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DMOZ In Danger? Not So Much, Says DMOZ Editor

DMOZ: Open DirectoryThere's been a lot of active discussion about the state of AOL's directory project, DMOZ. There have been many attempts to unseat the directory project from its position as the most authoritative listing resource, such as the Yahoo Directory. Many of these attempts have fallen by the wayside, as Rand Fiskin points out, but none have remained more controversial than DMOZ. More recently, Chris Crum's post on WebProNews about his lack of respect for DMOZ has stirred up a hornet's nest of DMOZ criticism, including a particular post claiming DMOZ is a waste of time.

I forwarded a lot of this on to Philip Nicolcev, known by username as "frug", who is the editor of several roleplay-oriented categories on DMOZ. He responded to me directly with a highly insightful email, and I was fortunate enough to receive his permission to share its contents.

I've been editing the pbp category at DMOZ for what... 4 years now? About that. This article is a big whiny complaint which misses the mark. They are both correct and sadly mistaken. Yes, dmoz is outdated and yes, it fails because of attitude problems, but not silly allegations of 'corruption' or people who are bitter because they didn't get listed. We don't list everything, I don't list even half of the submissions I get, and anyone who has been an administrator or an editor for a similar type of project knows better than to take these kinds of complaints seriously. One thing they say is definitely correct: Apply once carefully following their rules if you wish and then, as Will suggested, forget about them.

This is exactly the approach that should be modeled for any directory, regardless of its state or condition. When you are submitting a link to a directory, you are being offered the privilege to be listed as a resource by the owners and management of that directory. They are not obligated to list your link, let alone review it in a timely fashion--but this would be genuinely appreciated and would reflect on the directory's position as a "good" resource.

DMOZ is the primary source for Google's Directory, and you must respect the opinion of such a large and successful company. It's obvious that the idea behind an open directory like DMOZ is good, but where they fail is in execution. More on that later.

He continues:

That is what you should do. Apply once and forget about it, don't claim anybody is corrupt because whether you believe my opinion or not, there's no corruption. Nobody cares enough about dmoz anymore for it to be valuable for extortion. Don't be ridiculous. Furthermore if you were to speak to some of the senior editors you'd discover that they are pretty damn uptight, even obsessive. The problems with dmoz are, in my opinion, twofold. First off, you have the dated trashy look of the website which is a relic of the 1990's. It's not user friendly, it doesn't entice anyone to go browsing, and it hasn't adapted or added features that would help people understand the structure of the directory or find what they're looking for. The editor forums still use phpBB2, and you should see the editing panel. You wouldn't believe how dated this stuff is. Frankly it has needed an overhaul for years now.

I largely agree with him. The phpBB team deprecated the phpBB2 branch at the beginning of this year, ending support for the outdated platform. AOL would do well to do a complete overhaul of the site's design now that "Web 2.0" has come and gone (and I could reference posts all day on that) - and AOL has completely missed their opportunity to latch on and ride the wave.

Philip finishes his correspondance with the frightening truth that has been plaguing many post-Web2.0 sites and services:

The second problem, attitude, is partially the cause of the first problem. It's a stagnant atmosphere where nothing gets done and nobody gets listened to. They would rather leave a directory as a cluttered mess of garbage than risk breaking its structure by overhauling it. Fixing my category took me about two years before I had approval to restructure it, and I'm in a small niche category nobody pays much attention to. Since becoming an editor I have deleted about 60% of the outdated links listed. Had I not joined, they'd still be there cluttering things up with linkspam geocities pages from 10 years ago. So yeah, dmoz is failing, but not because of corruption or because some guy didn't get what he wanted. And, honestly, if the author of this article was applying to dmoz just to 'test how fair it was' then I'm glad they rejected him. Somehow they made the right decision because he's wasting their time.

And that's the exact problem - the DMOZ community has completely stagnated, which has resulted in the puddle of goop that the directory has become. In my personal opinion, I think that AOL could do a lot better job at community management (all reputation management aside) by setting up a more rigid structure of responsibility. The editors need to be held responsible for a timely review specified by their superiors, and there needs to be cross-checking of the editor's work by other qualified editors.

Is this another example of AOL's purchases being mismanaged and ultimately being forgotten, such as what many people claim is the case with ex-Nullsoft product WinAmp? Perhaps, but I think that remains to be seen. After all, even our favored Google took a questionable amount of time to convert phone-consolidation service GrandCentral to the new Google Voice after its 2007 acquisition. DMOZ was in fact originally a Netscape project, which then-strong AOL acquired in 1998. Since that acquisition, little has changed.

All said and done, DMOZ needs some love if it's going to survive as anything more than a relic of trust and authority in the Web 2.0 bubble. As Philip points out, it has both good and bad traits and deserves further attention, but it needs to be attention in (and from) the right direction. The questions remain; where has AOL been? What can be done about the editors (or lack thereof)? How can DMOZ be improved?

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