|Directories declining industry?|
DMOZ submit offline, bCentral RIP
I don't follow directories. I haven't submitted to one in years.
Nevertheless, I have a newish site that was ready for prime time and I started looking into directories.
What do I find?
DMOZ "suggest URL" is down for days (weeks?). Not a sign of a vibrant enterprise.
Microsoft bCentral just shut down. [webmasterworld.com...]
Looking from the outside, my first impression is that directories are either in a consolidation phase or a declining phase.
They are declining.
Last year (or was it the year before?), directories became the flavour of the month, when people sussed their linking power.
There was a rush to create 'easy to use' off-the-shelf directories, and many thousands sprang up. 98% were nothing more than link exchanges.
Then the SEs banned a few, and devalued links from the rest (including ODP), and the gold rush slowed.
It would have stopped dead, but a new form of abuse arose; 'made for adsense directories', which included many of the existing c*** directories.
Directories are still worth submitting to (especially niche directories), but search for Quality Directories; and learn to tell the difference!
[edited by: Quadrille at 1:52 am (utc) on Nov. 27, 2006]
What are search engine results pages (SERPs) other than categorically and hierarchicially organized indexes, assembled on the fly, by a human crafted semi-transparent algorithm? Sounds quite a bit like a directory with a latent structure.
Anyone is invited to stand and declare, based on their own intelligence - in the full scope of the meaning of that word - that it's game over for the directory model. My view is that the evolution of monetarized search is in the third inning in a nine inning game, a game that is subject to extra innings and cancellation due to rain. It's all just a battle for eyeballs, the eyeballs that matter the most to advertisers. Therein lies the secret of life and death in search.
[edited by: Webwork at 1:35 pm (utc) on Nov. 27, 2006]
I certainly cannot say you are wrong; but history tells us, right from the early days, that directories were never very good at attracting eyeballs; once SEs reached a certain quality, it was 'game over' for directories in terms of a central (mass audience) web role. Even Yahoo! rapidly acquired bought-in search expertise to beef up its directory results, and we all know how little yahoo! cares about its directory now, even at $200 a pop!
The abuse of directories for indirect benefit (like links) has been a distraction, and has made directories the focus of attention enough to encourage some to plaster adsense all over - but few of them make any money at all, let alone serious money, and those that do make it from webmasters, not from Seekers Of Information - and that can only reduce as the penny drops about link value (or lack of).
I believe totally that directories have a future; but the divide between the Quality Directories and the dross (sorry, but no other word fits the link exchange and MFA directories) is now so wide, that it is clear that the forseeable future has a much smaller place in mind for directories.
The near future is for a handful of general Quality Directories with a unique feature or two, plus quality editing - and for the oft-forgotten niche directories that got overlooked in the stampede!
Longer term ... who knows!
Remember when Yahoo used to look like this? [web.archive.org]
The first nail in the Directory coffin was when Yahoo took their directory off the front page. That was the "canery in the coal mine" for directories.
Then around 2003(?), Google devalued directories in the serps...
Now bCentral calls it quits...
Certainly looks like a downward spiral to me. And when you think about it, the reason is obvious: In this day and age when SEs can pull-up the exact thing a user is looking for, why go to (and through) a directory. Wasted effort.
Webmasters often do it to see what sites are available on a subject, but I suspect users won't in the future because they want specific answers to their questions, not a broad overview of what spam and MFAs have been built to pander to them.
type [orlando condos], bang, there's a list of all of them
click [real estate]
bang, there's a list of every site who A.) has paid or B.) done a recip or C.) knows the owner.
I think there is a place for both. If I am looking for companies that make a certain product such as glass sinks the SEs return way to much junk. I find nexttag, ebay, amazon and a whole host of other results I don't want where as a good niche directory will give me all of the businesses that make glass sinks.
An just a thought about the orlandocondo example. I tried it and while it doesn't seem to return quite as much junk you still have to weed through the different condo listing companies (directories)or keep scrolling down the pages to find something that you want. It is not quite as simple as click and there you are.
I admit that there are ways to search but how many of the average browsers are that skilled.
I think it is important to keep in mind that this conversation is mostly webmasters and alot of you seem to be mainly concerned with links whereas some of us are mainly concerned with creating an in depth, simple system for a certain niche of users and links are simply a side issue.
