The World of Subject Directories
Subject directories are lists of websites organized by subject. Universities, libraries, organizations, and even volunteers have created these directories to catalog portions of the Web. The major subject directories tend to have overlapping but different content. Most directories provide a search capability.
When to use directories? Directories are useful for general topics, for topics that you don't know much about, for the value of human-selected content, for in-depth research, and for browsing.
Directories are not as popular or numerous as they were in the early years of the Web. Search engines are a much more dominant tool for finding Web content. Still, directories have their place in a research strategy if you're able to find one that collects websites in your subject area.
There are two basic types of directories:
- academic and professional directories often created and maintained by subject experts to support the needs of researchers. Keep in mind that some directories are the result of many years of intellectual effort. For this reason, it can be helpful to consult subject directories when doing serious research on the Web. INFOMINE, from the University of California, is a good example of an academic directory.
- Directories featured on commercial portals that cater to the general public. The Yahoo! Directory is an example of a directory that is part of a famous commercial portal.
Subject directories differ significantly in selectivity. For example, the editors of the Yahoo! directory do not carefully evaluate user-submitted content when adding Web pages to their database. It is therefore NOT a reliable research source and should not be used for this purpose. In contrast, the INFOMINE editors select only those sources considered useful to the academic and research community. Consider the policies of any directory that you visit. One challenge to this is the fact that not all directory services are willing to disclose either their policies or the names and qualifications of site reviewers.
Many directories annotate their resources. These annotations describe or evaluate site content. An objective annotation from a reputable source is more useful than an annotation written by the site creator as is usually the case with Yahoo!. Below is an example of an annotation on a global warming site from INFOMINE.
tip! To get an idea of the variety of directories available on the Web, take a look at the list included on the page of Subject Directories & Encyclopedias.