aka Open Directory Project
aka Netscape Open Directory
Peter Da Vanzo: Is DMOZ Dead?
Tom Lustina: Here Lies ODP
Sean Bolton: DMOZ, Please Die Already
Resource Zone: submit URL link not working
Trond Sorvoja: Will AOL allow a Open Directory Foundation?
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.
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.
What do you do when you get an email like this?
To: "Rich Skrenta"
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 1998 18:47:15 -0700
Subject: Infoseek and NewHoo
I just got off the phone with Steve Kirsch, Infoseek's founder and Chairman of the Board. We are very much interested in purchasing the technology, content, and founders of NewHoo. This is our preferred option, but we would certainly consider discussing other partnering opportunities if this doesn't work out.
We think that the best way to continue the process would be for you to name a price range for a possible purchase, including the appropriate market and financial information justifying that price.
Next, we can continue our discussions if there is enough interest on this side.
We launched NewHoo in June, 1998. Within 4 months we had the CTO of LookSmart saying we 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.
In a 2003 talk, I predicted that the server would get lost in AOL ops, and, deprived of any staff who understood how it worked, it would just crash one day, and that would be it.
My (edited) reply to a dmoz meta editor who contacted me about the extended outage:
Not sure if you all have been following the drama going on within AOL, but I doubt they have any attention for dmoz at all at this point, less even than usual. In fact, my guess is that everyone involved in the management chain there over dmoz for the past 6 years is now gone.
So regardless of the tactics of whether specific front-line people in AOL ops can get the machine running again or not, I doubt that the environment there will be very good in the longer term. All of the folks there who had been championing product-lead growth are now gone. One possible outcome is that Time Warner is slimming AOL down for an eventual spin-out. A more cynical take is that they're going to deliberately torture the org first, as payback for the destruction in Time/Warner value following the AOL merger (this idea was put forward in an NY Times story a few months ago).
I do think it's a great time for a new directory to emerge, and human editing, if supported by sufficient technical automation to make them sufficiently productive, could be a powerful model. Bob Keating's ideas around building a faceted directory are spot-on IMO.
However, 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. One option I might suggest is to look at something like Jimmy Wales' new Wikia service, and see if it could fit the bill, at least at some level. If so, the dmoz editors could move over there and start building again.
WikiPedia is another model to consider. It seems to have depended on patronage, and has probably been limited in the past by resource constraints. 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 (gosh you could have that from Rackspace for a monthly fee, including backups :-).
But unlikely to be possible within AOL, I'm afraid. I ran a scan of the forums to estimate active editorship...I count approx 4000 recent posters to the forums, given the old 50% measurement that suggests about 8-10k active editors -- plenty to build something fairly interesting again in a relatively short time.
In any case, if I can be helpful in any way, let me know.
I spoke to Bob Keating yesterday and apparently my post shook things up a bit inside of AOL with respect to the ODP. He credited it with getting them to finally assign a sysadmin back to dmoz, which hasn't had a dedicated SA for some time, part of the reason this outage was so long.
So this post has directly lead to the server being fixed as well as a significant offer of help from a major industry figure.
AOL just had an impressive re-org. I actually briefly worked with Ron Grant while I was there. He's a scarily effective thinker and negotiator and frankly scares the living bejeezus out of me. You have something broken and rotting like AOL, you want some bold moves to try to fix it. Ron's the right guy for that.
Similarly I think the ODP is suffering from its closed, stultifying culture. There needs to be a re-org within the editor culture itself before the ODP will be able to truly move forward. Fire the handful of metas at the core of this rot and have a general housecleaning. Institute term limits for the senior ODP positions; that works great in politics to clean out the old corrupt guys and make way for fresh blood.