I’m online; I come across an interesting site on a topic I’m passionate about. I fire up another browser window, and submit the site. Title, link, brief description, save. There! Now I can refer back to it, as can others who are interested in this topic.
Nope; it’s 1999 and I just added a site to the Open Directory Project. And you thought that all this “social sharing” stuff was new…
The Open Directory Project (a.k.a. “dmoz”) is touted as “the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web. It is constructed and maintained by a vast, global community of volunteer editors.” These volunteer editors would take on particular topics, and find, review and list sites in the directory.
I was a dmoz volunteer editor myself a decade ago: my editor profile is still available at http://www.dmoz.org/profiles/afhill.html. When we speak now about social media and influence, I think back to what we were doing then. We were trying to provide quality resources based on our areas of expertise. My name was listed at the bottom of each of my categories, identifying me as the author. Is that not the same as looking up a tag I use on delicious? Social sites like those mentioned above are taking off, yet the ODP has seemingly lost its relevance.
According to compete.com visitor stats, visits to dmoz.org are on a steady decline:
If my actions as an active Web citizen have been the same for 10 years now, why is the platform changing? Why aren’t all those using StumbleUpon or Delicious just working on their own category on the ODP?
People don’t choose to edit the ODP because:
- Content: The ODP is about multiple editors forming a single directory. Sites like delicious are about everyone creating his own personal directory.
- Obligation: Maintaining a shared directory means following established guidelines. How I choose to use StumbleUpon or Delicious is up to me
- Responding to Submissions: As an editor, you would receive submissions (often, many, many times) from people wanting you to list their site.
- Bias: My personal resources contain bias, because they’re mine. A directory like the ODP should not (despite the fact my editor name is associated with my category)
- Influence: We recognize certain “Twitterati” or Power Digg users, but Dmoz editors don’t seem to rise to any sort of special web celebrity for their efforts.
Surely if the ODP was considered a strong resource in which to be listed, individuals would devote some time to the effort. However, that compete.com report above noted that one of the top destination sites from dmoz.org was geocities.com. That was where I built my first few websites back in the 90s, and I don’t believe anything on geocities would now be considered a “top resource” for anything.
Beyond the content, the site on the whole has been unable to keep up with the changing landscape. Years ago, it was enough to have a directory that listed sites, but with the breadth of content available, we need to take it a step further, to having ratings and rankings (rather than just include/exclude with an occasional “best of”). This is where true social bookmarking and sharing sites shine. The “wisdom of the crowds” comes in as more people add content and it can be aggregated. The best known example is the front page of Digg, but Delicious also highlights “popular” articles.
So while my basic actions online to collect, classify and share information didn’t change, there is a shift in how the information is used, and how my actions relate to others. To some extent, this relates back to an earlier post I had on Social Media vs. Web 2.0. The ODP offered information to read from a single source (individual editors): sites like Digg only offer value when a critical mass start using the site.
Digg’s ‘about’ page proudly proclaims its difference from the ODP: “You won’t find editors at Digg — we’re here to provide a place where people can collectively determine the value of content and we’re changing the way people consume information online.” We can’t ignore the value of power users, but we don’t want to offer them complete control. As our system of categorizing and sharing information becomes increasingly complicated, with algorithms that take into account a multitude of factors, we can only guess how we will find, filter and assess value to content in the future.