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Life After the Open Directory Project
GUEST COLUMN by David F. Prenatt, Jr. - June 1, 2000 (page 2 of 2) << Previous Page

Professional Content Providers: The ODP Sell Out

Many ODP editors are also Web site owners. In fact, one of the perks of being an ODP editor is the ability to manage your own site listings. Notwithstanding the potential conflicts of interest that could arise, this is seldom a serious concern among ODP's more active editors because it takes too much time and energy for people to achieve a position of trust within ODP where they can do any real damage. By that time, most editors realize that there are intangible benefits to being an ODP editor that are not worth the small advantage that you might obtain by shameless self-promotion. All of this changed, however, when ODP jumped into bed with the PCPs.

Quite some time ago, PCPs such as Rolling Stone Magazine and (surprise!) America Online approached the top management at ODP and suggested that it would be a good deal all around if the PCPs could manage their own site listings within ODP. After all, many ODP editors were also Web site owners who managed their own listings. The difference was that the ODP editors had to work their way up through the ranks whereas PCPs were given the proverbial key to the Emerald City from day one. To add fuel to the fire, many trustworthy volunteer editors were "counseled" for deleting or modifying inappropriate listings that had been added to ODP by PCP editors.

For the record, I had no problem working with PCP editors, but I think that ODP could have and should have put them on a much shorter leash with a cadre of more trustworthy volunteer editors as the handlers. In retrospect, however, it is now very clear to me that while all ODP editors are equal, some are more equal than others. Never was this more true than when the Council of Metas took over the day-to-day management of ODP.

The Council of Metas is Formed

Slowly but surely, ODP staff has delegated almost all editing privileges to volunteer editors. First it was "editall" privileges, then it was "catmv," finally it was "meta." At this point, the only meaningful powers that staff editors have retained for themselves are the ability to grant meta and editall editing privileges and to inactive editor logins. Virtually everything else is now in the hands of the metas and editalls.

There is a sound argument to be made for delegating the day-to-day management of ODP to volunteer editors who have shown their commitment to the directory and their ability to work as part of a team. However, the fact of the matter is that some of the meta editors are control freaks. Not all or even most of them are out of control or drunk with power, but it only takes one or two control freaks to do a great deal of damage to the morale of the rank and file editors.

No Editor Owns a Category

Imagine that you are an expert in your field and that you have volunteered as an ODP editor in your field of expertise. Days, weeks, even months pass before anyone says anything to you other than an occasional e-mail to invite you to the ODP Editor Forum to discuss some sort of improvement to the overall category structure, then one day you log on to ODP to find that someone has reorganized your category, adding sites that don't belong, deleting sites that do belong, and changing every single title and description. This is akin to walking into your office one day to find that a high ranking executive in your company, someone whom you have never met, has rearranged all of the furniture and files in your office to suit his or her own tastes.

This situation is all too common at ODP, and the bottom line is that no editor owns a category. As an active and high ranking editor from fairly early on, I was guilty of running roughshod over low level editors myself on three occasions of which I know, but it was never intentional: I always made an effort to consult with anyone who might be affected by my actions and wait for feedback. The first occasion involved the deletion of a single site that was owned by a problem editor who was subsequently removed from ODP for abusing his editing privileges; the second involved an active editor who has never forgiven me for moving too quickly for his tastes in the reorganization of ODP's Society: Law hierarchy; and the third was a simple misunderstanding involving one site that was quickly resolved by relisting the site in question. Ironically enough, the editor who has never forgiven me for the way I handled the reorganization of Society: Law has risen to the ranks of ODP metahood and ranks as one of the top five ODP control freaks of all time. He seldom if ever consults with an editor-in-residence before reorganizing the contents of a category to suit his own tastes.

The Future of the Open Content Movement

It is somewhat self-evident that there is room for improvement in the ODP organizational model, and it is only a matter of time before one of the many up and coming user-contributed directories takes the lead position from ODP. Given my druthers, I would have stayed at ODP until the bitter end, doing my best to stick up for the little guy and work for change within the system. In fact, as I stated earlier, I would probably return to ODP if I was given the opportunity to do so. But there are alternatives. There is life after ODP. And to that end, I have formed the XODP eGroup as a forum for ODP expatriates, malcontents, and other critics to discuss these alternatives. Anyone is welcome to join.

I have my own ideas about what direction the Open Content movement should take. Specifically, I'd like to create an Internet directory that is not only Open Content but Open Source, as this would restore free market competition to a market that is in dire need of it. I think that this is the best way to keep ODP's management honest and responsive to the concerns of the Internet community which it purports to serve, and I am still looking for the talent to help me make this happen. But more important: I'd like to hear any and all other ideas that people have about the possibility of life after ODP and the future of the Open Content movement.

David F. Prenatt, Jr. is an independent consultant who provides confidential Web site evaluations and critiques for attorneys. His business takes him all over the United States and Canada. Comments and questions can be posted to the XODP eGroup or emailed to netesq@dcn.davis.ca.us .

Related Story
Why the ODP Isn't Open
By Andrew Goodman

 

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