Life After the Open Directory Project
GUEST COLUMN by David F. Prenatt, Jr.
- June 1, 2000 (page 2 of 2)
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Professional Content Providers: The ODP Sell
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org .
ODP Isn't Open
By Andrew Goodman
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