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Open Directory Project

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The Open Directory Project (ODP), also known as DMoz (for Directory.Mozilla), is a massive, human-maintained open content directory of World Wide Web links owned by AOL-Time Warner. It is constructed and maintained by a community of volunteer editors. ODP was originally known as Gnuhoo. It was renamed Newhoo after a Slashdot article pointed out that Gnuhoo was not powered by free software and that Gnuhoo was using the GNU project's trademark without GNU's permission. Rather, Gnuhoo was simply a commercial enterprise seeking to construct an alternative to Yahoo! using volunteer labor.

Newhoo became ODP after being acquired by Netscape for the sum of one million dollars in October of 1998 and releasing its content under an open content license. Netscape was acquired by AOL shortly thereafter, and ODP was one of the assets included in the acquisition. AOL later merged with Time Warner, which now owns ODP. ODP has inspired the formation of at least two other Web directories edited by volunteers and sponsored by public companies: The now defunct Go directory (formerly owned by Disney) and Zeal[?] (acquired by Looksmart[?]). However, neither of these Web directories have licensed their content for open content distribution, a strategy which insured ODP's success in a highly competitive market.

ODP data is made available for open content distribution under the terms of the Open Directory Project License which requires an advertisement for ODP on virtually every Web page that uses the data. At the height of ODP's popularity, ODP data powered the core directory services for many of the Web's largest search engines and portals, including Netscape Search[?], AOL Search[?], Google, Lycos, HotBot[?], and DirectHit[?]. However, most of these search engines have stopped updating their ODP data, and successful ports of the ODP RDF dump have become less and less frequent.

The original motivation for forming Gnuhoo/Newhoo/ODP was the frustration that many people experienced in getting their sites listed on Yahoo! However, Yahoo! has since implemented a paid submission service for timely consideration of Web site submissions, making free site submissions the primary advantage of ODP. In striking contrast, ODP now has approximately one million unreviewed site submissions, in large part due to spam and incorrectly submitted sites, making the average processing time for a site properly submitted to ODP approximately six months. Moreover, ODP's volunteer editors are discouraged from communicating with site submitters, leaving many submitters to wonder whether and when their site has been considered and rejected for inclusion in ODP.

In addition to the frustration that many people encounter with the ODP site submission process, there have long been allegations that volunteer ODP editors give favorable treatment to their own Web sites while concomitantly thwarting the good faith efforts of their competition. Such allegations are fielded by ODP's meta editors, who have the authority to take disciplinary action against other volunteer editors who are suspected of engaging in abusive editing practices. Moreover, in a widely publicized federal lawsuit which is still ongoing, a prominent tax law firm known as J.K. Harris obtained a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction against a volunteer ODP editor by alleging, in part, that the editor in question had engaged in abusive editing practices which violated federal laws restricting unfair competition. [1] Allegations of unfair competition at ODP and unethical quid pro quo also arose when ODP's paid staff gave the paid employees of professional content providers such as AOL and Rolling Stone high level editing access at ODP. Many volunteer editors perceived this to be a sellout of the grass roots principles on which ODP was purportedly based.

ODP's paid staff has imposed other controversial policies from time to time, and volunteer editors who openly dissent typically find their editing priveleges removed, an ongoing situation which has been chronicled at the XODP Yahoo! eGroup since May of 2000. The first noteworthy expose was Life After the Open Directory Project, a June 1, 2000 guest column written for Traffick.com by David F. Prenatt, Jr. (aka XODP Editall netesq), founder of the XODP Yahoo! eGroup. [2] Another noteworthy example was chronicled on Slashdot on October 24, 2000, when a volunteer editor known by the alias "The Cunctator" criticized changes in ODP's copyright policies. [3] In light of the apparent risks of expressing dissent openly, at least one ODP insider has expressed his or her dissent in AOL Meddling in ODP Causes Shift in Balance of Editorial Power, an article published at Traffick.com on September 4, 2001 under the pseudonym of Julian McCreary. [4]

As of June 2003, ODP claimed to have over 3.8 million entries in 460,000 categories, maintained by 57,238 editors. However, critics of ODP claim that the number of editors contributing to ODP is exaggerated by a ratio of at least 5 to 1. This is due to the fact that ODP tracks the total number of editor logins ever created rather than the number of currently active editors. After an inactive period of three months, many of these logins time out. Other logins that are included in the overall tally represent the logins of former editors who have had their editing privileges removed, either for abusive editing practices or by consensus of ODP's staff and meta editors. Moreover, when an ODP editor's login is deactivated, re-application is the norm, often under an assumed identity, leading to even greater exagerration in the number of active editors.

