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Rise Of The Web Librarian: An Elegant DMOZ Solution
Last week Debra Mastaler posted the most illuminating DMOZ article I have ever read. In DMOZ: A Solid Directory Or The Great Pumpkin Of Search?, she got through to the right people and asked some hard questions.
Many SEO folks consider DMOZ irrelevant. After years of angst and sleepless nights waiting for a link that never came, they gave up and got sites ranked using other methods, and by doing so, a secondary SEO truth emerged: a DMOZ link isn’t needed to rank.
None of this can be argued. If the subject is links and rank, then DMOZ does not matter. But separate from DMOZ and SEO is a larger issue, and it’s that DMOZ, as much as I have blasted it (I was an editor there for many years) – it is the only directory of its type in the world, and no matter what state of repair or disrepair it is in today, it represents something important and salvageable.
If you understand the true vastness of the web, you understand that no commercial entity will ever be able to catalog it properly. The web isn’t just the web anymore. Websites aren’t the only thing to be classified. And defining a website is in itself a dicey issue. Is a Twitter user page a website? Sort of. If you’re Ashton Kutcher, it sure is. But not all Twitter users pages’ need to be in DMOZ. And what about sites that simply cannot be classified all nice and neat into a specific category? Don’t some sites deserve multiple links? Yes, as these 1,307 links from DMOZ.org to various PBS.org content illustrate (disclaimer: I think I may have seeded half of them). So the very things you are trying to organize and classify (websites and webpages) are only a few of the many challenges.
Complete web classification doesn’t work as a business model because the math does not work. Look no further than the Yahoo directory for proof. No matter how many paid site reviewers you have, there is simply too much web for them to review, and more revenue to be made by doing other things. The DMOZ model uses volunteers, and thus far, we have seen how it’s working out. Parts of DMOZ are outstanding, other parts abandoned like ghost towns. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s human nature. The emergence of other forms of expression, like social voting sites or bookmarking sites, has taken away some of the immediate need to visit DMOZ, but has not diminished what DMOZ is and what it can be.
A possible solution
What I’m about to propose is what I see as a simple, yet elegant solution to the biggest problems DMOZ faces. I have not done in-depth research on the feasibility of my solution, nor do I pretend for a moment to know all of the reasons why it can’t work. I choose to focus on why it can. It seems so incredibly simple to me, we just need to get the ball rolling.
In my mind, for DMOZ to flourish, it only needs two things:
- Enough people to maintain all the categories
- Those people must have an understanding of content classification and quality
I think we’d all agree that if there were a few thousand more of the above two types of people above, the biggest DMOZ problems would go away. Sure, there would be other problems, but if you have manpower, you are on your way.
The big question
Getting to the heart of the matter, where in the heck is DMOZ going to find thousands of volunteer reviewers with the exact two types of skills listed above?
What if we started right here? Look at this map. All over the world, right now, are thousands of graduate students of all ages and skills studying for Master’s degrees in Library and Information Science. Start here in the U.S. and invite the ALA (American Library Association) to become involved in the process. I can assure you that thousands of librarians are already at work organizing and classifying the web. Tirelessly. They are a layer of “content quality control” who have been at it for years. The graduate students will soon be joining them in the work world. These folks have a passion for identifying the good, organizing it, classifying it, providing links to it.
Imagine if Bob Keating, Editor In Chief of DMOZ, got together with the ALA, and through a joint venture invited the Dean of every graduate program in Library and Information Science to send invitations to every single graduate student in Library Science to participate in the DMOZ/ODP. That sounds hard, but it could happen in three phone calls and a few emails. Don’t let it get bogged down in bureaucracy and paperwork. Streamline the ODP editor application form. Let the fact that the students made it into Library School (which means good grades, a good GRE score, and attention to detail) be all the proof ODP needs that they are qualified. Because they are. The ODP application is redundant for them. Invite each of them them to take over ANY currently unclaimed category and edit it. Or, get them to help with categories that are already edited but overwhelmed.
This can even be done as part of a practicum or “virtual internship”, or just for a bit of real world experience. For those who participate, the ALA can send them a ALA/ODP certificate to add to the resume.
I’ve thought about this way more than I’ve put down here, and I’m sure there are reasons it might not work. But what I dare DMOZ and the ALA to do is tell us all why it can work, and then go for it. Many years ago, I left library school to start my link building business. My mentors were Jose-Marie Griffiths and Carol Tenopir. The LIS curriculum back then (1993-94) was not web centric yet, but they were trying.
Then, two kids at Stanford ended up being the web’s first librarians, by accident. Now, all these years later, anyone who has heard or read my Revenge of the Librarians sermon knows this could work. It’s just a matter of getting out of the way of it.
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