ODP : The
Hardin Meta Directory
GUEST COLUMN by Eric Rumsey
- July 5, 2000
At the Hardin
Meta Directory of Internet Health Sources, we take the Open Directory
"volunteer editor" approach one step further -- Instead of inviting
people to make directory pages on our site, as Open Directory does,
we seek out ongoing directory sites done by specialists in the field,
and make links to them from Hardin Meta Directory pages.
We got the
idea to start the Hardin Meta Directory in 1996, when we were looking
for the best lists of links in several areas of clinical medicine.
Like many people, then and now, we assumed that Yahoo was THE PLACE
TO GO to find links. But when we did a bit of digging, we found
that was far from the case -- There were actually several directory
sites that had much more comprehensive link-lists than Yahoo. These
were generally done by people who specialize in health/medicine,
and have much more time to devote to their directory pages than
the staff of an encyclopedic directory site like Yahoo. An example:
The Yahoo page for cardiology lists about 120 links; some of the
specialist-produced lists in the Hardin Meta Directory have 500-1000
time it was launched, the Hardin Meta Directory has been highly
successful, with citations in the popular press (Money, USA Today,
Consumer Reports), as well as in professional journals (British
Medical Journal, Journal of Family Medicine). It's also widely-cited
on important pages around the web, as shown by its high ranking
in Google searches.
directory is a directory of directories
our site a "meta directory" because it's a "directory of directories."
This has always seemed to us to be a natural approach to organizing
the web. Experienced web searchers soon learn that one of the best
ways to jump-start their research efforts is to find a good list
of links in the subject being researched. Bruce Maxwell, in his
book, How to Find Health Information on the Internet, sums
this up in his endorsement of the Hardin Meta Directory: "Directory
sites are a godsend, but tracking them down can be difficult --
Hardin solves this problem in the health field."
Why is it
so hard to find directories? One reason we've discovered is that
people who maintain directory sites do a poor job of providing links
to other directory sites. If they provide links to other directories
at all, they're often poorly maintained, commonly with a high proportion
of dead links. This is really not so surprising. After all, if you
run a directory site, there is naturally the assumption (probably
unconscious in most cases) that of course your directory is the
best one, so why would anyone want to go to a competing directory
anyway? It's just the opposite for us -- Instead of being in a competitive
relationship with directory sites, we have a collaborative relationship
with them. Our success is built upon the existence of directory
sites, so we communicate frequently with people who run them. One
of our greatest satisfactions is ferreting out little-known directory
sites, and making links to them from Hardin Meta Directory pages,
often serving as their main foothold on the web, and often encouraging
them along in their fledgling directory-building.
human view of the Web
of directories, as opposed to search engines, of course, is that
directories are done by humans, and thus are products of human judgement. The great advantage
of the meta directory approach is that it gives not one, but many,
human views of the Net. With the turbulent, ever-changing nature
of information on the Net, it's obviously an advantage to have a
variety of viewpoints.
purpose of the Hardin Meta Directory -- to lead the user to the
most comprehensive directories -- has developed a bit further as
the site has evolved. In looking at directories, in addition to
their comprehensiveness, we now evaluate their quality of upkeep
and maintenance. A key element of this evaluation process is that
we've developed methods to quickly measure the proportion of good
links at each directory site. Sites that meet our standards are
given our "Clean Bill of Health" award. It has been especially gratifying
to see that, not only is our site ranked highly in Google searches,
but sites that we rank highly on our pages are also ranked highly
by Google. Since Google rankings are based on the frequency and
prominence of links, this indicates that other people are choosing
to make links to the same sites that we rank highly in our evaluations.
there more meta directories?
Hardin Meta Directory has been so successful, we can't figure out
why there aren't meta directories in other subject areas. We keep
looking, but so far haven't found anyone else using the same approach.
The ODP has shown the benefits of using volunteers to build a directory
site, but it also has shown the disadvantages -- ODP volunteers
tend to be either novices, with little Web experience, on the one
hand, or people who have their own ax to grind, and are using their
positions in ODP to promote their own sites, on the other hand.
The meta directory approach avoids both of these problems. In our
experience, a meta directory can be built on the unbiased contributions
of people who have already gone through the rudiments of learning
their way around the Web.
engines may favor meta directories
success of Google -- which is based largely on its analysis of the
link structure of the Web -- directories, and especially meta directories,
are becoming increasingly prominent. As mentioned earlier, Google
ranks directories highly, and it ranks our meta directory site especially
highly. Future search engines may rank meta directories even more
highly -- The Clever project, under development at IBM's Almaden
Research Center, is seen by many as the wave of the future in search
engines. Like Google, it relies on link structure in ranking search
results. But, going one step further than Google, it looks not only
at back-links TO the target page, but also forward-links FROM the
target page. Sites like the Hardin Meta Directory that are frequently
linked from other important pages, and also themselves have a high
proportion of links to other important pages will likely rise to
the top in Clever searches.
Raghavan, one of the developers of Clever, gives -- from our point of view anyway
-- a glowing endorsement for the concept
of meta directories, when he says that the creators of directories
are "the unsung heroes of the web." We take this to be an eloquent
statement of what we're doing, and what other meta directories could
do -- Finding those unsung hero directory sites in the dark crevices
of the web, and bringing them to the light of day!
about making a meta directory?
We hope we've convinced our readers
that the meta directory idea is a good one, and we'd strongly encourage
people to think about starting meta directories in fields besides health and medicine.
The first thing to consider, of course, is the
number of directory sites in the field,
which is generally correlated with the volume of Internet activity in the field.
As we've learned recently, Google does an excellent job in finding
directory sites, so try typing potential subject words in Google
searches, and examine the first 100 hits -- If there are good directories
in the field, from our experience in health and medicine, it's likely
that Google will find them. We would certainly be happy to serve
as a consultant for anyone considering a meta directory, so send
The Hardin Meta Directory
How to Find Health Information
on the Internet, book by Bruce Maxwell
(Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc, 1998)
Google likes directory sites,
Hardin MD Notes, Jan 3, 2000
Google ranks Hardin MD in
the top 15, Hardin MD Notes, Feb 24, 2000
The Clever Project
How clever is Clever?,
Paul Kedrosky, ForbesDigital, November, 1998
is a Librarian/Webmaster at the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences,
University of Iowa, and founder and manager of the Hardin Meta Directory.
He writes a regular column, Hardin MD Notes on the Net.
Please send comments to Eric
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