I think that there is a place for both and will continue to be as long as people accept the pros and cons of each.
>type [orlando condos], bang, there's a list of all of them
Hi, welcome to Planet Earth. Our search engines are apparently not as advanced as on your native planet. Here, if you try that, you'll find travel directories, (the kind you so despise, and in most cases with good reason!), more travel directories, and ... more travel directories. That's right, 500, count them, five HUNDRED travel directories for each and every single condo in the Orlando area.
So, if you went through the top thousand listings, you'd probably find ... several of those condos. Well, Google is a pretty decent engine by Earth-native standards: it's likely that they've tried to promote the actual condos above the private-affiliate-travel-spam sites. They have not been altogether successful -- but with those odds, getting even two real condo website into the top 100 listings represents a 90% spam-suppressal rate, which is pretty phenomenal.
So, while you're here, you may need to take advantage of several different websearch tools, picking the most appropriate one for each kind of content. For THIS example, Google local is the best our planet can offer.
Enjoy your stay.
When I go to Google Local it redirects to http*//maps.google.com/maps, but the same results apply for a search done on http*//local.google.com/.
Type in [orlando condos] in either "Search the Map" or "Find Businesses" and you get a list of condo names with no indication of whether or not they are residential condos for sale or vacation condos for rent.
When you click on each individual listing on the map, you still only get name, address, phone number and map location, but again, no indication of for sale/vacation rental.
So it appears to me you're wrong about GLocal being the best tool.
We earthlings have a saying: "walk a thousand paces in my footcoverings before criticizing my pace."
I don't know whether your hypotheticum wants to rent or purchase a condo. If the latter, probably MLS is your best bet. Or there may be some "dark matter" online-but-neither-Googlable-nor-free database that provides just what you want, if you can find it and are willing to pay. If the former, I have no clue; my suspicion is that there is no such database yet.
I believe the real reason is that the "real estate" industry is still coming out of the dark ages of information use: with only the high priests allowed to read the sacred writings, and supplicant peasants required to bring rich gifts before receiving a (self-serving) oracular synopsis. To be fair, information exchange is both a technological and a social problem, and dark age monks made efforts to address both aspects. (They found the social problems MUCH more difficult to address.)
But you're right about Google Local limitations -- after all, it's just a searchable phone book. And that illustrates what I think are some very important points. (1) Yet another automatic process has limits which may be exceeded -- easily, commonly, and trivially. (2) There isn't now and isn't ever going to be a one-size-fits-all solution: even an imaginary ideal Google wouldn't be able to deduce the purpose for your question well enough to choose the most comprehensive databases, then combine, filter, and sort the results. (3) As better tools become available, earlier generic tools become more specialized by shedding functions. There was a time when the Open Directory listed individual news articles. Google News is now the place to go for that, and there's no point in a directory trying to keep that information up-to-date.
And as more options become available and widely known, the importance of previous tools becomes less. Already, it's crazy to use Google to either shop or offer items for sale: where so much of the good stuff can be so easily buried by tons of heavily-SEOed shock-and-awe-level volumes of affiliate/doorway spam. Google recognizes that, and has provided a much more efficient alternative (Froogle). As soon as more people--both shoppers and retailers--recognize that, both Froogle and Google will be more useful.
There are still opportunities for people who can address the inordinately complex social issues of providing new search tools. And with modern programming tools, the technological problems are trivial.
I guess the best alternative would be to type in the correct long-tail phrase from the start...[orlando condos for sale] or [orlando condos for rent]. :)
But in the case of directories ...
They've always been a minority interest, and (as a genre) they've shot themselves in the foot, bigtime.
The average 'seeker after info' who does not know that the much maligned, designer-challenged ODP is actually pretty good in many, many areas - while the smooth designed spam-filled charnel house that promotes itself as a directory often has nothing to offer, except adsense and 'sponsored listings' - which have zero place in a Quality Directory in my book.
Quality Directories are rare; that's why it's important to drive home the distinction between good and bad - and the damage done by the boring ODP bashing 'game'.
Directories have a niche role - just like they ever did. But they need to reclaim the name and assert the Quality angle.
