PC World

Directories: Yahoo Versus Its Rivals

In 1994 when the World Wide Web first took off, your choices for searching the Net were pretty limited: Yahoo and, uh... Yahoo. The site remains a cornerstone of Web research, but as a directory it faces stiff competition from the Open Directory and from LookSmart.

All three are useful, but on balance, we like the Open Directory Project best. Spearheaded by Netscape, this project relies on more than 24,000 volunteer editors worldwide who have indexed nearly 2 million sites in over 200,000 categories. Any other search site can license Open Directory and use its database for their own search results, and many of them do: AltaVista, HotBot, Lycos, MetaCrawler, and some 100 other sites dip into it for links.

You might expect the quality of the Open Directory's results to be erratic, since the site relies on the work of volunteers. But in our tests, it produced well-organized lists of pertinent sites, with clear descriptions of each link. (In some cases, Yahoo offered only cryptic descriptions, or none at all.) And the www.dmoz.org site has a pure-search feel similar to that of Google, with no shopping links or other distractions.

The descriptions at LookSmart are also superior to those at Yahoo. But LookSmart seems to have fewer listings for business sites than either Open Directory or Yahoo--a problem if you're trying to track down an office design firm in Detroit. And though it's not a full-service portal, LookSmart sometimes lards its results with ridiculously off-topic shopping links. Do a search for Buddhist philosophy, for instance, and LookSmart asks if you want "Local sales & coupons for 'Buddhist philosophy' at ShoppingList" before you check its search results.

No matter which directory you choose, all have one advantage over search engines: They're browsable, so you can wander through a series of related topics laid out in the site's menu. For instance, click on "Sports" at LookSmart and you get a drill-down list of topics like Baseball, Olympics, and Motor Sports. Click on "Motor Sports," and you can refine the search to a subtopic such as Formula One Racing or NASCAR.

Or suppose you need a company to make a sign for your Los Angeles-based business, but you know of only one supplier. You can perform a reverse query by running a directory search on the name of the company you know. Yahoo, for instance, will list the category that the company falls under ("Los Angeles>Business and Shopping>Business to Business>Signage"). Click on that category, and you'll get a list of sign manufacturers in LA. This approach can help you track down sites more quickly than you would by guessing at keywords.

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