What’s in a directory? Some of the hottest debates about web search revolve around criticisms of the Yahoo! directory. Often these are general complaints: link rot; difficulty in getting considered for a listing; the inability of Yahoo! to keep pace with the growth of the web.
Let’s “drill down” to investigate the merits of such claims. Is the Open Directory Project, a much-touted alternative to Yahoo!, doing a better job?
To begin answering that question I simply chose a subcategory that interests me. Totally unscientific, and the first thing I thought of. I’m interested in “unified messaging services” such as Jfax and Onebox, and want to see a listing of all such services. Do Yahoo and dmoz give me what I need? Is one better than the other? Let’s find out.
Yahoo lists unified messaging services in the following category:
Here we find 36 listed services. Three, including Jfax, are listed in bold. The bolded listings appear to be associated with entries that have more comprehensive information and additional links, including a stock chart and company info in Jfax’s case.
Checking for dead links was the next task, using a sophisticated method called “clicking on every link.” I clicked on all 36, and 35 out of 36 were active, living, breathing companies. One had been acquired by Critical Path. One seems to have gone out of business recently; hence the nonfunctional link.
Dmoz lists unified messaging in this category:
There are 25 services listed in the category. One helpful feature of Dmoz, one I hadn’t noticed before, was an available description of the category. Here, the Category Editor lays out some ground rules for getting listed in the category and concludes with a rather pushy-sounding “Now y’all play nice and let’s try to keep things in order around here.” Wonder if it’s official dmoz policy to let Editors spout off like this.
The Editor has some clear opinions about what categories are appropriate, and evidently takes a personal interest in technological matters related to this category, to a point where perhaps arcane distinctions are being made to sort entries amongst various categories and sub-categories. This Editor has also made a rule that the companies listed shall not be “re-sellers of products or services.” Perhaps it’s important to keep the category from degenerating into a free-for-all of everyone co-branding the underlying services of the companies listed in this category, but then again, resellers can often provide value-added and custom services (say, something specifically designed to reduce the price of calls between Asia and the US) that are significant modifications of or variations on the toolbox provided by the technology provider. It’s a judgment call, but one wonders if the definition is too rigid and rooted in an idiosyncratic view of what counts as “original” technology as opposed to reselling.
In fact, a cursory check of one of the listed companies showed that it is a reseller of another company’s unified messaging product. So much for the self-imposed rules.
Out of 25 services listed in the Dmoz category, all links were functional. They did have a few quirks, however.
One listing had a first-person description – (“use our service”) – a practice which is clearly out of bounds.
One entry seemed slightly mislabeled (the company focuses mainly on fax services), and was a bit odd. One of its graphics looked to be Anthony Robbins wearing a headset. Fun with Photoshop? Weird, in any case.
One entry, freecomms.co.uk, was actually a site that offered ratings and reviews of these sorts of services. As such, it was clearly miscategorized, though it looks to be an uncommonly useful site.
With these numerous quirks and errors, one is naturally led to wonder whether the claim of tough listing criteria is meant to obfuscate a capricious listing practice intended to help friends and reject competitors.
Between the two directories, there are some relatively inconsequential variations. eFax is listed under unified messaging in Dmoz, but under fax services in Yahoo!. UReach is listed under unified messaging in Yahoo!, but under Personal Information Managers in Dmoz. Of course, those submitting sites are largely responsible for such variations, as they submit to whatever category feels appropriate. Taxonomy, then, is a joint effort amongst submitters and editors.
In my opinion, the test drive shows Yahoo! to be slightly superior. Yahoo! also now has a business-to-business directory, whereas Dmoz does not. There are no major conclusions to be drawn here. Both the Dmoz and Yahoo! directories are good; both have their problems. The beauty of the above methodology is that you can run this quick test in a couple of your own areas of interest.
I’m betting you’ll find that contrary to Dmoz propaganda, Yahoo!’s directory ain’t broken. It might even be better.