Magazine article Information Today

Web Directories Categorize Creatively: Although Generally Over-Hyped, Some Directories Deliver Greater Value

Magazine article Information Today

Web Directories Categorize Creatively: Although Generally Over-Hyped, Some Directories Deliver Greater Value

Article excerpt

Directories are probably the most over-hyped sources on the Internet, with most insisting that they index every subject imaginable and that their categorization is so specific, you'll never need to conduct a Boolean search again. In reality suck services rarely live up to one's expectations. However, they are far from useless, and, in any case, it would take one incredibly naive individual to judge the quality of a service by measuring it against the claims of a marketing slogan.


One directory worth at least some hype is the Australian-based LookSmart, driven by an unusual "categories within categories" interface. Developed by a company of the same name, LookSmart is introducing country-specific sections from each nation--provided by local editorial staff--in the respective language.

"We see real value in listing sites that are of interest to local users," explained LookSmart's editor in chief, Peter Tomassi. "This will be made much easier by having editorial staff in each nation to provide that content. At the moment, our coverage is heavily U.S.-based, although it varies according to the section -- for example, our travel section is about 50 percent U.S.-based and our government-related content is even more U.S. focused."

The directory includes about 160 KB of destinations that are organized into 12.5 KB of categories, according to LookSmart. The rate of expansion is about 5 percent per month and it is updated daily by a team of 23 editors. This amount will expand, says Tomassi, with the launch of country-specific sections. Editors come from a wide range of backgrounds, from a religion Ph.D. and a registered nurse to a licensed veterinarian.

The search interface takes an appealing tree-like approach whereby the user clicks on category headings, then subcategory headings, and even further subcategories. As the user moves through the categories, they span out across to the right of the screen, facilitating movement back and forth among them. Eventually, no more categories are provided and a list of relevant sites is offered with a one-sentence abstract on each.

According to Tomassi, LookSmart's category-based searching provides more relevant results than keyword-based search engines. "If you go to Lycos and type in `home improvement' and see the hits it generates, then compare it with our service by going to our Explore section and selecting `Home, Family & Auto,' then `Home Improvement,' and finally `Do-it-Yourself,' you'll see a big difference in the relevancy of results," he said.

He added that the site's content is more thoroughly verified than other directories' links. "We use a number of important criteria when selecting sites for inclusion in the directory, including utility, depth, functionality, reliability, visual appeal, and timeliness. In addition, our site reviews are more objective than other directories since they are written by editors and are copy edited. We also provide relevance ranking by listing the most accurate hits at the top."

The Mining Company

Adopting a more human approach to categorizing Web content is the directory from the start-up New York-based company, The Mining Company. Its directory draws on the expertise of subject specialist to maintain topical Web sites and help lead users to more valuable content. At launch in May, The Mining Company hosted around 250 "special interest" Web sites, which are organized by its trained "Web Guides," and it expects to offer over 1,000 such sites by the end of 1997.

The Mining Company initially breaks content down into 13 main topic areas as well as offering news, weather, and stock-exchange information. However, it differs from other Web directories in that the company pays subject enthusiasts to manage more refined "specialist sites" within each topic area. The guides also lead users to what's best on the Net and offer communication tools, such as newsletters and bulletin boards, to build communities of like-minded people. …

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