The incredible shrinking directory.

If, a bit over a year ago, I noted that it was becoming more and more difficult to find the Yahoo! directory on the Yahoo! main page, as of this writing, it seems to take up only about 20% of its own page. At this rate, in a few years it may totally disappear.

But actually, if that were to happen, there really wouldn't be anything strange about it. Though catalogues and directories were once, long ago, feasible tools for giving us access to web pages that we may have wanted to find, for more than a couple of years it's been quite evident that they can't actually do the job. There are simply too many pages out there, too many different categories into which those pages might be catalogued (not to mention that most pages can't be compartmentalized into only one category but instead would have to be cross-referenced at least a few times). Unless they became very specialized and focused on a limited topic, catalogues had no choice than to capitulate to the dominance of search engines.

Catalogues, however, offered excellent examples of hierarchical linking. In what I ordinarily refer to as the Babushka doll method of organzing information, even if it took us an excessive number of clicks in order to finally get to the information we sought, we knew that an online catalogue such as Yahoo! offered us a logical path to that information. And in the process, we reinforced our conception of the World Wide Web as being somehow, in some intangible manner, an organized entity. Search engines, on the other hand, gave us links that were stripped of any connotation - hierarchical or associative. When we encountered links from the results page of a search engine to a page that contained the term we sought, these were no-frills-attached, bare-bones links that hinted neither at an underlying structure or at some idiosyncratic thinking process we had to decipher in order to understand where we might be headed. If at some earlier period of internet time web surfers ever thought that links carried with them some additional information pertaining to how we perceived that information, search engines probably played a significant role in making such a thought a thing of the past.

Go to: Dr. Hierarchy and Mr. Associative