The Unsure Future of DMOZ (Open Directory Project)

It has been widely speculated as of late that the future of DMOZ, also known as The Open Directory or ODP for short, is unsure. Not only has it become increasingly impossible to get a web site listed in DMOZ, the submission form has been broken since October. The reason behind this is that the machine holding DMOZ in AOL ops crashed and they have yet to fix it. Rich Skrenta, DMOZ-founder, gives us some insight into what is going on.

“Apparently the machine holding DMOZ in AOL ops crashed. Standard backups had been discontinued for some reason; during unsuccessful attempts to restore some of the lost data, ops blew away the rest of the existing data on the system.

So for the past 6 weeks, a few folks have been trying to patch the system back together again (reverse engineering from the latest RDF dump, I suppose). But 6 weeks is a very long outage. Add in the massive AOL layoffs last week, and it’s not clear if there’s even any left over there who cares. Even if some form of the ODP editing system is brought back, the likelihood of continued existence within AOL seems extremely doubtful.”

Did you read the last statement – “the likelihood of continued existence within AOL seems extremely doubtful.” Is it possible that AOL simply doesn’t care any longer? Seeing that DMOZ earns no profit for AOL, I can easily see why they care little about it. Rich sheds additional light on the state of DMOZ.

“DMOZ doesn’t exactly operate on a model of transparency, to say the least, so they have been keeping the details of what happened private. Perhaps they’re concerned about an exodus of the remaining editors, or gleeful proclamations of death from the SEM industry. The remaining ODP editors will probably be mad at me for discussing this, but they get mad at me whenever I talk about the ODP….ironic! :-) Hey guys, it’s 2006, open up.”

You would think that the people that are behind an application that is “open source” would be more open in their communications to the outside world. Rich also reminds us of some of the history behind DMOZ and how it ended up in the hands of AOL.

“We launched in June, 1998. Within 4 months we had the CTO of LookSmart saying he wanted to quit and join us, an acquisition offer from Infoseek, a $5M funding offer from Lycos, an angel funding offer being brokered by the Venture Law Group, and an acquisition offer from Netscape. We took the Netscape offer; it was a great strategic fit, since they had a lot of traffic to pour on the directory, and were willing to give the data away for free. Unfortunately, as with many (most?) acquisitions, the hopeful little product was eventually lost within the sprawling org.”

So what does the future hold for DMOZ, if any? Personally I would love to see AOL (AOL bought Netscape in 1998) offer it up for sale. If AOL does not care to monetize the directory, I’m sure there are plenty of companies that would. Rich has his own thoughts on the subject of monetizing DMOZ.

“I maintain my belief that, without a monetary engine — in other words, without making the directory a business at some level — dependence on corporate patronage will eventually leave it weak and understaffed again. Modest advertising (e.g. AdSense/AdWords on search) on DMOZ could easily have supported a staff of 10-20 full time employees, as well as hosting costs. Call it a nonprofit foundation, but you need the entity and some money coming in to pay for things like…proper ops.”

Many search marketers including myself have moved on from DMOZ. While it used to be a common belief that inclusion into The Open Directory was crucial for organic search success, that is no longer the case. There are other solid directories in existence such as Yahoo Directory, Best of the Web, Business.com and Uncover the Net to name a few. Still it would be sad to see it simply killed off as some have wished for. Rather I think AOL should put it on the auction block – sell it to the highest bidder – so that a company can come in, fix it, monetize it and run it properly. I wouldn’t mind at all paying for inclusion into one of the Internet’s oldest directories.

If they don’t do something with it and fast, then DMOZ will simply end up as another acquired technology that was neglected and left to die.

David Wallace

David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses. Follow +David Wallace on Google + as well as Twitter.

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