Introduction to the Open Directory Project

By Chris Sherman | Posted September 26, 2003

The Open Directory Project (ODP) is arguably the most widely distributed directory, although its home page, dmoz.org, is not widely known outside the Webmaster community.

You've likely encountered ODP listings through the many services that license its data for their own directory offerings, including the Google Directory, AOL Search, the Metacrawler Directory, and over 355 others. The ODP is a major player in the world of Web navigation. In addition to the major search engines that supplement their crawler-built databases with ODP data, hundreds of smaller "search engines" are nothing more than front ends to the ODP itself.

Despite its relatively low profile, the ODP is an important resource for site owners — especially small-business owners — to be listed in, due to its extensive reach. ODP data shows up in many forms. Some search engines, such as Lycos, Google, and HotBot, offer separate directory features that are straight dumps of ODP data. Google incorporates ODP categories directly into search results. Other services, such as WebBrain.com and Map.net, have built interesting and useful visual interfaces to the ODP.

Compiled by a global legion of more than 50,000 volunteers, the ODP relies on the honor system to assure the integrity of editors and the listings they maintain. Unfortunately, there have been numerous reports over the years of editors promoting their own sites, or demoting or deleting competitor sites.

This has led to controversy. Although the ODP is owned by the Netscape division of AOL Time Warner, it's compiled by volunteer editors. These editors have a high level of control over what's included — and excluded. Complaints from the Webmaster community over capricious editorial activity (and inactivity) have been abundant. There have also been numerous reports of summary judgments resulting in editors being "fired" from their posts without explanation or recourse.

Forum for Better Understanding This spring, a group of editors from the ODP started an unofficial public forum to discuss issues and share information about the Web's "third" directory.

The forum appears to be a good-faith effort by a number of editors to help people better understand the ODP and how it works. The site is sponsored and run by the ODP editors. It's in no way affiliated with Netscape and is moderated by the ODP editor community.

If you're a Webmaster, site owner, or editor wannabe, it's well worth the time to peruse the forums and get some insight from editors familiar with the service. You'll get excellent tips on how best to approach being included in this essential Web directory.

Don't expect answers to many specific types of questions regarding listings or editors, and don't even think of using the forum as a soapbox for gripes or criticism of ODP policies. "While the ODP is based on democratic principles, it does not try to imitate a democratic government. You are free to talk about anything you want... somewhere else," read the forum's communications and posting guidelines.

Reporting Public Abuse This summer, the ODP began testing a new system to allow anyone to report suspected abuse by editors thought to be more committed to their own self-interest than the general good of the project.

Senior editors have made efforts to monitor and constrain subversive behavior, but complaints persist. In response, the ODP launched a Public Abuse Report System, allowing any ODP user to report suspicions of abusive editors/conduct to DMOZ meta editors and staff.

ODP editors have long had the capability to report suspected chicanery directly from the "dashboard" they use to compile directory listings. The newer system makes it easy for anyone to directly contact senior ODP staff, whether or not they have a site listed in the ODP.

According to the system's FAQ: "All reports are investigated expeditiously and in complete confidence. If abuse is found we will rectify it." Users can submit reports anonymously, though ODP encourages them to supply an e-mail address in case further information is needed.

The FAQ spells out clearly what's considered abuse. Before filing a report, note the ODP doesn't use the same rules as search engines regarding spam. So make sure you'e familiar with ODP's spam policies before you report abuse.

The Abuse Report System interface is currently available in English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Italian. The ODP is working to make the system as multilingual as possible. It'll add more language interfaces as details are finalized and bugs removed.

Adapted from ClickZ.com.

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