ODP's editor removal procedures, which are overseen by ODP's staff and meta editors, are very controversial. According to ODP's official editorial guidelines, editors are removed for abusive editing practices. However, discussions that may result in disciplinary action against volunteer editors take place in a private forum which can only be accessed by ODP's staff and meta editors, and volunteer editors who are at risk of losing their editing privileges may not be given any notice that such proceedings are taking place, much less notice of an adverse decision. The rationale that is publicly asserted for this policy is that volunteer editors are asumed to know when they are violating ODP guidelines. ODP also has a standing policy that prohibits any current ODP editors from discussing the reasons for specific editor removals. As such, former ODP editors who have lost their editing privileges are often left to wonder why they cannot login at ODP to perform their editing work.

Critics of ODP have questioned the propriety of ODP even having private editor forums in what is purportedly an open project, as both Go and Zeal have always allowed public access to their forum discussions. However, the defenders of ODP's private forums assert that such forums are necessary for the discussion of matters that are internal to ODP. Even so, some of these private forum discussions have been published outside of ODP after being forwarded to ODP's critics by anonymous ODP insiders. [5]

In addition to the secrecy associated with ODP's editor removal procedures and ODP's internal forums, there are many other restrictions imposed on ODP editors, including restrictions on who can become an ODP editor in the first place. The first gatekeeping mechanism is an editor application process, presided over by ODP's meta editors, wherein editor candidates are required to demonstrate their editing abilities and disclose any and all Web site affiliations that might pose a conflict of interest. Approximately 90% of these applications are rejected, but re-application is the norm.

Once an editor-applicant has been granted editing privileges, he or she must then apply for additional editing privileges in various ODP categories. After an extended period of editing, some editors are granted editall and meta editing privileges, with editall status typically being a short precursor to meta status. As alluded to above, meta editors are responsible for the day-to-day management of ODP, which they carry out under directives issued by the paid staff of ODP's parent corporation, AOL-Time Warner. These directives, known as ODP's editorial guidelines, are often discussed in ODP's internal editor forums. In turn, these discussions are used to formulate new and revised editorial guidlines from time to time.

Critics of ODP, most notable among them being the aforementioned GNU project, also point to the fact that ODP's editing software is not open source and that ODP's content license restricts the freedom of licensees unnecessarily. As such, there have been many efforts to provide truly open alternatives to ODP (see below). These alternatives would allow communities of like-minded editors to set up and maintain their own open source/open content Web directories.

ODP has also inspired the formation of a number of proprietary Web directories, some of which are edited by volunteers, such as the multilingual MavicaNet[?], and others which are edited by independent contractors, such as Hotrate[?]. Moreover, the concept of using a large-scale community of editors to compile online content has been successfully applied to other types of projects such as Wikipedia, a freely licensed online encyclopedia originally sponsored by the Bomis corporation until Bomis founded the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation. ODP itself has attempted three spinoffs, an open content restaurant directory known as ChefMoz[?], an open content music directory known as MusicMoz[?], and an encyclopedia known as Open Site. However, none of ODP's own spinoffs has yet to achieve noteworthy success.

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References

[1] (http://www.paylesstax.com/jk_harris_v_steve_kassel_ea/jk_harris_v_steve_kassel_ea_law_dot_com) - Paylesstax.com | J.K. Harris v. Steven Kassel

[2] (http://www.traffick.com/story/06-2000-xodp.asp) - Traffick.com | Life After the Open Directory Project | Guest Column by David F. Prenatt, Jr. (June 1, 2000)

[3] (http://slashdot.org/articles/00/10/24/1252232.shtml) - Slashdot | Dmoz (aka AOL) Changing Guidelines In Sketchy Way | Posted by CmdrTaco (Tuesday October 24, 2000)

[4] (http://www.traffick.com/story/portals/200108_aolodp.asp) - Traffick.com | AOL Meddling in ODP Causes Shift in Balance of Editorial Power | By Julian McCreary (September 4, 2001)

[5] (http://donotgo.com/oded.htm) - Donotgo.com | Dumb-oz (Reproduction of Internal ODP Editor Forum)

ODP links

Alternatives to ODP

Miscellaneous Links



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