Coroner's Report: Webrings are Dead, Part I

The finding of the Coroner’s Court is that 1990’s style webrings are officially dead.

Evidence of Demise

  • Two of the three remaining Ring Hosts are broken.  Both Webring.org and Ringsurf.com are broken in such a way that nobody can sign up as new members and it has been that way for a time.
  • The third remaining ring host, Webringo.com, is functioning.  It just appears that they have no traffic.  But points to them for keeping things in working order.
  • New 1990’s style rings created have had zero take up.  This is too small a sample to really tell but it is a small indicator.
  • A newer Indie-tech style webring has little useful traffic despite a user base.

What Killed the Webring?

  1. Generation shift.  Web 1.0 users “surfed the Web” so they liked the idea of a curated grouping of websites they could surf to.  Modern web users are used to helicoptering into a single web page via a search engine.  They only care about that page and it’s information, not websites or surfing.
  2. Rings are passive.  They sit there and wait to be discovered.  They are passive in recruiting members and they are passive in finding users.  Passive cannot break through the noise of the modern web.
  3. Search engines used to suck.  That was one reason for webrings you couldn’t find anything.
  4. Geocities, Tripod and Homestead.  Webmasters on these free hosts wanted to be found, joining a webring got you traffic.  Those free host webmasters were also familiar with HTML so they were not intimidated by having to put a ring code on their sites.  Modern webmasters use CMS’s and are more intimidated by messing with HTML code.
  5. Young webmasters may have heard of webrings in passing but have never seen one in the wild.  They don’t know what they are. Ditto the public visitor, they don’t know what they are.
  6. Commerce.  The web in the 1990’s was little used for commerce.  It was a place to explore, have fun, find neat things, exchange information and ideas.  Rings were good for explorers but not daily commuters.  Today commerce has taken over the web, efficiency rules so we can maximize sales, revenue and consumption. Webrings were never good for that.
  7. Lack of traffic.  Webring hosts had hubs.  These were a directory of webrings organized by subject. Example.  Many tens of thousands of visitors went to these ring hosts to find rings to surf, because search engines sucked.  So a webring gained traffic from both the ring host and the ring codes on individual sites.  The biggest reason you joined a ring or started your own ring, was to tap into the hundreds of thousands of eyeballs at those hubs, the code on other websites was icing on the cake.
The notable exception to this today might be the Bomis style ring.  It had enough differences that it might be a sleeper.  I’ve searched for any old perl or php scripts that would create a Bomis clone, there are hints that one may have existed at one time, but it is long gone.

There may still be some life in old style webrings: it seems to me neocities.org is a perfect match for webrings.  But it would take some promotion.  A ring host would need to get listed in Neocities webmaster resources pages and it might catch on. They would be a good match just as they were for Geocities et al.  But it would take effort.

The demise of the webring does not make me sad.  It’s time has passed and there are better ways to find websites.  It would have been nice to have it as a tool in the fight against the Google search monopoly silo but it’s a bit like fighting Delta Force with a sword.

This is part of a series: See Part II Here.

This was also posted to /en/linking.

Brad Enslen - Thoughts from my stylish, mysterious, perilous mind. @bradenslen

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