JoeAnt Creates a New Volunteer Culture

When the Disney company decided it no longer had any use for its troop of Go Guide volunteers, many of them decided to find ways to continue organizing the Internet. One group of former Go Guide volunteers banded together to start JoeAnt, a volunteer-edited directory with many unique features, and a very relaxed attitude.

JoeAnt was conceived by a group of a dozen former Go.com (Disney) Go Guides and launched on May 24, in the spring of 2001. Within a year, it had become clear that the founders had been onto something special when they started. They redesigned and rebuilt the site, recreating the back-end enabling the directory to be indexed by search engine spiders, adding several new tools for editors, and improving the performance of the search engine, then re-launched in August of 2002.

C. J. Newton from SEO Logic® interviewed Mary Beth Buckner, one of the founding editors at JoeAnt. Mary Beth spoke about the beginnings of JoeAnt, the culture, the technology, becoming an editor, and the future of the directory.

C. J.: Who started JoeAnt and why? I.e., was there a perceived need for a new directory, or was there a need for something to do?

Mary Beth: JoeAnt was started by former editors at Go.com. We liked working on a directory, sharing favorite sites, finding new sites when we reviewed submissions, and the feeling of community. We developed friendships there that extended beyond our editorial work.

When Go.com announced that it was closing the directory, we didn’t want to lose what we had. We had a group of experienced editors who wanted to keep working on a directory and wanted to maintain the same sense of community. There were some things at Go.com that we liked; the way of rating sites, listing features, and guidelines for accepting sites. Since we were all experienced Internet users we also felt there were things we could improve on in a new directory. Among other things, we wanted a directory where editors could easily contact staff with questions and where they would know that they are our most valuable resource. We encourage editors to add their own sites and mark them as “editor owned”. We will be featuring editor owned sites as our Site of the Month.

C. J.: Does JoeAnt have any relationships with other portals and SE’s? Does JoeAnt share its directory with others? Does JoeAnt use any other database of sites, i.e., Google or DMOZ or others?

Mary Beth: All of the content on JoeAnt is unique and provided by our editors. We do not use databases from other directories or search engines but when a visitor performs a search of our directory, and we do not yet have results for the search terms, we do provide links to other sources. Fortunately, the directory is growing quickly and we are more often than not able to provide relevant results.

We do have plans to share our database as an open source eventually. Currently, we are exploring ways to share the database which will give the sites who use it the most current results in the easiest way possible.

C. J.: What is JoeAnt’s business model? I.e., in addition to revenue generated by submissions, are there other revenue streams? Does JoeAnt plan on selling search technology to business or selling its directory to portals?

Mary Beth: Our only revenue at this time is through Speed Pass submissions. We have plans to begin adding advertising and to add Sponsored Sites to the left of the topic entries.

Since our plan now is to open source our database, we don’t plan on selling the search technology or the directory. This could change, of course, if we were given a good offer by someone with whom we felt we could partner.

C. J.: How many people work for JoeAnt? Is there a plan for growth? How big is JoeAnt going to be? I.e., should we all be watching it to see if it’s going to take over the directory world? How?

Mary Beth: JoeAnt has no employees. All of the work is done by volunteers and contract vendors.

We began with about a dozen volunteer editors. These were the editors that began the initial construction of the topics. During our beta testing, we accepted applications for editor positions. These went for review and we accepted just over one hundred editors. We wanted to be able to add editors slowly enough that we could train them according to our guidelines so that when we opened up the editor applications we would have enough editors to review all the new submissions.

Of course we would love to see JoeAnt be the next “big thing” in the directory world…but who can tell? We are happy now to be able to cover the cost of our servers and make plans for the addition of several more dedicated servers.

Our growth over the last few months, the response we’ve gotten from the SEO community, and our increased numbers of visitors has been more than we could have hoped for. We believe that as long as we have a directory that makes adding sites easy for Webmasters while making sure that our visitors are offered the best possible sites in their searches, we will continue to grow.

C. J.: Can you provide any metrics? How quickly has JoeAnt grown in terms of sites added and in terms of volunteers?

Mary Beth: Late last year we opened up the editor application. Now, anyone who wishes to join as an editor is accepted immediately. We are currently averaging about six hundred new editors a month. These editors are adding an average of one hundred sites per day.

Many of these editors join to add just their sites…then a few of them notice that some favorite site isn’t listed and they add that one too…then another, and another. So, as the number of editors grows, the ones who stay around to add more sites increases and we expect our daily totals of new sites to increase accordingly.

C. J.: From the perspective of the founders, how did/do you see JoeAnt as being different from the others in the search engine/directory space? What were/are your goals for differentiating your project from others?

Mary Beth: JoeAnt was built by Jerry David from the ground up without assistance of other scripts or programming. We developed a unique editor interface. Our editors can communicate within the system by sending private messages or by posting in the forum. Editors rise through a point system which allows them greater access to topics and an increase in privileges and responsibilities.

As mentioned earlier, editors are registered automatically and do not have to go through a review process. The sites they submit go to a higher-level editor regardless of topic. This allows the submitter to get a fair review of the site without the likelihood that the reviewer is a competitor.

Mary Beth Buckner is a founding member of JoeAnt. She works as a volunteer editor adding sites to the directory and reviewing submissions and subtopic requests. She oversees the parts of the directory outside of the programming and design such as creating the guidelines, coordinating the work of the staff editors, and resolving disputes.

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