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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Danny's in Playboy

(via Kraneland via Beal): Danny Sullivan gets a letter published in Playboy. This notion of reviving the professionally-edited human-powered directory that he puts forward in stark contrast to the machine-powered profit-machine model of Google Search seems quaint, but really, it's a good idea. The lack of a definitive directory or two is the single biggest glaring hole in online search.

A couple of years ago on a forum connected with Traffick.com dubbed 'The Other Directory Project' (it crumbled into flamewars, unfortunately), some directory diehards debated different principles that should be adopted by the Next Great Directory. Steve Thomas of Wherewithal, for example, argued that directories face a "fixed ontology problem," and that a future directory would offer a way to make the categories definable by users and editors alike. That's probably too complicated. Still, there are many components to the challenge of creating a great general-purpose directory, and in the rush through Internet time, how many have them have really been considered carefully? The job of Yahoo Editor changed significantly the day they turned to paid inclusion. Same goes for LookSmart.

I would cheer for something a little like what LookSmart tried to be at the beginning before aimless drifting, rapid expansionism, biz-model sellouts, and management squabbles. In those optimistic days, Britannica.com was thinking of jumping into the fray. It still could. Problem is, who's gonna fund that? A major media company or the government would need to underwrite it. And the definition of professionalism in editing would need to be upped a couple of notches in strictitude.

I wouldn't want to misunderestimate the challenge a new online directory would face. In light of the business realities of online search, it all sounds rather quirky, I know. The type of thing that might appeal to a PBS listener or National Geographic photographer. But as any Playboy reader or letter-writer might say, "Hey, I'm a Renaissance man." Human editorial organizations in the image of Early Yahoo and Middle LookSmart will have their day.

The BBC-recommended concept isn't a terrible example, come to think of it. It gets very little attention. Certain media organizations are trusted, and have at times lent their editorial review powers to the web. With metadata and authorized access only by accredited members of these organizations, a smart search engine such as Google or MSN Search could incorporate such recommendations into the results; even label them with icons that would lead to reviewer comments. In this way, search listings would be richer and more context-backed rather than just being rank-ordered lists daring you to question their authority. The reviewer recommendations wouldn't have to be seen as definitive, but rather just another source of information. And the entire database of recommendations could indeed be dumped into a categorized directory. Welcome back to dmoz, minus the intrigue and corruption.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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