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ex machina

well, i'm back from out-of-town and getting back into the blogging swing of things. while i was gone, it appears that salon ran an article on google and it's use of the open directory.
"As Harik explains it, the decision to go with Open Directory -- just one player in a space that includes Yahoo, LookSmart and Excite, among others -- had two main drivers. One was the licensing -- it's pretty hard to argue with "free," whether you're talking software, beer or content. The ODP's evolving editorial culture was also a plus, said Harik. "We like the way submissions are made to the Open Directory, and we think it has the potential to be more accurate and more timely than other directories. The people who contribute to it care about what they're doing." The truly decisive point, though, was the Open Directory's potential to scale in parallel to the Web's hypercharged expansion."
this is pretty standard praise of the open directory, which i tend to agree with. [disclaimer: i also am biased towards liking the open directory, since they were prompt in accepting a section of] however, not everyone agrees that the open directory is so open. not too long ago, traffick ran an article on why the directory may not be so open after all:
"Lack of representativeness and lack of transparency. Unlike the federal bureaucracy in a democratic nation, you don't precisely know what the criteria for acceptance are. Criteria for progress through the ranks is similarly unknown. The Open Directory's procedures for accepting new editors or accepting site submissions are no more open or transparent than they are at private companies like Yahoo or Looksmart.

Incentive for corruption and excessive categorization of low-quality sites.Yahoo and Looksmart (presumably "closed shops") have employees performing similar functions to the Open Directory Category Editors. Think about this. Looking at it from the point of view of organizational sociology (yes, I must), the underlying reality is that these three are all organizations with rules and structures whose main output is the opinionated categorization, and importantly, rejection, of a vast number of submissions of web sites and Internet content. The key difference seems to be that dmoz category editors aren't paid. What is the likely result of this? Think about the analogy of a country whose bureaucrats are poorly compensated. Any textbook can give you examples. All moralizing aside, extremely low pay creates an incentive for the postal inspector or the traffic cop to engage in petty forms of corruption. What's my city health inspector's incentive to REALLY crack down on all the bug-infested restaurants downtown? And what might motivate a dmoz category editor to prevent their buddies' lower quality sites from getting one or even several listings? And are they likely to think about the whole mess all fits together, or is that someone else's problem? In fact, there are considerable incentives in volunteer directories to pump up one's numbers of site submissions, since that is the key criterion for advancement through the ranks. The web's best resources, therefore, are impossible to find, buried under a mountain of minutiae.

The "open" directory is owned by a $300 billion company. Most importantly -- and I hate to bring this to the attention of the self-governing republic of dmoz -- the relatively benevolent overseer of its operations, Netscape, was acquired by AOL, which recently merged with Time Warner, creating a $300 billion behemoth. To repeat: the Open Directory Project is owned by AOL Time Warner. The "project" now has marketing executives assigned to it, though you won't see that openly admitted on the "About us" page. AOL Time Warner: a bastion of openness? Quite the opposite. AOL loves to be proprietary. It dislikes the "open" Internet, but just now it probably wants as much PR as it can get which juxtaposes the word "open" with "AOL." This could help a lot in smoothing things by the regulators. Fair enough. But when that's all done with, AOL, how about some truth in advertising?"
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3/25/2000 08:00:00 PM 0 comments


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