Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Post Mortem on ODP

Shortly after losing my ODP editing privileges, I founded the XODP Yahoo! eGroup on or about May 28, 2000, and shortly thereafter I published my ODP swan song in the form of a guest column at Traffick.com entitled Life After the Open Directory Project. To this day, some six years later, I still receive e-mails from people who find and read that article -- or, more properly, are referred to it by other XODPers -- and are astonished to find out that it was written so long ago. Notwithstanding claims to the contrary by ODP cheerleaders, things have not improved much at ODP. In fact, they have gotten much, much worse.

Simply put, ODP is a failed experiment in open content indexing that jumped the proverbial shark when it sold out to Professional Content Providers (PCPs) who were in bed with AOL-Time Warner, as set forth in the aforementioned guest column that I wrote for Traffick.com. At that time, quality control and scalability were already serious issues at ODP that the powers that be had failed and refused to address, and when I founded XODP, my hope was that various people who were as disillusioned with ODP as I was would join me in exploring various alternatives. Many people have, and there are now a wide variety of alternatives to ODP, most notable among them being Wikipedia.

While not a web directory, Wikipedia has many similarities to ODP, but Wikipedia also has some noteworthy differences in its core philosophy. Specifically, Wikipedia has never been a commercial venture -- which is how and why ODP was originally formed -- and Wikipedia's founder Jimbo Wales has done a very good job of keeping Wikipedia's online community relatively open. In fact, some people -- not me -- would say that the Wikipedia community is too open. In sum, despite its shortcomings and limitations, I think that Wikipedia is a very positive and progressive force for change when it comes to the indexing of the Internet. Indeed, Wikipedia goes beyond the mere indexing of content; it generates new reference content faster than any other medium in human history, with said content being comparable in quality to traditional encyclopedias, something that ODP could have done if it wasn't so busy trying to prove God-knows-what to whomever-may-care and root out "abuse" among its volunteers.

Beyond the desire to exploit volunteers for personal profit, the original purpose of ODP was to provide an alternative to the then very slow site submission process at the Yahoo! Web Directory. However, somewhere along the way, ODP became an ongoing Orwellian conspiracy of ignorance and incompetence with a backlog of millions of site submissions that takes great pride in . . . God-knows-what. Meanwhile, Yahoo! and various other smaller Web directories have implemented paid site submission programs that have pretty much made ODP irrelevant. In the final analysis, and with some notable exceptions, a listing on ODP only translates to one inbound link.

Those who cannot afford paid site submission programs can ask for a waiver or simply participate in various online forums and list their websites on their forum profiles. Similarly, people can contribute to Wikipedia and list their sites on their Wikipedia user profiles. People can also join the blogosphere, which has proven itself to be an indexing force that is just as powerful as search engines like Google. Finally, if someone cares deeply enough about the quality of indexing available for online content, they can start their own Internet index. To this end, I started publishing the XODP Web Guides on or about July 31, 2002, a small-scale enterprise that quickly turned profitable and could easily grow much larger and more profitable if I were not busy taking care of the many needs of my paying clients.

The XODP Web Guides are unique in that there is no submission process. Rather, there is a straightforward research process that is made profitable by the addition of a single sponsored link, with that single sponsored link being provided by an independent third-party who stands at arms length. At the same time, I am not above accepting sponsorship of individual Web Guides. However, when people want to pay me to promote their websites, I usually refer them to one of the many Web directories that readily accept paid submissions, and I have compiled a list of these Web directories that is mailed out automatically to anyone who joins the XODP Yahoo! eGroup as part of the document that you are now reading.

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