NewHoo: Yahoo Built By The Masses

NewHoo: Yahoo Built By The Masses

From The Search Engine Report
July 1, 1998
(a longer version is available to site subscribers)

An interesting new directory was launched on June 5 that is produced by a staff of volunteer editors.

Called NewHoo, the idea is that by enlisting people from across the web to serve as editors, the service will better be able to keep up with listing requests and changes that produce backlogs and dead links at services such as Yahoo.

The service is a pet project created and supported by two California-based computer programmers, Rich Skrenta and Bob Truel. Its inspiration is derived from the GNU project, the long-standing volunteer effort to produce a free, UNIX-like operating system.

In fact, the service was originally launched as GnuHoo, but the name was changed in order to avoid confusion with the project.

Building a directory requires a category framework, and for that, NewHoo turned to Usenet.

"We toyed with the Dewey Decimal System, but it didn't really seem to fit well with the content on the web. Eventually we hit on the idea of using a list of Usenet groups as an outline for our category structure. That would provide representative breadth for what people talked about on the Internet. I took a long list of groups and hand-edited them into a hierarchy," Skrenta said.

The next challenge was filling this framework, but converts have been signing up in droves. The site now boasts over 400 editors, who have categorized 31,000 sites into 3,900 categories. In contrast, Yahoo's surfer staff is in the 80-person range, with over 750,000 sites categorized. Skrenta said they hope to scale the system so that it can handle between 10,000-100,000 editors.

Much of NewHoo definitely feels empty, as could be expected. But there are a few pockets where the listings have more depth than at Yahoo.

For example, Yahoo's Thyroid Disorders category lists 19 links, while NewHoo's Thyroid Disorders page, run by an enterprising editor, lists 148 resources.

NewHoo hopes that these pockets will become the norm, as a large staff means that each editor has more time to spend covering a particular category. It also helps that many volunteers already have an interest or an expertise in the areas they cover, Skrenta said.

Some may also think that NewHoo sounds familiar to the Mining Company model, which is a network of over 500 specialty sites maintained by independent specialists.

The main difference is that the Mining Company is not a search service, though it is often seen in that light. Actual content resides within its sites, and link lists are only a part of that. In contrast, NewHoo is an attempt to categorize the web, not to provide topical content.

With a staff of volunteers, there's always the fear that editors could enlist to promote their own sites. This has already happened, Skrenta said, but the volunteer community is policing itself.

"We have had some instances of editors signing up just so they could list their own site and put a 'cool' icon next to it. Other editors complain when they notice such abuses, so the peer-review system seems to be working so far," Skrenta explained.

Want to become an editor? Applying is easy. Search for an existing category that you'd like to edit, and if it has no editor, apply using the "Become an Editor" link at the top of the category page. You can tell if an editor exists by looking at the bottom right-hand corner of the page, where the editor's screen name is displayed.

In fact, this is one of my favorite features of NewHoo. Clicking on the screen name brings up the name and email address of the person responsible for the particular area. This makes it easy to get in contact with them, and because there are so many, they are not as likely to be as overwhelmed by mail as would be the case for Yahoo editors.

If a category has an editor, you can still apply to edit a subcategory. Simply follow the same procedure, but on the application form, indicate a proposed name for the new subcategory.