Online communities often develop a bad reputation, and in many cases they’re richly deserved. From the bovine idiocy of YouTube comment threads to the cruel and coordinated personal attacks orchestrated by the members of such forums as 4chan, the Internet can be a writhing, depressing pit of negativity that makes one despair for the human race.
On the flip side, though, there are many places online that bring light to the darkness; sites populated by people who want nothing more than to make the Internet a better and more useful tool for everyone who uses it. Chief among these are the humble and — in an age of monolithic search engines — often little-known web directories: indexes of useful websites organized by category and subcategory. Web directories are designed to help site owners gain rank and reputation, but also to allow web users to find and enjoy useful websites that may not always have the clout to find their way to the top of the results of the popular search engines. Volunteering for a web directory can be a great means of learning your way around the industry, as well as offering other advantages.
The Spirit of Volunteerism
The Internet has a long and celebrated history of volunteerism. From the millions of contributors who help maintain and improve Wikipedia to the countless members of a million different forums on every subject under the sun, from vehicle repair to crochet, the Internet provides the ability for anyone who feels the urge to share their knowledge and expertise with the world. It’s this that has made the Internet such a useful tool, and a source of useful information and not just entertainment.
Web directories offer some of the best examples of this spirit of volunteerism. Around the world hundreds of thousands of volunteer web directory editors donate their time to the good cause of sifting through submissions to weed out the useless sites from the useful, and updating directories with the freshest and most relevant information. For some editors this is almost a full time job; elite volunteers contribute several hours each day to the task of updating their chosen directories.
But what drives these people to sacrifice their time with such generosity? Why do they spend hours every week updating and editing directories such as DMOZ, JoeAnt or other, perhaps smaller and lesser known sites? What could possibly drive them to devote such time to a task for which they receive no remuneration? Is it simple altruism, or is something more at work?
What are the driving forces behind those who are interested in volunteering for a web directory? DMOZ, in particular, has had volunteer editors who have spent hours on the project, most every day, for several years. What motivates them?
There are, indeed, many people who volunteer for no other reason than the good of society. They find the Internet useful and they want to “pay it forward” by working to make the web a better place. It may seem bizarre to some, but there are many people who are happy to anonymously work to improve the Internet without any hope of plaudits or recognition, simply because they’re good people and they want to help in any way they can.
Still more volunteer web directory editors donate their time to help raise awareness of — and participate in — a particular subject that is of importance to them. Almost every directory drills down to extremely specific sub-categories; to take one random example, a category for sites related to computing may have a subcategory for Apple computers, a further subcategory for Macbooks and a final, very specific sub-category for sites related to Macbook Pro mods and accessories.
Many editors will limit themselves to such subcategories, and only edit the area of a directory that deals with subjects in which they’re deeply interested. A volunteer editor who has a specific interest in a certain sub-category may enjoy “ruling” that particular subject, and have a vested interest in ensuring that their small corner of the Internet is as useful as possible.
Finally, many volunteer web directory editors donate their time in the hope that the favor will be repaid in time. Many of those who run their own websites understand the power of a good, well managed web directory to raise the profile and reputation of the sites it lists, and they know that whenever they build a new site they’ll be able to count on the support of their directory to quickly add a listing. This can be a great way to speed up the rate at which a new site appears in search engine results, as popular web directories are spidered by search engine bots on an almost constant basis.
As you can see there are lots of reasons why a person might choose to volunteer as a web directory editor. Sometimes it’s altruistic, and sometimes there’s an element of self-interest. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that contributors and users alike continue to find value in the resources themselves, and it’s heartening that even today, when search engines seem to have taken over the Internet, there’s still a place for the humble web directory.