May 20, 2010

DMOZ/ODP - finally FUBAR?

a) DMOZ/ODP is the Open Directory Project

b) FUBAR is only one small step from SNAFU
A representation of a) and b) -->

To quote from my gloomy post of almost a year ago,
"DMOZ/ODP ... fills all the criteria for a fertile SNAFU breeding ground: Communication between [editors and management] is sporadic, and rife with misunderstandings due to the very different priorities involved. Every now and then a brave editor will try to point out some of the more damaging "foul-ups", but such impertinence is poorly received, and no changes ever result, despite a bewildering procession of New Staff Members who arrive with great fanfare, announce all sorts of improvements, and then vanish without a trace.
SNAFU, for sure, but at least it keeps going. I only hope it doesn't decline further into FUBAR
You be the judge ...
  • At the end of 2006, there was a major server malfunction at AOL (owner and operator of the project), and DMOZ suddenly vanished from view. It was offline for more than 2 months, but during that whole time, despite many many requests for information, thousands of volunteers (not to mention countless users) were left in the dark about the reasons and/or progress in repairing the problem.
  • When the server was finally fixed and the directory became functional again, it transpired that AOL had inadvertently destroyed or lost many of the backup files, meaning that tens of thousands of hours of volunteer work was lost forever. Heroic efforts by a couple of high-level editors resulted in a small fraction of the material being retrieved, but the effects of the missing data are felt every day, even now.
  • As if that were not bad enough, many of the internal functions and editor tools were broken in the Crash, making things much harder and more time-consuming for the volunteer editors. In fact, lots of basic features and tools are still broken, more than 3 years later, despite extensive and almost continuous bug reporting by volunteers to paid ODP staff and AOL technicians.
  • In addition to the persisting post-Crash problems, hardly a month passes without something else going missing, or failing to work properly, but the answer from AOL is always "We are working hard on DMOZ 2.0, so we can't spend time or resources on DMOZ 1.0."
  • Three years ago that seemed a reasonable allocation of priorities, but see "DMOZ 2.0 - Nirvana or Neverland?" and "ODP/DMOZ: Plus ├ža change" for how thin this excuse has become.
So, what has been the reaction of the international community of volunteer editors to all this?

Many, of course, lost interest during the Crash, and left the project forever.
Others remained, but with greatly reduced activity, preferring to spend more of their hobby time on something less precarious.
Some tried nobly to regain their previous productivity, but then drifted away over the next year or two as a result of the ongoing bugs, data loss, and general decline in community morale.

This leaves very few active and experienced editors to continue building the directory, to assist newer editors, propose and implement improvements, undertake quality control, and perform all the other tasks once shared between a much larger and more enthusiastic community.

But it's not just a matter of numbers.

The apparent disinterest of AOL and paid ODP staff, the lack of effective leadership, the continuing bugs and frequent server slowdowns, and the relentless accusations and complaints directed at volunteers ... is it any wonder that the editorial community has lost the sense of companionable enthusiasm and dedication it once had?
Not to mention the unfortunate tendency of some people in positions of power to react badly to any perceived criticism or disagreement from those they are supposed to be leading and encouraging.

It is so sad that something which has such tremendous potential seems to be falling victim to so many fixable problems.

Update 12 June 2010
A major part of the editor interface has been broken for over a week now, with many tools completely out of action, along with what anyone might consider to be essential user features such as the ability to report editorial abuse.
An all-too familiar situation for those editors who have not lost all patience with these breakdowns and moved on to less frustrating hobbies.


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