Volunteer-Driven Web Directories

Web Directory Reviews Org encourages participation in any of the few volunteer-driven web directories that are still online and active.

Web directories, of course, are collections of web sites organized by category and subcategory, providing information about web pages. Although some hybrids exist, directories generally differ from search engines in that they don't use spiders to index the web pages in their database. Rather, they include the title, a brief description of each indexed web site, and a link, although many include additional information as well.

In most cases, a web directory will include a submission form, or another means by which web site owners can submit their site to be considered for inclusion in the directory's database. Often, a submission fee is charged, but many web directories accept free submissions.

Many web directories are owned and operated by one or two individuals who manage the entire operation of the directory. Others hire teams of editors and others to manage the operations of the directory, either full or part time.

Still others are volunteer-driven, operated, in full or in part, by people who volunteer their time to perform various tasks for the operations of the directory, which may be limited to certain editing tasks or expanded to the full range of management.

The most prominent of these is DMOZ, which has been known by several names throughout the years, some at the same time. DMOZ began as Gnuhoo in 1998, with Rich Skrenta, Bob Truel, Chris Tolles, Bryn Dole, and Jeremy Wenokur as its founders. In response to objections from the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project, its name was changed to NewHoo shortly after it went live. When Yahoo! objected to the use of "Hoo" in its name, its name was again changed. The directory was going to be changed to ZURL but, before this change could be made, the directory was bought by Netscape in October of 1998, after which it became the Open Directory Project, which was often abbreviated as the ODP. Because the directory was hosted at directory.mozilla.org, it was frequently referred to as DMOZ, which recently became its official name.

As the Open Directory Project became widely known, two other directories, Go.com and Zeal, emerged to compete, using a similar business model. Neither of them survived, however.

Owned by the Walt Disney Internet Group, Go.com launched its Go Guides directory in October of 1999, utilizing a large team of volunteer editors. However, in January of 2001, Disney announced that it would be discontinuing its volunteer-edited directory, an act that itself spawned at least three directories that are still in operation: JoeAnt, GoGuides, and Skaffe, although JoeAnt is the only one of the three that is still volunteer-driven.

Also launched in 1999, Zeal was acquired by LookSmart in October of 2000. The Zeal directory used a combination of paid staff and volunteers. Using a system of tests, Zeal's volunteer editors were able to progress through different levels, each allowing additional responsibilities. Its volunteers could progress from Community Member, to Zealot, to Expert Zealot, the latter of which were able to move or delete categories, monitor the operations of the non-commercial portion of the directory, and mentor new members. However, Zeal became commercially less lucrative after MSN withdrew from its related partnership with LookSmart, and Zeal was closed on March 28, 2006.

As it turns out, I was one of the early editors with the Open Directory Project (DMOZ), a Go Guide, and a Zealot, so I have an affinity with volunteer-driven directories.

For a number of reasons, prominent among them, I suspect, the economic times that we live in today, there are not very many active volunteer-driven directories still in existence.

Now owned by America Online (AOL), the Open Directory Project is still alive and kicking, although it recently dropped "Open Directory Project" from its name, and is now known simply as DMOZ. A dinosaur in the web directory industry, DMOZ utilizes a combination of a few paid staff members and thousands of volunteer editors, who may progress from Editor, to Editall, to CatMod, to Meta Editor.

DMOZ also maintains a private forum that is used primarily for the discussion of various directory issues, but which also includes a social area that may be significant in the retention of editors.

I have been on the outside of DMOZ for more than a decade but, viewing the directory from the outside, it appears that its team of editors are having trouble maintaining the directory. No, I am not talking about the years that it might take for an editor to review a submission, because the purpose of the directory has never been to meet the needs of site submitters. Rather, I am referring to categories that once had sites, but which are now empty, and those that haven't been updated in seven years or more.

However, other parts of the directory are well maintained and current. I would love to see active editors in more of its categories, and I strongly encourage anyone who thinks that they may have an interest in learning the web directory industry to volunteer as an editor with DMOZ. The sense of community at DMOZ is valuable, as are the skills that can be learned there, which include political as well as editing skills. Signing up is easy, although not everyone is accepted. Once accepted, you will find that DMOZ has an impressive set of tools for adding, deleting, and updating links, as well as an internal communication system that may be unparalleled, and these have likely improved in the decade or more since I have been involved.

Another active volunteer-driven web directory is JoeAnt, mentioned earlier as a spawn of Disney's Go.com directory. JoeAnt launched on May 24, 2001, and has grown to be one of the larger directories on the Internet, and one that has been included in my top ten since Web Directory Reviews Org began evaluating directories in the first quarter of 2013.

While not nearly as large or comprehensive as DMOZ, the two are familiar in their inclusion standards, and in the way in which titles and descriptions are to be written. Having been an editor for both DMOZ and the Go.com directory, I find JoeAnt to be more similar to DMOZ than to Disney's former directory, although I don't believe that JoeAnt has internal forums for its volunteers.

Unlike DMOZ, JoeAnt is entirely volunteer-driven, with no paid employees or staff, and those who apply to become volunteers with JoeAnt are added immediately, although they are restricted to one area of the directory and the contributions of beginning editors must be approved by more experienced volunteers.

Best of the Web (BOTW) utilizes volunteers in its Best of the Web Blogs Directory. Volunteer editors locate and categorize blogs for categories that they edit. Like DMOZ, new editors typically begin editing small categories but may advance to larger categories as they gain experience.

To become a BOTW Blog Directory editor, you would navigate to a category that you are interested in, and click the link near the bottom of the page that reads, "Become a BOTW Editor," then complete the application form.

Another volunteer-driven web directory is Wikidweb, but it more closely resembles a free-for-all directory, in that web site owners are able to add their own sites directly, although there is a degree of editorial oversight preventing it from filling with spam. Still, it is unlikely that anyone adds sites that are not their own.

There may be others, and probably are. If you know of another active volunteer-driven web directory, let me know about it and I'll add it, either here or in a separate post.

Note: Among other things, my Musings column is used to promote specific web directories, and to offer comment on general directory issues. Nothing that I post here is a paid advertisement and (Google, if you're listening) the links that I add here are intended to be votes. -- admin@webdirectoryreviews.org

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