Zeal.com, R.I.P.

Something I knew about for a while has finally hit the airwaves, Zeal.com is closing. I was part of LookSmart’s Editorial Management team in 2000 when Zeal was acquired. We thought it was a great idea because it allowed the directory to scale. Whereas ODP was a bit of a free for all, the differentiation of Zeal was the editorial oversight. We thought the two ideas, openness and oversight, blended well together. But as time wore on and the Zeal executives who came with the acquisition moved on to bigger roles, LS lost interest in the directory and peeled away resources to work on other projects. Zeal was left to die on its own.

When I first heard this was going to happen I was a bit bummed out. A lot of people, community members and editors, had put a lot of work into Zeal. The LS directory in general got a bad rap because it was part of LS and because people who write about search love to tell everyone how directories aren’t used by anyone. But, IMO, that’s because it wasn’t properly used. It’s a perfect example of a non-search search company not supporting a product that could have had niche value. It could have been truly integrated into blended search (mixing directory and algorithmic results) or in today’s environment it could have been an interesting foundation for a tagging system or social networking site. It already had morphed, in essence, into a folksonomy in that it was built by many people. But instead of trying to make it into a valuable resource LS pursued other goals and left behind what had been the foundation of the company.

To read more:

On the Search Lounge Guest Obituary for Zeal, by Alice Swanberg

Ontologista They are shutting down Zeal

Search Engine Journal Looksmart Closes Zeal, Concentrates on Furl.net

Search Engine Watch LookSmart’s Zeal Directory To Close

The Information Literacy Land of Confusion The End of the Zeal Directory

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I'm Chris and I've worked in the search engine industry since the late '90s.

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22 Comments on “Zeal.com, R.I.P.”

  1. yeah, this is sad time. being one of the last editors (WAM) to work on zeal, i watched helpless as its long and almost predetermined death march went by. i really felt like i was helping people, like i was building something worthwhile – all that work is now another hunk of scrap that will join grub.org and wisenut on the heap of abandoned LS acquisitions. i wish all the devoted zealots well. there were some really amazing people volunteering, collaborating and mentoring newbies that are now, after being ignored by LS for so long, left with nothing to show for their efforts.

  2. HelenH here. This is terrible. I can’t believe they’d do this to the Zealots – all while they are trying to keep up a community site in Furl? Doesn’t make sense.

  3. WAM, HelenH – maybe someone could create a memorial web site for all the ex-Zealots to post their thoughts on a permanent(!) basis. I’m irritated no end they’d trash a volunteer-created site rather than offer it to the Zealots themselves or some non-profit group take it over. Definitely more Altamont than Woodstock.

  4. I’m really curious as to what LS plans to with Zeal directory content, if it’s not being sold. I do hope they find a way to use it in some way — not just abandon it like they did with non-US directories when the company decided to give up on other markets. 🙁
    — BonnieP

  5. I don’t have any inside knowledge, but my guess is that the Zeal directory will sit in limbo and we won’t hear anything about it for a while, if ever.

  6. I make this the 7th brilliant ‘Quality Onus’ style directory to go the way of the Dodo in the past 3 years….. Looks like it’s not that easy to maintain a quality site anymore.

    Nice idea – crap management

  7. yeah, its not easy, but its doable. all the hard work has been done – adding lots of sites, building lots of categories, automated dead link checking, reports for typical issues and abuses. maybe two to four staffers doing maintenance and supporting the volunteers would have kept it relevant enough. then open it to businesses or whoever is willing to pay a nominal fee to get in for some link popularity. it could have worked, but they didn’t want to put any effort towards it.

  8. It is sad that a directory like zeal is being closed. Several hundreds of volunteers had provided content and editorial guidance to the website. I think it would highly inappropriate for zeal management (LookSmart) to go ahead with such a decision.

  9. This is SophieX. I can’t say I’m truly surprised, but still. I hate to see the plug pulled on something so many people put so much time into, editors and Zealots alike. Those categories were *mine*, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who took such a sense of pride and ownership in the areas I built. I definitely agree that it could have been the core of a social and/or tagging network with a little effort and forethought, and it’s sad to see them let it all go to waste.

  10. I was saddened but not surprised. The front page of Zeality showed that the Editors weren’t being encouraged to maintain the site (“Earlier this year ” – ie not last year but the year before). I’m putting lots of my favoutite pages on Furl and I hope to be able to paste my 2300+ profiles into something else. Three of them are already on DMOZ without permission.

    I’d be happy to have fellow-zealots write to me. I’m off to do even more for wikipedia.org and its offshoots

  11. That was Robin in New ZEALand speaking. I didn’t know contributors would all be called “Anonymous”. Write to me at robinp”at”xtra.co.nz!

  12. Load your categories to Furl. I am seeing lot’s of people starting to do the same.
    I believe LOOK is clearing the deck for a sale. The suitors do not want the Zeal product IMO.

  13. Hi WAM, HelenH, SophieX. I’m Zealot davidj5. You guys all seem a lot more human here, but it’s like meeting all of one’s old friends at another friend’s funeral.

    “maybe someone could create a memorial web site for all the ex-Zealots to post their thoughts on a permanent(!) basis.”
    When Infoseek/Go died, volunteers from their directories set up several new directories, and if I’m not mistaken, some of them are still going strong, maybe as commercial enterprises. Why not give it a try?

  14. Broux here. Just weighing in. I enjoyed the vision of Zeal – it was a community with the editor help, and I’m simply saddened to see the thing fall apart. I actually believed in Grub; thought it would revolutionize the web, but after Wisenut sat there for years unchanged, I surrendered. Rather disconcerting to see my kid (now 5) on the community page for the last year and a half, lol.

  15. MirDoc here. It was sad. And other share your pain. The crew at DMOZ have been sympathetic. If you miss the thrill of helping to build a directory, then consider joining. The welcome mat is out.

  16. The only consolation, if there is one, is that LookSmart will soon go the same way as zeal. Their concept of providing paid results is dead and their SE traffic and directory searches now represent only a fraction of 1% of the whole – and that is declining.

    I was a zeal contributor and, whilst not terribly active, thought that the unique way that zeal included/excluded sites based on real content was great. I also recall a pleasant email exchange with ColinP from New Zealand – a very nice guy. It is a huge shame that all the work and effort that zealots like him put in has been wasted. I also thought the community exchange was entertaining and I visited it often to read the rants of those whose commercial sites had been rejected. The 28th March was a sad day for the internet.

  17. having been an OZ, I can honestly say that I ran, screaming from Zeal when Look stupid bought the product. Looksmart tends to destroy things and move on. I knew that our days were numbered. I refused to put any work into anything for them. They needed to pay me first. After all they are worshiping the $ not the learning.

    I left.

    I was right.

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  19. Looks like the domain for the dns provider (zealmediagroup.com) for zeal.com expired and the new registrant sold the domain name to someone else.

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