The Rebirth of Webrings

Will the rebirth of webrings save your personal website from the corporate web?

Back in the 1990s social media was still a distant nightmare. If you wanted people to know about your personal website, you couldn’t just tweet about it to your loyal Twitter followers, or post to Facebook. Instead, you had to manually add your website to search engines like Yahoo! and Lycos, use a ping service, try to get on to someone’s blogroll1, or join a webring.

A webring is – or rather was – a collection of websites linked together in a circular fashion. If you joined a webring, you had to add the ring’s navigation bar to your site, and the bar contained links to the previous and next site in the ring. Most webrings were organized around a specific theme, like personal websites, comics, and movies.

The webrings were popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, but as search engines became better at indexing the world wide web, and the social media beast awakened, webrings became obsolete. One of the main webrings sites was WebRing.com, which, through various acquisitions, landed in Yahoo!’s lap in 1999. Unfortunately, their attempt to streamline the site ended in a veritable dumpster fire, and Yahoo! stopped supporting WebRing.com in April of 2001.

Since then, the webring concept has been pretty much dead in the water. A few webring sites, like WebRing.org and RingSurf, are still online, but most their webrings contain sites that went offline a long time ago.

Perhaps the ongoing rebirth of the personal website also means the rebirth of webrings?

The IndieWebRing.

From what I can tell, there aren’t many active webrings today. One of the very few is the IndieWebRing. Built during the IndieWeb Summit 2018, the ring currently consists of 88 members, including yours truly. Many of the members are very active, work in the tech industry, and share the same views on internet privacy, independence and security. The majority of them have also been maintaining a personal website for a long time, and certainly remember the days of internet past. For me, browsing the sites in the IndieWebRing is very much like looking in the mirror.

Back in the days, it was often easy to exploit a webring. Many of them didn’t actually confirm that you had their navigation bar on their site when you registered, and most the webrings didn’t automatically kick you out if you removed the navigation bar after registration. Because of this, you could be a member of many webrings without showing the navigation bar – which was often a web design nightmare – on your site.

The IndieWebRing does, unfortunately, suffer from the same exploit. After registration, it’s possible to remove the navigation bar, thus breaking the ring. If you’re running your own, personal website, please join us. It’s as simple as just following these instructions. But keep the navigation bar on your site after registration.

Footnotes

  1. A list of other sites that a webmaster might recommend by providing links to them.

By Vegard Skjefstad

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