HotLinks invites you to help build a Web directory

Big-shot Web directories such as Yahoo Inc.’s and LookSmart don’t offer all the best sites on the Web, but the HotLinks Guide, based on recommendations from thousands of regular people, claims to do just that.

Thousands of the most popular links are missing from the big directories, says Jonathan Abrams, the company’s founder and chief technology officer. HotLinks recently researched its competitors’ coverage, checking some of the top directories for 13,000 of the most popular links in the HotLinks Guide.

Yahoo fared the best during the HotLinks-administered test, offering up 61 per cent of the 13,000 links. Netscape’s Open Directory Project covered 54 per cent; and LookSmart nailed 50 per cent. Snap.com listed just 34 percent. The test shows even the best directories out there are bypassing some of our favorite sites, Abrams says.

Most companies overlook links because they take only two approaches to covering the Web, Abrams says. Search engines such as Google use programs that locate millions of sites, but they can’t organize them very well, he says. Directories such as Yahoo hire staff to review and catalog the Web (the Open Directory Project uses volunteers). But asking a few hundred people to catalog the rapidly expanding Web isn’t practical, and eventually it won’t even be possible, he says. “It’s not a scalable model, and it’s not a very Internet-like model,” he says.

The HotLinks Guide relies on real Web users, Abrams says. In September of 1999 the company launched a Web-based bookmark service that let’s people store private or shared Web site listings (see “Share Links List With Strangers”).

Today HotLinks has more than 500,000 customers, and the HotLinks Guide aggregates the favorite Web sites of all of them, Abrams says. People essentially vote for the best Web sites by saving them as bookmarks, he says. It’s similar to the sharing approach taken by Backflip, which invites you to store your bookmarks online if you’ll share them (see “Try a Backflip Instead of a Search”).

The company’s software sorts through these “reviewed” sites, assigning relevance to sites according to the number of times they appear in the database. Currently the HotLinks database contains about 30 million URLs, and it has aggregated about 100,000 of them into the HotLinks Guide, he says.

HotLinks is just getting started, Abrams says. “Our directory isn’t very old, it will take time to scale,” he says. So as the Web grows, and other directories fall behind, the HotLinks database and then the Guide will grow correspondingly, he says.

The HotLinks Guide will always be smaller than the overall database, Abrams adds. If you don’t find what you seek in the directory, you can search the full database. The company doesn’t plan to aggregate all of the URLs it collects.

“We filter out the noise,” he says. “A lot of people have dumb stuff in their bookmarks.”