April 03, 2010

ODP/DMOZ: Down the Rabbit-Hole

The title refers to the first chapter of "Alice in Wonderland", because for many people the Open Directory Project seems to be an illogical, upside-down world, full of confusing inconsistencies and bewildering rules.

Sometimes this is due to a simple misunderstanding of the nature of the directory itself, but unfortunately some of the difficulty is due to more fundamental problems.

The concept of DMOZ is very simple: an international community of volunteers finds and sorts worthwhile sites into an organised collection which is made freely available to everyone, so that web surfers can more easily find what they are looking for.

Unfortunately, that single paragraph mentions most of the problems.

1. "Community of volunteers"
I have written at length on the subject of attracting more people to help build the directory, and I have even provided a detailed guide to completing a successful application. My own contributions as a volunteer have continued to mount up since I recorded them here 2 years ago, and I take pride in having added almost 30,000 sites to the directory. As a meta editor, I've accepted over 340 new editors and restored the accounts of more than 1200 others who wished to return to editing after some time away.

Such contributions are by no means unique or even noteworthy, but it is sad that dedicated volunteers receive almost no encouragement or support from directory management, who nevertheless feel they are entitled to be respected, solely as a result of their elevated position, even if their own contributions are negligible.

Unfortunately, I am once again suffering the same relentlessly negative attention from "above" to which I have previously referred, but I will say no more about that, because I do not want to hear the famous cry of Alice in Wonderland's Red Queen!
2. "Finds"
Volunteer editors look for sites wherever they can, both on the internet and in the "real world". One place they may choose to look is the pool of websites suggested by other people, but this is seldom a fruitful source.
Hence the most commonly heard question about the directory: "I suggested my site to DMOZ/ODP ages ago, so why isn't it listed yet?".

3. "Worthwhile sites"
The criteria for inclusion are available for everyone to read, but that doesn't stop many webmasters from trying to get completely worthless sites into the directory. Dealing with the endless suggestions from spammers wastes the time of volunteers who could otherwise be building the directory with useful sites.

4. "Freely available"
There is never any charge for using the directory (despite idiotic "corruption" rumours).
AOL supplies the technology involved in keeping it running, but resources are naturally limited for something which makes no money, so any necessary repairs, maintenance or improvements happen very slowly indeed, if at all. For example, the AOL Server Crash of late 2006 took the directory entirely off-line for two months. Much of the lost data was never recovered, and many of the resulting bugs are still there three years later.

This is extremely frustrating for the volunteers who work on the directory, but there is nothing they can do except wait for the long-promised DMOZ 2.0.

5. "Web surfers"
Unfortunately many webmasters and marketing agents want to believe that DMOZ is a free listing service to assist with site promotion, but it isn't, and never has been. The directory exists simply to help internet users find information, answers, products, services, ideas, or anything else they wish.

If there is such a thing as an "average" web surfer, that's who the volunteer editors are working for. :-)

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