Goodbye DMOZ

I first went to DMOZ a few years ago. I'd heard about it on Wikipedia often, & decided to see what it was. It was glorious. I spend too much time on the web, reading about subjects which interest me. When you use Google often enough you begin to see that Google lacks something. The first page has recent updates of popular sites, the second page less popular sites, and so on. After a few pages the results begin to repeat. Oh, sure they may be different sites, they may be worded differently, but the information's largely the same. When I first saw DMOZ, when I saw someone had created a list of original sites organized by topic, I was ecstatic. It became one of my main resources on the web. I tried other directories, but they weren't as extensive as DMOZ. They wouldn't list over a hundred Anglefire Pokemon sites, nor would they have deep-links to an old movie review, left off a review site's new index files. I know finding such sites is not everyone's cup of tea, but the information on the sites can still be still good, entertaining, informative, or all of the above, regardless of changes in web standards or styles.

I used DMOZ fairly regularly for the next few years. Can't find something interesting with Google? Try DMOZ. Want to find search engines that aren't Google? See if DMOZ lists any. (They listed over a dozen.) I tried subitting a site, not because I wanted the backlink, but because I liked the project & wanted to see my site there. No luck. That didn't matter; I still liked DMOZ. I considered becomming an editor. I set my sights on the Pac-Man category, because I like Pac-Man, but didn't volunteer for years. Then, January 18, 2017, I decided to try it. I prayed, filled out the form as carefully as I could, submitted it, & waited. I didn't expect to see a response for weeks, if ever, but, within two days, my application was approved. I don't know how I got through. I suggested a deep link to the KLOV, a deep link to GameFAQs, & an old site which only exists in the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. DMOZ did not list sites in the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine (a fact I didn't know til I started editing), & deep links were supposed to be the exception, not the rule. Still, I was in.

When I sent in my application I mentioned that I was bored with Google, & that I thought humans could do a better job. Ironically, editing required me to use Google (& Bing/Yahoo, & ScrubTheWeb, & Gigablast, & Yandex) more than ever. DMOZ had a spider, Robozilla, which would check the directory for bad links & move them to a part of the site which could only be viewed by editors. I had to check these sites & see if they still existed. Parked domains were easy; if you see a site that's just a bunch of keyword-stuffed links with a note that says "This site may be For Sale," you know the site's no longer active. Deep links were harder. Websites have the annoying habit of moving their pages around, then redirecting old links to a different page. This is where the search engines came in. Go to Google, type in Site:example.com +Pacman, and scroll through a few dozen pages of links, searching for something that sounds like the missing page. Can't find it? Try another engine.

After fixing most of the links in the Pac-Man category, reviewing the new submissions (the ones that hadn't gone offline in the four years it took someone to review them,) & adding a few new sites, I ran out of things to do. I began to look for another category to help with. I considered applying to edit the Puzzle Bobble category. I'd always liked Puzzle Bobble 2, & the Puzzle Bobble category was near the Pac-Man category. After looking at it, I realized that it was a sub-category of Bubble Bobble. I figured I might as well volunteer for the higher level category, but before I did so, I went up one more category, to the platformer category. I realized that Croc, another game I enjoyed, had it's own category, but the category was empty. Bubble Bobble had to wait; Croc's category needed help more. I sent in an application to edit a second category, and, by the end of the day I was approved. When I had a chance to edit again, I saw all the links that had gone bad over time. I'd forgotten about those; I added one or two of the sites I'd suggested when volunteering, just to give the category some content, & decided to come back later. Over the next few weeks I was able fix the bad links, delete the links which had gone dark permanently, & add a few new sites.

I found out the directory was closing on February 28, 2017. I logged on to check for new submissions & errors. I saw none, & decided to look over the forum, to see if anything new was happening there. There were three or four new threads referencing the site's closure. I was confused. It made no sense. I went back to the editor dashboard, & found a link to the site's official closure announcement. I began to tremble. The announcement said DMOZ would close on February 28. I saved copies of the Editor Dashboard & site review pages to my PC as an historical reference, then I hurriedly tried to save the "Change Mozilla" pages. I like Mozilla's old mascot; I liked seeing him on DMOZ's categories, & I wanted to preserve the graphics. I got most of them, but probably not all. After this I did not know what to do. I wanted to tell someone what was happening, but couldn't til the announcement was made public. I put a message on my website that a site I loved was closing, but I did not say which site til later in the day, when the official announcement was made. Luckily, AOL decided to wait til March 17, around 10am U.S. Central Standard Time before actually shutting down the site.

