Web directories are collections of links which are organized by topic for the convenience of people browsing the Internet looking for information and resources. Using a web directory, Internet users can find lists of websites on related topics which complement each other. For example, someone who is interested in a hobby like building dollhouses could use a web directory to find resources organized by type, such as hobbyist sites, suppliers, and so forth.
These directories are not search engines, although users can search a web directory to find the topic that they are looking for. Rather, they consist of static collections of links which are periodically updated to ensure that they are relevant and useful. Many search engines maintain supplemental web directories which users can take advantage of, with the search engine using the results of regular searches and user feedback to strengthen its web directory.
There are a number of ways in which web directories can be assembled. Some are built entirely by hand, with editors personally checking each link which is included in the directory, using submitted links as well as the results of searches. These directories can be established collaboratively, with people all over the world editing and updating the directory.
Others are built by computer, with the computer using a variety of methods to determine whether or not a link is useful, and where it should be placed. Computers can also be designed to set up weighted web directories, such as directories which allow people to pay for placement of their sites in a directory.
The organization of web directories has been a topic of debate. A directory's main page may not necessarily disclose how links are chosen, which means that people may not realize that certain links are sponsored through direct payments or link exchanges, and that more relevant links may have sunk to the bottom of the list. Failure to disclose this can bring a web directory's reputation and validity into question, as people may legitimately ask how useful the directory is when it is not neutral in nature.
Web directories can be immensely useful for quick research and information gathering, especially for users who manage to find a reputable web directory, ideally one which is primarily human-edited and which does not allow sponsored links. Users can often directly improve such directories by rating links up or down, submitting new links, or suggesting that links be recategorized.