Rich Skrenta, one of the co-founders of the Open Directory (DMOZ), suggested in a SearchEngineBlog interview that Directories are on their way out. Danny Sullivan now seems to be writing their obituary too. This seems to be on a different wavelength from the sometimes heated debate going on among DMOZ editors and webmasters in a Cre8asite Forum thread at the present time.
I must admit I’m more in the writing-obituary school myself. Although highly focused directories may have a useful role for tight market sectors, large scale general purpose directories have an impossible task. There’s just too many web pages to catalogue and not enough paid or volunteer editors to do all the human reviewing that is required.
I believe that the Search Engines could serve up something akin to the listings for directory categories, if they wished. In other words, they could list say all the suppliers of widgets they know about. For Google, it would require some working on the concept of the Similar Pages link they add to each entry on a Search Engine Report Page. Perhaps you should be able to specify what ‘Similar’ means to you. That’s akin to the Clusters that Teoma offers on its Search results page. One type of clustering could be the listing of widget suppliers. Or it could be their estimate of the list of relevant widget suppliers for a particular country or region.
It might be questioned whether such computer-generated Category listings will be as good as those in human-reviewed directories. I know where I’d put my money. Of course, you can get the best of both worlds by involving human editors who improve the computer-generated listings process in response to searcher reactions.