Now what? DMOZ closed; I wasn't even an editor for two months. Did I do a good job? Was it worth it? The sites I reviewed probably made it in DMOZ's data dump. If & when someone restarts the project (under a new name; AOL owns the trademarks on both DMOZ & ODP) they should be there, but there's no guarantee. Perhaps the new directory will forbid deep links entirely, wiping most of my edits, & interesting pages in other categories which I did not edit. I added my pages to the Internet Archive when I heard the news, but that's not permanent either. AOL could add a robot.txt file to DMOZ, forcing Archive.org to wipe everything. Looksmart & Zeal aren't in the Wayback Machine for that reason, & Yahoo's directory isn't avaliable past 1999 for the same reason. So what have I done? Hopefully, I've made the web a tiny bit better for a month-and-a-half. If that's all, that's enough. It has to be.

I hope AOL doesn't add a robot.txt file; I regularly use archived versions of DMOZ to find old sites. There are other good directories in the Wayback Machine; I especially like Infoseek's directory in 1997, but DMOZ is special. How else can I find example searches from NorthernLight, Excite (before they began to use InfoSpace's results,) AllTheWeb, Altavista, Euroseek, and Lycos, and other long-gone engines?

I'd like to take a moment to address some criticisms of DMOZ. I saw no evidence of corruption*. Most of the forum posts are what I'd expect of a bunch of people trying to organize a list of websites*. I'll admit that I was not there long, & that corruption usually happens in secret. Still, I'd read threads about eeeeeeeeeeeeevil DMOZ editors, so I expected worse. A better explanation: DMOZ editors were no more corrupt than the average person, but humans like to classify things, & humans focus on the worst, especially when they feel they've been wronged, and humans love rumors. One bad editor, or a dozen (out of a group of thousands) could poison one or a dozen persons' opinions of the directory. Spread that on every SEO forum, & now we have people saying that DMOZ should've closed long ago, & that the editors belong in Hades. Rather disheartening.

It did take too long to get sites listed. I saw sites in my categories which were submitted in 2013, & were still unreviewed. This is not excusable. The sites should've been reviewed earlier. But, is this a failure on DMOZ, or on the public in general? For a volunteer-edited directory to work, you need volunteers! But I know many people volunteered & were rejected. What then? Perhaps if volunteers had interest in the directory outside of a free backlink more of them would've been approved. But that in itself is an improper judgment; I don't know everyone's intention; I only know what a few complainers say on SEO forums. Perhaps there's another explaination: the web offers many projects, many communities, and is always concerned with the newest thing. Why use Geocities when you have FreeWebs? Why use FreeWebs when there's Xanga? Why Xanga when there's Myspace? Or Myspace when there's Facebook? Instagram? Wikipedia replaced fansites & DMOZ, then, when Wikipedia's editors tried to make their site more like a "real" encyclopedia, the fans drifted away. To Wookipedia! To Bulbapedia! To a thousand slow-as-molasses fan-wikis on Wika! Then again, I'm not sure if even this assessment is correct; IMDb's older than the web, & IMDb's still a popular user-edited site, with a toxic culture & a dozen hoops to jump through when joining to boot. I don't know why DMOZ couldn't attract enough editors to review all the suggested links in a timely fashion. I do know that reviewing the sites was a lot of work. DMOZ could've easily become a collection of dead links, or, thanks to Robozilla, empty categories. It didn't. DMOZ might've been a poor site promotion tool, but as an information-finding resource it was great. DMOZ's editors might not have been fast, but they did a good job.

Now DMOZ, a site I loved & spent a lot of time on, is gone, & few have noticed. Most who have noticed & who have voiced their opinion have seen it as a good thing, as the end of an obselete, corrupt model. That doesn't seen right. I don't know. Everything must end, but must it be with so little ceremony?

Goodbye DMOZ; I'll miss you.

UPDATE: 11-15-17 3:47pm CST For the past few months DMOZ's former editors have been working on re-launching the project as Curlie. As of a few minutes ago it's up and open to the public. Check it out!

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*This page uses some phrases I used when saying goodbye on DMOZ's forum. They're marked with an astrek. They may be modified slightly. If I understand the license correctly, those phrases belong to AOL, & I must link to DMOZ. Seems rather pointless now, but here you go: DMOZ Link. I dislike the rel:nofollow tag; if Google wants to use links to rate websites they should teach their computers to tell the good links from the bad. I made an exception here.