Open Directory Project

On April 11, 2013, I reviewed the Open Directory Project (also known as DMOZ or the ODP). As a result of my evaluation, the directory was rated 71%.

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I was an early meta editor with the Open Directory Project, joining the project before it was known by that name. The Open Directory Project was initially founded as Gnuhoo by Rich Skrenta, Bob Truel, Chris Tolles, Bryn Dole, and Jeremy Wenokur, in 1998. Criticized for using a name that implied an association with the GNU project, its name was changed to NewHoo, which was promptly objected to by Yahoo. Later that same year, the directory was acquired by Netscape and became the Open Directory Project. Originally hosted on directory.mozilla.org, which still redirects to the ODP site, the ODP chose the name dmoz.org. Shortly afterward, Netscape itself was acquired by America Online, with the ODP being one of its assets. Of course, AOL then merged with Time-Warner.

Many years have gone by since I have been an editor with the Open Directory Project, but I spent several years there, putting in more hours per week during that time than I was with my real jobs, and that was a time when I was holding down three or four jobs at once.

I have been putting off reviewing the Open Directory Project because it has earned icon status within the web directory industry, and has been well deserving of the accolades that it has received in the past. The ODP was truly a pioneer in the web directory industry, and it is tough to beat as far as PageRank goes. Given its history and status, as well as my personal history with the directory, I have not been looking forward to saying anything bad about it, yet I would have to review the directory with my eyes closed and my brain cells disconnected if I were to avoid it.

First, however, let's look at the good stuff. There is no denying that a listing in the Open Directory Project can be a good thing for the purposes of search engine optimization. Although there are those who would deny it, I am not among them.

The ODP has 5,810,000 pages indexed in Google, and its Google PageRank at the index level is 7. I have come across fourth-level categories with a PageRank of 6, and seventh-level categories with a PageRank of 4. Listings in the Open Directory Project have enough authority that many of the ranking systems include a listing in the ODP as one of its key criteria.

Its seoMoz Page Authority is 95, and its seoMoz Rank is 7.46

Its Alexa Traffic Rank is 1,017. Its SEMRush Rank is 9,997, and its SEMRush Search Traffic is 61,658. Its MajesticSEO backlink number is 1,093,940,105. Its StumbleUpon stumbies is 9,850, it has had 2,245 Twitter tweets, and 220 Google+ hits.

Regardless of what I might say below, nothing that I could say would deny the fact that a listing in the Open Directory Project is a good thing if you are a webmaster looking for a listing.

On the negative side, it has been years since I have heard from anyone who has been able to get a website listed in the Open Directory Project who doesn't have his own login, or cashed in a favor from someone who does.

It has been years since I have had a website listed in the ODP, although I have submitted several non-monetized sites to the deepest subcategories of the directory, including some regional subcategories that didn't have any working listings. I am well aware of the guidelines and have no doubt that my sites, my titles, my descriptions and the chosen categories were well within them. Nor have any other listings been added to these categories, some of which have not been updated since 2007.

Still, if you can manage to get your site listed in the Open Directory Project, that is a good thing, and I wish you luck.

In the Second Quarter of my 2013 reviews, I will be looking at the directories, as much as possible, from the perspective of a potential directory user, rather than as a webmaster or search engine optimizer.

Aesthetics - 12%

The Open Directory Project has had the same design since late 1999 and, at that time, the change was a minor one, adding the solid green and gray bars and replacing the Mozilla lizard peaking over the Open Directory Project banner, which I liked, with a running Mozilla along the bottom.

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Its design, like the directory itself, is retro. It's not particularly pretty, but neither is it ugly. I don't mind retro, and I think it fits the Open Directory Project quite well.

Its front page is marred, in my opinion, by its Kids and Teens category. It is the only top-level category that is more than one word, and the fact that they chose to colorize the first word of it greatly damages the symmetry of its upper level category menu. I understand that they wanted it to stand out but I believed at the time, as I do now, that if the point was for it to stand out, that category should have been placed along the bottom, separated from the other top-level categories, and, if they felt the need to colorize it, they should have colorized the whole thing. They did that in February or March of 2001, and I thought it was a bad idea then.

The ability to separate subcategories below or above the line greatly enhances, not only the aesthetics of the directory's subpages, but its intuitiveness and usefulness as well, as different types of subcategories are not mixed together.

Content - 15%

Although a large number of them are dead links, the Open Directory Project has a lot of listings. I don't know if its statistics are accurate or not, as I believe that the number of editors it claims includes everyone who has ever been an editor with the Open Directory Project (that used to be the case anyhow, although I don't know for sure that it still is), but the ODP claims 5,169,994 listed sites, stored in 1,017,500 categories.

