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

Until April 26, 2000, I was a volunteer editor with Netscape's Open Directory Project, and I enjoyed the coveted editall/catmv editing privileges that had been granted to me by ODP Staff Editor jiwasaki because I had "shown good editing ability."

However, when I tried to log on to the dmoz.org server that fateful Wednesday morning, I was informed that my ODP login had been inactivated. I then checked the ODP Categories where I had previously been listed as an editor in residence, and I found that my byline had been removed from each and every one of them. Basically, this is akin to coming to work one morning and finding out that your employer has changed the lock on your office door.

Once I realized that my editing privileges had been removed, I composed an e-mail to staff@dmoz.org asking for reinstatement and requesting that my e-mail be shared with whatever interested parties staff deemed to be appropriate. But equally important is what I did not do. I did not e-mail any of my friends who were still "on the inside" at ODP complaining of unfair treatment (as many XODP editors do), nor did I post a complaint in any of the discussion forums on the World Wide Web that I knew to be frequented by ODP editors. Rather, in light of the conflict of interest that I felt I had encountered with my removal from ODP, I resigned as the moderator of the "ODP Guidelines - Q & A" forum at SearchEngineDiscussion.com.

As rumors of my departure from ODP began to spread, I replied to curious inquiries with a simple confirmation that I was no longer with ODP, and that I was not at liberty to discuss the reasons or circumstances.

A Loyalist or a Rebel?

My history at ODP was long and involved. While I always considered myself to be an ODP loyalist, many people perceived me to be a rebel, begrudgingly acknowledging the need for someone to play the Devil's Advocate. Most of this is irrelevant in light of the fact that I was promoted to the position of editall in January of 2000. Apparently I did something right to obtain that promotion, which in the words of one meta editor was: "Dare I say, overdue?" Some would say the same thing about my departure.

Only ODP Staff and the Council of Metas know for sure the "official" reason and rationale for my termination, and they aren't saying. But I think that what ultimately got me fired was a bum rap that was pinned on me by ODP Meta Editor goldm at the end of April 2000. You see, ODP has strict rules about listing affiliate links in its directory. It also won't list sites comprised primarily of affiliate links. However, I openly questioned whether this policy was misguided or being misapplied after investigating an inquiry made at SearchEngineDiscussion.com by Jon Prunty, the owner of a high quality Web site known as the Adobe Shopping Mall. Once I realized that this topic was taboo, I did my best to defuse the situation, but this only hastened my removal as an ODP editor.

Normally, when an ODP Editor is removed from ODP, his or her category request logs reflect this fact. Mine did not, so my status with ODP remained a mystery to most people. The exceptions were a few of the moderators at Search Engine Discussion who were ODP editors themselves. I considered these people to be interested parties, so I confirmed that my ODP login had been inactivated and that I had e-mailed ODP staff requesting reinstatement. And when I got tired of waiting for a response, it occurred to me that I could start my own Internet directory and improve upon the ODP model. At the very least, I could contribute my time, talent, and ideas to one of the many pretenders to the Open Content throne that is currently held by ODP.

Not the First, But by Far the Best

ODP is not the first Open Content directory, but it is by far the most successful. Nonetheless, there is plenty of room for improvement in ODP's organizational structure. Right now, it is essentially a feudal oligarchy in which certain dedicated and qualified editors are "knighted" by ODP's staff and given "meta" editing privileges; the position of "editall" is often a brief precursor to "meta-hood," as it were. Whilst I was an editor, I argued passionately for the need to create a "House of Commons" to balance the power wielded by the "House of Lords," or as I was wont to call it, the "Council of Metas." As well, I argued for the need to create a "Grand Jury" to investigate and oversee the Council of Metas. Such institutional reforms may actually take place at ODP sometime in the near future, but I will not be a part of it.

I truly enjoyed working with ODP, and I would probably return if I was given the opportunity to do so, but the perspective is much different being on the outside looking in. After a while, you begin to see that ODP is nowhere near as important as it seems to be, notwithstanding its phenomenal success. And you get tired of the silent treatment from ODP's staff and the Council of Metas. And getting the silent treatment is the norm.

Approximately 9 out of 10 new editor applications are now rejected, many of them without comment or feedback. And if you do receive notice that your application was rejected, it may or may not include the name of the meta editor who processed your application. Part of the reason for this silent treatment is because ODP's meta editors receive an astounding amount of hate mail, but the biggest reason is that many of the meta editors have no interest in helping people learn how to be competent editors. Rather, they are looking for editors who "know how to think for themselves." Provided, that is, that these editors who know how to think for themselves think the way that the meta editors want them to think. But if the meta editors like the way you think, you will most likely be put on the fast track for promotion.

With a few notable exceptions, you must apply for new editing privileges to move up through the ranks at ODP. And similar to being rejected as an editor applicant, being rejected for new editing privileges is usually very impersonal. The difference is that it is very easy to figure out who rejected you for additional editing privileges by reviewing your category request logs. Many editors make the mistake of assuming that this means that you can contact the meta editor who rejected you and ask for an explanation. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this is the quickest way to get your ODP editing privileges completely revoked. But most editors who are rejected for new editing privileges don't just ask for an explanation via e-mail. Rather, when their e-mail is ignored (as it almost always is), they post a complaint in the ODP Editor Forum, the sharks begin to circle, and then the feeding frenzy begins.

Swimming with the Sharks

On more than one occasion, the ODP sharks began to circle around me, but not because I was an incompetent editor seeking promotion. Rather, the first time it happened was when I spoke up about the need for a volunteer editor's organization to promote quality control at ODP. This was seen as a power play by those who enjoyed being part of the ODP Lynch Mob, and I found myself defending spurious accusations that I had abused my editing privileges until ODP Staff intervened on my behalf. A short time later, I found myself on the same side as the former leaders of the lynch mob when ODP Staff introduced the controversial policy of giving Professional Content Providers (PCPs) high level access as ODP editors.

 

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