mattgadient.com

The DMOZ, and why it’s surprising that Google still utilizes them

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparantly I was wrong. May whatever God you believe in… have mercy on your soul…. This court stands adjourned.

Q – “All Good Things…” – Star Trek: The Next Generation

DMOZ was arguably once a strong, vibrant, quality directory. But my, how things have changed. It’s about time that Google re-evaluated their usage of dmoz.org as a weighted directory.

Three years back, I submitted one of my sites to the DMOZ. The site in question is listed in the side-bar, and has been mentioned by USA Today, the New York Times, and WKYC (an NBC company), amongst many other places. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a fairly popular resource.

If you haven’t picked up on it already, the site is called EyeglassRetailerReviews.com . Whether it should or shouldn’t be listed isn’t the question, but I mention it to show that I have a good idea what I’m talking about below in regards to the problems I noticed with a certain category in the Open Directory Project (ODP) below…

About a month ago, I took a look at the ODP, and was pretty shocked at what I noticed. Take a look at the web archive’s capture of the DMOZ eyeglasses category (web.archive.org).

If you look over the archive, you’ll see that between 2006-2008, there were no additions to that category over those 3 years. At least one of the listings is a parked domain. Here’s a look at Google’s cache from 3 days ago (Oct 28 2009 – you’ll see it’s virtually the same as the web archive’s 2008 page):

dmoz-google-cache-oct-28-2009

 

Why is this a serious issue?

Well for starters, Zenni Optical wasn’t listed. Now I’m not in love with Zenni or anything, but I’ll be the first to admit that they’re probably the most popular online eyeglass retailer out there. If you’ve heard of buying glasses online, or read about it in magazines, you’ve heard of Zenni. It’s that simple. How in the world were they not listed by the ODP? Find any talk about online eyeglass retailers, and Zenni is always mentioned, and has been for at least the last 3-4 years, probably more. Not to mention some of the other big names were no-where to be seen on DMOZ, such as EyeBuyDirect, Goggles4u, Optical4less, and plenty more.

I really had to ask myself, what’s going on? Has DMOZ really become so stale?

Well, it could just be that they don’t have enough editors. Because I happen to know at least a little about the retailers out there, I decided to apply for an editor position for this category, submitted 3 of the retailers as examples following the very sparse 4-word descriptions that the DMOZ was using, was honest about the sites I owned and why being the owner of EyeglassRetailerReviews.com made me an ideal candidate for editing this category, and waited.

Today I got a response – the standard “application denied” sort of thing, although the reviewer did add the following response:

dmoz-reviewer-response

First I want to say that I did appreciate a custom response, and I’ll thank the reviewer here for doing so. As much as this write-up may be attacking the DMOZ, I’m not going to attack the reviewer who looked over the application – there are many valid reasons that I could have been declined as an editor (I’m not under any impression that I deserved to be accepted as an editor in any way, shape, or form).

That said, a couple things to note:

I was pretty sure that my examples weren’t “already listed” when I submitted them. Sure enough, they’ve just been listed (you’ll now find Zenni Optical, EyeBuyDirect, and Goggles4u listed in the current page). They weren’t listed 3 days ago according to Google’s cache of Oct 28th (which I screenshotted above in case the cache updates).

When I submitted, it was one of those “do a good thing and help out” occasions where despite all the bad-mouthing about ODP/DMOZ out there, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. I really believe in the online eyeglass “movement”, simply because people have been gouged so badly by local retailers, and online is really the way to go nowadays. Many of the online retailers out there are very good, reputable companies. The example listings I submitted truly deserve to be there (and I’m glad they are now), although there should certainly be even more editing done to that category. To be clear, I don’t really care if my own site isn’t ever listed anywhere in DMOZ – sure it might generate a little more traffic, but my site is popular enough that the difference at this point would be negligible. Can a site do well without being listed in the ODP? Absolutely.

 

Taking everything into account, here are a few conclusions I came to based on my experience, as well as a little reading around about what others have said, and why it surprises me that Google still uses them:

1) The ODP on the whole has become stale. Yes, I’m sure there are examples of well-edited categories, and editors that do a good job and work really hard to make sure their categories are both current and valuable sources of information, but at the same time, categories that are left untouched for years really “poison” it as a resource. For example, anyone who actually used DMOZ to look for a glasses retailer anytime over the last 3 years was honestly put at a huge dis-service.

Now, Google is a current search engine. Why does a current search engine put weight in a resource that’s prone to be so badly out of date? I really don’t know.

2) The ODP (as well as some other directories) is concerned, at least to a degree, by the “looks” of a site. Having a professional-looking site increases your chances of getting listed compared to having a plain-looking site. I’ve read this in many places in the past, and I think I can now also make this statement based on the fact that EyeglassRetailerReviews.com wasn’t listed anywhere in the DMOZ over the course of 3 years, all while being picked up by various news media. I’ll be the first to admit that EyeglassRetailerReviews.com won’t dazzle the eye – it may help educate you, but it’s no piece of eye candy. It’s incidentally why I’d never consider submitting the site to Yahoo’s directory – I try to make the video reviews I do for the site a little “pretty”, but as far as the site layout itself goes, I’m not about to trade in my content for dazzle just to get a listing somewhere.

That said, Google’s big focus is on content. So again, why is Google putting trust directories that are prone to take “pretty” into account?

3) The ODP suffers from corruption – I base this more-so on many of the comments I’ve read about them – extortion, agendas, and so-on. The only confirmation (although I’ll admit this is a “slippery-slope” statement) that I had in my experience here was the mention from the reviewer that my site wouldn’t be listed in a Shopping category. That means they’re assuming that I’d have been planning to put it there, which means they probably assume that everyone with an interest in a category is planning to plug their site(s) into that category. Probably a right assumption to be making – that most people have an agenda.The big problem with that is… if everybody’s got an agenda, the editors they do accept are probably going to poison the category they’re assigned to edit – either declining competition, plugging in sites that may not deserve to be there, extorting others who want to be listed, and/or ignoring a category once they’ve plugged in their site. DMOZ is apparently short on editors, so if you think about it, they’ve got 2 options – either let a category become outdated, or risk people popping in to poison a category.

Both are bad options…. and Google wants to be associated with this why, exactly?

What Google really needs to do is scrap the whole notion of using a pre-existing directory at all. Why not just use their existing search-engine rankings and put together their own automated directory?

In a basic form, they’d just have to have keywords that relate to a category. If a site ranks high in general, find the keywords that the site on the whole ranks highest for and plug it into a category. For example, if a high-ranking site ranks highest for the “shop computers” keywords (and I’m talking a site – not a specific page on a site or you’ll have sites qualifying for multiple categories), put it in the Shopping/Electronics/Computers category. Yes, there would undoubtedly need to be some tweaking to perfect it, but Google’s already got some good algorithms in place, and they could have a pretty good automated directory that stays up-to-date, and in general provides really relevant results.

My message to Google – let others create their own hand-edited directories, and create your own based on your up-to-date, time tested and true search engine algorithms. As popular as DMOZ may be, it’s lost most of the value that perhaps it once had. You can certainly do better.