The Past, Present, and Future of Online Directories
Building Blocks of WWW Navigation
Years ago, inclusion in the top online directories was a necessity for anyone
interested in receiving traffic to their new website. Yahoo, About, Looksmart,
and The Open Directory dominated the market by providing the web's most reliable
mines of resources. These human edited, hand selected directories of categorized
websites seemed as if they would ever be the easiest way to sort and find online
Internet Growth - An Issue of Scalability
But then something happened
buying, building, and managing websites became
both easy and inexpensive. Everyone and their dog had a website in some capacity,
whether it was a personal homepage, e-commerce store, or internet portal. The
internet grew too fast for the directory structure to keep up with.
Even if the directories' editors could manage to review and include the hundreds
of new sites being introduced every day, an all inclusive directory would have
far too much content to efficiently display. A user might be presented with
a page of thousands of links in a single end category.
Such was the case with the Open Directory. Founded on the "open source"
philosophy - data and technology created by all, refined by all, and free for
all to use - the Open Directory continued with its free inclusion model, maintained
by a number of volunteer editors. As submissions poured in, the directory grew
unchecked. Categories became so large that editors could no longer manage the
existing content, slow review times left the directory outdated, and few resources
remained for auditing inaccuracies and broken links. Making matters worse, additional
technology costs accrued as the need for storage space and bandwidth increased.
The result - a slow, partial directory of broken links and unorganized content.
The fundamental dilemma presented by WWW growth would lead to two unique developments
in the directory market
the paid inclusion model and the necessity for
Paid Inclusion is Born
In order to meet the demand for submissions, some directories chose to being
charging a fee for inclusion. Yahoo and Looksmart each went this route. By requiring
a nominal fee, webmasters with sites of little content or value would not bother
to pass their properties across the directories' editors' desks. The primary
benefit of this system is that it allows the editors to focus on those sites
more likely to be worthy of inclusion. The drawback is that editors may never
have the opportunity to include sites which offer great value to users but either
have no budget or no initiative to pursue a paid listing.
The Improvement of Internet Search
Along with the refinement of internet search came the downfall of the directory.
Initial search technology was slow, inaccurate, and based on a small sample
of what was available on the entire internet - these first "search engines"
posed little threat to the directory structure. Eventually, though, the system
where relevant results could be indexed and delivered without human intervention
proved to be much more scalable and cost effective than the directory system.
Search technology has developed by leaps and bounds in the past several years.
Results are faster, more accurate, more comprehensive, and filtered for suitable
content, making the old directory structure obsolete.
What Becomes of the Modern Directory
Today, the most successful directories are those which are based on a pay per
click model. Such directories include demographically-targeted Business.com
and Verizon's SuperPages. In these, and many other PPC directories, any site
is eligible for instant inclusion in a categorized directory of websites, products,
Automated submission and bidding systems allow for the efficiency of search
indexing, making these directories more scalable than their human-edited counterparts.
Because listings are paid on a per-click basis, the categories are inherently
more refined and listings are seldom out of date - advertisers have no interest
in bidding for untargeted visitors.
Though highly relevant, the costs of inclusion in a pay per click style directory
can be high and only the most efficient, highly profitable, or niche-targeted
sites can afford to remain.
Perhaps the best chance for the Directory structure's continued existence is
in presenting local information. Whereas search engines are able to provide
results for websites, human-edited directories have the ability to include content
which may not otherwise be online. This system may not be efficient for global
searching, however, regionalization is highly targeted and a single editor can
easily identify and include locally relevant information within the contents
of his or her directory branch.
A first mainstream application of this concept is Yahoo's GetLocal
An advanced application of this concept is the "SmartView" technology
integrated into Yahoo Maps.
Upon viewing a map of a town, city, state, or region, a navigation menu allows
the user to select from a number of businesses and services which are subsequently
displayed as icons on the map itself. Roll your mouse over the icons, and the
name, address, phone number, and a link to driving directions are displayed.
"Directories" of this nature are likely to dominate the future of
Without including all reputable sources in a given content area, a modern research
tool is virtually useless. Herein lies the primary obstacle facing online directories
- without automated systems in place it is virtually impossible to efficiently
and effectively reference all online resources.
There may never be a machine substitute for the human being, but today there
are plenty of applications capable of outperforming the human-edited directory.
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