A couple of recent events interestingly relate ...
First, I read in Search Engine Land of the resignation from Yahoo of Srinija Srinivasan. Srinavasan was once arguably "the most powerful person in search" writes Danny Sullivan. This was when "humans edited the web" and Yahoo emerged as its central directory. Srinivasan oversaw this activity. Sullivan writes that Yahoo was better than the 'automatic' or 'crawler-based' search engines of the time such as Excite or Alta Vista: "Yahoo, in contrast, wasn't about the sheer volume of content. It was about listing the best of the web."
The 'best of the web' is an interesting phrase as it was also used by another set of services which emerged at around the same time in another part of the galaxy. These were the so-called subject gateways developed within UK higher education And they were one of many examples of humans editing the web that emerged in the academic and library communities (think of Internet Scout, CORC, BUBL, NISS Gateway, Internet Public Library, LII, and others).
The original subject gateways were funded in parallel with early JISC funding of electronic library developments; they came together as the Resource Discovery Network, which morphed into Intute. These projects went beyond 'pointing' to creating metadata for selected websites.
The connection between these is that the second event I am thinking of is the announcement by JISC that the funding for Intute was being cut. This marks the end of an era, as an article in the current issue of Ariadne notes.
Of course, what changed along the way was the emergence of Google and the pagerank algorithm. This was a service also based on choice, not in this case the editorial choice of compilers, but the aggregate choices made in linking behaviors.
If Yahoo, or the subject gateways which were the basis of Intute, were to be set up today, they would probably talk about 'curating' the web. In an era of abundance, curation is seen to have new value, although its venue is now blogs, social networks, personal collection sites, and so on. So it is interesting seeing the authors of the Ariadne article wonder if community curation represents a future for Intute.