[edited by: Quadrille at 5:45 am (utc) on Dec. 1, 2006]
|In this day and age when SEs can pull-up the exact thing a user is looking for, why go to (and through) a directory. Wasted effort. |
There are many, many situations where this statement is just untrue. It's especially the case when you look at it from a local point of view, say you want to find a local catering company then you'll have a real problem with pages that appear for terms that crossover (self-catering, catering for...).
General purpose search engines like Google are good but they can see their own problems (hence the additional products like local and experimental CSE's). The main thing to remember about Search vs Directory is the way they deal with quality control. Search engines let anyone in and try to filter out the junk, directories only let a select few in.
The real downfall of directories may be the lack of exposure rather than their ability to serve their potential audience. But quality has never guaranteed success.
The ultimate proof is in the marketplace, and people are showing a greater preference for SEs than directories, as evidenced by the things Learning Curve mentioned.
Yahoo probably had the best vantage point for making a determination on the directory vs. search question, and their decision was to can their directory (off of the front page) and spend billions on search. Their directory was the original heart and soul of their company, and I'm sure some people even shed tears when the change was made, but they still did it.
I guess if a person was invested in directories on a personal preference level, sticking with dirs would be an okay choice, but from a business standpoint, I just don't think so, especially when the Google monster is at the door with their 3 listings from Google Local at the top of some serps.
So, it appears to me that Learning Curve's original statement ("directories are either in a consolidation phase or a declining phase") is true.
"Directories are dead"? Propositions that are obviously true need no proponents.
Everywhere I look I see directories that are working for endusers. Everywhere I look I see junk durectories.
Looking at search engine result pages I also see junk.
Small datasets, reliance on scant anectdotal evidence, focus on business models of directory success that are operationally dependent on search engine favor, even personal failure or inability to make the directory model work - or a myriad of other circumstances - might also explain the "I see the directory world darkly" opinions.
I continue to see lots of possible outcomes and opportunities with the model. The proof, of course, is always in the pudding: Does directory user "A" find value and perhaps bookmark it or use it again or tell an acquaintance? Does directory advertiser "B" generate a lead from a directory listing, which sales lead pays many times over for the cost of the listing in the directory? What market did the directory target? How well did it serve that interests of that market?
Lots of questions. Questions often define outcomes when it comes to asserting "See here! THIS is the answer!"
"Directories a declining industry"?
I would agree that standalone directories are a niche that will be increasingly hard to fill in the future. Nearly all the successful directories will be generated by organizations that already (for their own reasons) have the data.
For instance: imagine building a phone directory by going around talking to people and asking them to let you publish their phone number. Insane! when the phone company already HAS all that information, and publishes it. You can't compete with that. Again, "house for sale" directories can't compete with MLS, and anyone would be an idiot to even look at one, rather than going directly to MLS. (Anyone who wants to market to the above-room-temperature crowd will ADVERTISE in MLS, then, also.)
I think we'll see more successful niche directories generated by other organizations who simply repurpose data which they keep (for good business purposes) and which people give them (for long-standing business purposes.) And the days of collecting commercial links by random Googling, or random webmaster suggestions, or random cold-call telemarketing, are numbered.
In such a world, the "general-purpose" tools (including directories and search engines) would move further and further away from commercial data, and more into social, cultural, and personal data.
In the specific case of dmoz, IMO they actually were trying to have a bit of a revival. In the midst of that, however, hardware failure led to the discovery that (you guessed it) backup and recovery procedures were faulty.
You could argue that the latter events reflect a less vital organization, but I can point to at least one popular forum I like that has likewise suffered similar disaster leading to extended outages :-).
It is a real eye-opener to see the DMOZ actually losing valuable data, though.
Check your disaster plans, folks -- so much better to test them out when it's just a tedious task rather than find out there's a problem while your customers are tapping their toes waiting for you to get back online!
On the face of it, the industry looks to be declining. I recall we lost Zeal directory last year and that was another substantial player in this space.
Not sure the direction in the future perhaps we still have value with the niche directory players but i think its the volume thats the issue - many cant keep up with it.
If you take even a basic telephone directory with volumes of numbers, in the end users cant be bothered to look down every listing to find what they want and end up using 118 to do it for them.
I think the internet is the same thats why 9 times out of ten users will go to a search engine.