JoeAnt Scours the Web

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In the midst of the dotcom meltdown and the frenetic quest for e-profitability, the spirit of web volunteerism is alive and thriving at JoeAnt, a newly created directory of the web. Despite its goofy name, JoeAnt offers several innovative features that should appeal to searchers.

JoeAnt is the brainchild of a group of former Go Guide volunteers. The Go Guide was Infoseek/Disney's alternative to the Open Directory Project, a catalog of the web created and maintained primarily by volunteers.

"We enjoyed working at Go as volunteers, but also saw things that we believed could be done better, both for the editors and the end users," says Mary Beth Buckner, one of JoeAnt's founding editors. "Four of us had started discussing this last January. Soon after that, Go announced that it was shutting down and we thought it was time to put our ideas into action."

The result is JoeAnt. The volunteer-compiled web directory was built from scratch by the initial team of four and the first dozen editors that were invited to join the project. "Nothing was saved from Go," says Buckner. "We wish we had the information on all the sites we submitted, all the work we did there, but it was all lost."

JoeAnt editors rate sites based on their content, how current the information is, originality, ease of navigation, and general appearance. They also provide a lot of additional information about sites, using icons to show if the sites have audio files, chat or message boards, e-commerce, games, downloads, video, or require membership for full access.

To the right of each listing are two "extras" buttons, that add a couple of really useful tools for the searcher. Clicking on the "info" button opens a new browser window, which displays the name of the JoeAnt editor who last edited the link and annotation.

Scroll down, and you're presented with two very cool options. To better determine the authority and validity of a site, you can click a preconfigured link to automatically run a BetterWhoIs search to get domain registration information about the site's owner. Alternately, you can enter search terms in a form that uses Google to search that site only for your keywords. Both of these features are great time-savers.

JoeAnt is compiled and maintained by about 40 volunteer editors, most of whom have worked on other directories. The service has only been accepting applications for editors for about three weeks, and hopes to attract many others as the directory becomes better known.

Anyone can apply to be an editor -- the only requirement is the ability to write clear English and to follow editorial guidelines. "While we try to be somewhat selective in whom we add as editors (in order to maintain the integrity of the directory), prior experience isn't necessary," according to Buckner.

Unlike either the deceased Go Guides or the ODP, JoeAnt allows even new editors to contribute links within an entire topic, rather than limiting them to subtopics. "The editors have more freedom in adding sites for us because they do not have to be reviewed by a higher level editor before being added to the directory," says Buckner.

Nonetheless, quality control is a top priority. "We do check the added sites to make sure guidelines are being followed and that inappropriate sites such as those with pornography, hate sites, or affiliate sites without original content are not being added," says Buckner.

In these days of dotcom gloom, it's refreshing to see idealism and a desire to contribute to the web community supporting a volunteer effort like JoeAnt. The reality, of course, is that if the directory becomes successful it will require financial resources to sustain itself. Will JoeAnt follow in the footsteps of the ODP, and sell itself to a large online property like Netscape/AOL? Or do the founders harbor dreams of a revitalized IPO market and the possibility of becoming a public company?

Says Mary Beth Buckner, "Sure, it would be nice to dream that this will make us all incredibly wealthy... but all we are really hoping for is enough to keep us working together, to be able to afford to make JoeAnt faster and more user-friendly."

Laudable goals, indeed. JoeAnt is off to a promising start, and who knows -- may one day be powering directory results at a major search engine near you.


Editor Application Form
Use this brief online form to apply to be a volunteer editor for JoeAnt.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.