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Online Directories: The Real Direction of the Internet  

by Adrian Lawrence

Back in the early days of the Internet, there were only human-edited directories. These were found primarily in specialized browsers like the Archie or Veronica systems. Later, Yahoo! used the same basic idea to create a descriptive listing of websites. This was the birth of the first major online directory for the public World Wide Web.

Online directories have been around since the first days of the Internet, and without them and search engines we'd have no simple way of navigating through the sites. Today, there are thousands of directories online, which can make it very confusing to determine which are giving you the best quality information.

In fact, many online directories are no better than junk. Unfortunately, with Google's AdSense program, it has become very profitable in some cases to put together a directory just so you can run ads on it. These sites are automated and certainly no better than you might think.

The best directories are the ones edited by dedicated humans, not dedicated servers. That's because a human being knows what you really need to know, while a computer doesn't care. Examples of these are Yahoo!, which has a search engine component, but still maintains its directory content; and Dmoz, an open directory run by volunteers that also has pretty good quality content. These directories, and the many quality paid directories that exist, will be around for a very long time.

Search Engines or Directories: What's The Difference?

To understand why directories may be the future of online searching, you should understand the difference between a search engine and a directory.

Search engines catalogue the full text of a web site. This text is stored in a database and made fully searchable. The information appearing next to a link is dependent upon the metatag information in the web page, or upon the section of the text where the search term first appears. There is no human intervention, and no guarantee of quality.

A directory is quite different. Human editors place each site in the directory. They've gone out and examined the sites in question, put data together to clarify what the site's really about, and ranked it more fairly than a search engine could. And the new generation of directories includes wiki technologies and content that helps define a topic as well as show you where to go for further information.

What About Wikis?

Wikis are community-edited informational sites, and they're showing up all over the place. The first was Wikipedia, recently known for an act of vandalism that made up one person's background. This incident was heavily covered in the media, and may have coloured the opinions of many people. However, this incident was atypical of wikis. Nature magazine and other science editors recently did a quick review of Wikipedia's science content, and determined that it was at least as accurate and up to date as the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Wikis are proving themselves to be both valuable and accurate. They are also a great place to go for directory-style and in-text links to sites to deepen your information. Pretty soon, a wiki is going to be a natural place to go to search for information on just about anything.

Paid Versus Unpaid Directories

There are both paid and unpaid directories as well. Some of these directories are basically clones of Dmoz and other popular directory sites; this means the owner licensed with the directory to duplicate it, and then sold advertising on it. The site owner gets directory content with little or no work on his part, as well as the advertising revenue.

Not all unpaid directories are like that, of course, but you do get what you pay for. A paid directory is both original and human edited. It can also afford to pay for extras like advertising and marketing, ensuring the directory is known by the public. Paid directories can also employ SEO experts who can work toward raising the search engine rating of the site, and traffic experts who can monitor and increase the traffic to the website.

In the long run, listing with all the unpaid directories is okay, but listing with paid directories gives you an edge. And in today's marketplace, you need every edge you can get.

About the Author

Adrian Lawrence is the webmaster of Indexplex a leading web directory. Please feel free to republish this article provided this resource box remains together with a working hyperlink.

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