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."
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 firstname.lastname@example.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
Editor goldm at the end of April 2000. You see, ODP has
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
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
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
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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