The Curlie Experiment

Well, happy Pennyverse Month, folks. I got a gigantic list of stuff I wanna finish and stuff to do with Caby, so watch the toyhouses, watch cammy.somnol…guess watch this space too? I’m still on a bit of an extended vacation from blog stuff, though I’m sure as it gets colder, stuff in my routine will change. Maybe I can resist the urge to make it a big production and just type a quick paragraph here and there about what I’m up to.

So let’s web directories! If you remember from back before Somnolescent was officially a thing, Caby, dcb, and I first worked together on a little thing called Districts. dcb provided what was our “backend” (a modified AutoSite that could pull listings from JSON), Caby brought the graphics, and I put it all together. It worked real nicely before it got stolen from us. What we had last is still up on archives for the curious.

Districts was a throwback to the days of the web directory. If you remember, Yahoo! was once not a search engine! It was a list of websites categorized into groups, like a directory. DMOZ was one of the biggest of its kind until AOL shuttered it in 2017. The design and listings were then transferred to a site called Curlie, which is still active and volunteer-run like DMOZ was.

Curlie's home page in English

These days, which search engine you use is as much a social and political thing as it is a practical thing. People dislike Google, thus they use DuckDuckGo (hey, don’t laugh). Maybe they use Bing! (Maybe I’ll try Bing out next month.) Perhaps they’re on Qwant or Ecosia. Either way, it’s almost a status symbol, how seriously you take your privacy (while still being always connected to the internet, as if you can’t stop all spying by disconnecting from it, but that’s another rant).

The problem with all these search engines (and the blessing of them too) is that Google has accustomed us to such manipulated, personalized results that competitors don’t give you results that seem nearly as relevant. On the flipside, all the competitors together tend to give you a much more accurate picture of what’s relevant to your actual query.

Somnolescent is actually a pretty great example of just how manipulated Google’s rankings are. We used to be towards the bottom on the front page until the Retablening of 2020 and the Death of HTTPS in February of this year. We’re on the third page now as a result. (Even simply having HTTPS as an option, but not forced, was enough to get us ducked pretty hard.)

On Bing, Somnolescent’s top-level site is the third result, with our subsites littering the results below it. Somnol is also the third result on Qwant. And on Ecosia! Are you seeing a certain pattern here? Google has arbitrarily ducked Somnolescent, not because we’re not relevant to the search (everything else is a fucking dictionary site), but because we go against the grain in our opinions about the web and best practices. Google forces you to play their SEO game, and search engine optimization might as well be what botflies do.

I’ve always been open to trying alternatives and forming new habits, so this month, I’d like to take that opportunity to experiment. People are so ridiculously lazy these days that the first thing they do when they’re trying to find information or get to a site is to Google it. I almost did it in writing this post, before I caught myself. So yeah, we’re all pretty reliant on search engines, to the point where people think “well, I hate Google, so what can I replace Google with?” and then pick a competing search engine.

I want to know if a search engine is even strictly necessary anymore. Here’s the experiment:

  1. I can’t use any search engine for the entire month. If I don’t catch myself in time, no big deal (again, muscle memory, habits), but I can’t use any of the results I get.
  2. Instead, I’ll be relying only on Curlie and other web directories to find whatever I need. (Curlie doesn’t play too nicely with RetroZilla, but I’m sure Firefox ESR 10 on the eMachines Box can handle it fine. I know DMOZ works better on it.)
  3. Punching in a site’s URL directly is okay, of course, as are using bookmarks. (Good opportunity to update my bookmarks page.)
  4. Searching on a web directory (read: Curlie’s built-in search) is also allowed.

So basically, the goal is to cut out the little Google-shaped tumor in my browsing habits altogether. I can get to sites in any other way, just not using a search engine. We’ll see how manageable it is, and I’ll report back my findings on the group blog at the end of the month. If you want to play along at home, take the opportunity to browse Curlie a bit–manually, don’t just dive for the search bar. They have a ton of sites, and I’m curious to get lost while I’m looking for information on, say, the fauna of the southwest US.

3 Responses to “The Curlie Experiment”

  1. metalynx Says:

    Was always fond of DMOZ and Curlie, though I haven’t often used it to find things. This’ll be very interesting for seeing how well they’ve kept it going. Godspeed, young cosmonaut- may the links be working and the bookmarks be plentiful.

  2. mariteaux Says:

    Been weird so far! Already had to catch myself several times, but I’ll get used to it.

  3. devon Says:

    Good luck! Looking forward to that post
    Both DMOZ and Curlie have their charm and it’s fun to stumble on ancient pages here. Entire process of using directories is more fun, like some little adventure I guess.