Farewell to DMOZ

DMOZ (also known as the Open Directory Project or ODP) claims to be the most comprehensive human edited directory of the Web. It is hosted and administered  by Netscape Communications (a subsidiary of AOL) and uses a hierarchical ontology for organising site listings. The data is made available as an RDF-like dump under a Creative Commons Attribution license and apparently still powers the core directory services for many of the Web’s largest search engines and portals. The other main distinguishing feature of DMOZ is that it is constructed and maintained by a community of volunteer editors.

In 2004 I applied to be a DMOZ category editor for climate change activism and my application was approved on 2004-04-07 (later I successfully applied to edit a second category). Here is my DMOZ editor profile. Members of the public can submit websites for inclusion in the directory and I have tried to log in to my DMOZ editor account at least once a month to check for new submissions. Sometimes I see errors flagged (for example a listed site is returning a 404 error) and it is up to me to deal with them. Sometimes I have added a listing myself where I thought it was appropriate. The last few times I logged in there was nothing to do and when I tried a couple of days ago there was a message telling me that my login has been inactivated – editor logins expire if an edit has not been made in four consecutive months. This actually happened to me once before and that time I went through the reinstatement procedure but this time I decided not to bother, hence the title of this post. Allow me to explain.

I considered that my role as an editor was to ensure that my categories listed a representative selection of high quality relevant websites and I would approve or reject submissions on that basis. Many webmasters however seem to think that DMOZ is run for their benefit, a way of driving traffic to their site and improving its ranking, basically they consider DMOZ to be a free SEO tool. With this in mind I can understand some of the criticism that has been levelled at DMOZ – that many submissions are not approved in a timely fashion (if at all).

One problem is that there are not enough committed volunteer editors for the job. Part of the reason is that the directory has grown so big, or rather that the hierarchy of categories has become too complex. Many people seem to think that the hierarchical structure itself is the problem and that such a directory should use a folksonomy as its system of classification. The fact is that many DMOZ categories do not have their own editor and editing responsibility falls upon the editor of a parent category who then has too much to cope with. Even where a category does have its own editor they may have become disillusioned or too busy to do the job properly, which in some ways is what happened to me. Although things have been quiet recently I used to get a lot of submissions in the climate change activism category and the vast majority were entirely unsuitable. Firstly there were the climate change deniers who used to try to sneak their sites into activism rather than submit them to the appropriate category. There were also any number of submissions which offered top tips to reduce your personal carbon footprint, advice on buying lower emission cars, climate change themed T-Shirts for sale, information about trading carbon credits etc. To start with I emailed the people making these submissions to explain why they were inappropriate for the category but in the end I gave up and just silently rejected most of them (or in some cases moved them to a more appropriate category where another editor would then have to deal with them). Some of these people may have gone on to criticise DMOZ and this blog entry serves as my response to them.

So that is it. I am not going to bother reinstating my editor login because I think the whole DMOZ project is outdated and being gamed by SEO weenies. Frankly I am glad to be shedding my responsibilities. You might also want to take a look at this video uploaded by GoogleWebmasterHelp in 2011, in which Matt Cutts addresses a question about DMOZ and PageRank.

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