. One of our staff submitted an application to become an editor. She is diligent and energetic but was told 'No'. Considering that she would have ended up doing the work during business hours when we would have been compensating her, it feels something like being turned away when you are trying to make a donation to a charity. Ouch!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your comment. I can understand your disappointment, but editors are expected to follow the editing guidelines and meet certain standards, in order to keep the directory useful for everyone. We certainly don't expect applicants and new editors to reach those standards without some help and practice, so naturally there is considerable on-the-job training, so to speak. :-) But of course this is done by other volunteers, so we need to know that a new editor is willing and able to accept advice and assistance with learning what is after all a new skill.
That's why every unsuccessful applicant receives explanatory feedback (often with individual, specific comments from the volunteer reviewer) with advice on how to prepare an application closer to the required standard. Many people take that advice, and subsequently become editors. Those that don't reapply may not have been prepared for the whole learning experience, or perhaps misunderstood the role of an editor.
I encourage your employee to reapply, following the advice she was given in the feedback, and the other resources available, such as that provided here. :-)


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