That's a lot of content. Unfortunately, since it has been so difficult for anyone to get a new site listed in the directory over the past several years, much of this content is stale, consisting mostly of websites that were created more than a decade ago. I have tried to use it as a directory, but I don't find it to be particularly useful for this reason. In a sense, browsing the Open Directory Project is a bit like browsing the Internet Archive; it can be fun, but it's very dated.

Intuitiveness - 20%

The taxonomy of the Open Directory Project is excellent. The taxonomy of its Regional categories alone were the product of nearly two years of heated debate in the internal forums, and I do believe that what we settled on was the best of every perspective.

The fact that its taxonomy looks so much like so many other directories is because the other directories copied the Open Directory Project.

Additionally, its generous use of @links makes it very difficult for anyone to be lost for long while browsing the categories of the Open Directory Project, especially when you combine that with its "See Also" links, which lead the way to related categories that may be in a different category tree.

As mentioned before, the ability to separate different types of subcategories from one another, by putting some above or below the lines, is not only a positive factor in aesthetics but it helps the directory user find what he is looking for as well.

Lastly, as the ODP includes a World section which, as much as possible, duplicates the regular part of the directory in several different languages, links are included to subcategories that direct users to the same category in another language.

Quality - 10%

As I recall, the Open Directory Project pioneered the idea of using sentence fragments rather than complete sentences, which has since become standard practice in the industry. At the time that I was there, editors were very much concerned with adding as many sites as possible, and I'm sure that played into it as well. Additionally, bandwidth, server space, and high-speed connections were not as readily available then as they are now, and this may also have had something to do with it.

Additionally, a culture developed among ODP editors that frowned on the use of relevant keywords in site descriptions, resulting in descriptions that are not particularly descriptive. A good description will, by its nature, contain relevant keywords, although not necessarily the ones the webmaster would want. However, when an editor used descriptive language in site descriptions, there was always the fear that someone would assume that they were promoting their own or someone else's site, and editors were frequently removed for that. The safer course of action was often to avoid the use of description in a description.

On the positive side, the Open Directory Project does skimpy descriptions better than many of the other directories that I have looked at. Descriptions are generally not promotional in nature, and words are spelled correctly. Titles nearly always represent the actual title of the site, with some exceptions, such as real estate sites. Many of us quit adding real estate sites after they mandated the use of a templated pattern for real estate site titles.

While there are certainly volunteer editors who do a great job within their areas of interest in the directory, it may be that the Open Directory Project has grown too large for it be properly maintained, for there are a lot of bad links, and a lot of categories that don't have any working links. As mentioned earlier, this includes categories to which good links have been submitted, but never dealt with.

I am seeing state level categories in its Regional tree that haven't been updated since 2009, and Localities subcategories, which I have submitted sites to, that haven't been updated since 2007. Many locality categories have no listed sites, although I can find working sites for them on the first page of the Google's SERPs.

This problem is not restricted to its Regional tree, either. The Society tree has third- and fourth-level categories that haven't been updated since 2009. The same is true in Health, where I am seeing categories that have had a large number of new sites developed over the past few years that haven't been updated since 2007.

I fully understand the problems inherent in depending upon volunteer labor to maintain a directory the size of the Open Directory Project. Nevertheless, I am evaluating the results rather than the intent. There are, no doubt, many very good reasons why the ODP is not well maintained, but these don't change the fact that it is not well maintained.

Usefulness - 12%

I'll begin with the positives. The Open Directory Project's in-site search works well and, combined with the intuitiveness of the directory's category structure, things are pretty easy to find.

Category descriptions are not always available and, when they are used, they address submitters rather than users of the directory.

The most significant problem that I can see with the usefulness of the Open Directory Project today is that so many of its categories have not been updated in years. On the other hand, I can see that other categories have been updated as recently as today, so I know that there are editors alive and well in the ODP.

Nevertheless, I don't believe that there are enough active editors for the directory to be as useful as it once was. Given my history and comfort level with the Open Directory Project, I have often gone to it when looking for something. I don't do that much anymore because it's been awhile since I've been able to find anything worthwhile there.

Extra Credit - 2%

I will give it two extra credit percentage points for having pioneered the web directory industry.

Overall Rating - 71%

On the basis of my review of the Open Directory Project on April 11, 2013, I am rating it at 71%.

Comments

I would love to see a resurgence of energy and interest in the Open Directory Project, but I am afraid that it has been stagnant for too long. Plus, I am not so sure that the same spirit of volunteerism exists today as it once did. Perhaps Skrenta and crew knew how to involve volunteers in the project, and to keep them excited about what they were doing.

Please comment on this review, whether you agree or disagree.

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