This is Part II of my series on the Death of Webrings.  Part I is here.

For this article I am going to use two examples.  I want to make it clear that I am not picking on the example rings, their creators or their intended uses.  I do want to point out what I see as flaws in their model that unless corrected will inhibit use, uptake and general adoption by the public.

Modern 2018 webrings overview.  There are not a heck of a lot of examples which is why I am discussing the only two I know about.  Both of these webrings are one offs, meaning they are custom coded to form one webring.  They are not a centralized service designed to host many webrings.  Nor are they designed so that anybody can create and run a webring.  In this sense they are less democratic than the old 1990’s style ring hosts like Webring.org, Ringsurf.com and Webringo.com.  On the other hand, they do avoid being dependent on a third-party silo.  The creator has full control.

Indiewebring

Indiewebring is made on Glitch which seems to be a remotely hosted service. If so, it is a sort of silo.   I am in no way a coder, but the way Indiewebring operates is really neat.  It is designed to link together Indieweb enabled websites.  Unlike a ’90’s style ring where you have to register with the ringhost, then register your websites, then apply to webrings, this modern ring has almost none of that “friction” to joining.  You put your site URL into the form and it checks to see if you have enough Indieweb identification and stuff on your site.  If you do you get a code which you must place on your site.  Almost no instructions, few explanations if things go wrong, all very minimalist which is the fashion.

It works well and at least at the front end, it is simple.

The idea is neat.

This ring, as built, is really more of a club or association.  It is not organized around topical content, but rather if you have the right code on your site.  As such it’s almost like a merit badge.  There is nothing wrong with that, I’m just pointing out the limitation.

It is a black box.  There is no public index of ring member sites or how many sites are in the ring.  The only transparency is to follow the ring.

I presume rings like these can be replicated – if you know code or understand how things work at Glitch.  If replicated how does one make such a ring topical?  How would that auto signup feature check to make sure all the applicants are about one topic? (ie. blue widgets, Star Trek, catching lobsters. etc.)  Just having the right code in place to join is not enough for most visitors.  They want to surf a ring that matches their interests.  Code is not content. Code is not entertainment.

Administering such a ring is also a black box.  How are member sites curated?  Are all ring codes intact?

My point is not to bash this individual ring, but to say this is not the model to build a “webring revival” on.  It needs to be:

  1. DIscoverable.  Hubs, interconnection.  Does the ring code give any clues as to what the ring is about?
  2. Easily replicated by average person.  If every ring has to be custom made there will be no ring revival.
  3. Topical.  Does it match the ring topic?
  4. Curated.  Are the topic and the quality of the sites right for membership in the ring?
  5. Managed.  Are all ring codes in place?  Can they be found? In short, is it navigable?
  6. Transparent. What are the signup rules? How many members? Who is a member?

It may well be that all these concerns can be addressed eventually.  If so, great!  I think the web might be ready for this.  If not, it is an evolutionary dead end.

Microcast.club

Microcast.club is getting much closer to solving the questions above.  This idea has some legs and I would like to see the concept grow and maybe fork to be even bigger than a webring.

Here is how it works: you put your microcast feed URL in the form. You get a webring code to put on your microcast website.  You also appear in the flat directory you see on the ring page.

This has some legs for the future.  It’s more topical and open.  The ring and the directory reinforce each other providing traffic for everyone.  I’m assuming the ring code is checked periodically and that having it on your site keeps you in the directory. Remove the ring code and lose your listing.  This helps keep thing easier to administer.

It’s still not subject oriented but there may be ways to overcome that.  If that can be overcome either by human review (might be wise) or machine detection you could expand this idea into a semi automated categorized directory with multiple subjects.  Just speculating.

It still has many of the same problems as the Indiewebring above.  It’s custom made so it is hard for the common webmaster to duplicate.  That limits mass adoption.

I wish them both well.

Back to old school.

I did find The Orca Ringmaker.  This is a php script and as near as I can tell, it lets a webmaster create one webring.  This gets around concerns about remote ring hosting silos going under.  You are the host.  Anyone who knows how to install this on their server can run one so it can be duplicated.  Pro Tip: Even if you have no use for it now, I would download a copy now.  Webring stuff can disappear from the web overnight.

Update

I found this after publication: Bookmark: Ringlink download. Which is a perl script to let you run, not just a webring, but a host of webrings.

What does this mean?

Recap:

  • Two of the three remaining web ring hosts appear broken (read slowly dying.)
  • Webringo.com is at least in working order but appears to only have a few thriving rings and many abandoned ones.  (This is sad because it has some good features.)
  • Indiewebring is a one off. Neatly done but problems with replication and wider adoption.
  • Microcast.club has some good features but the same questions about wider adoption still exist.
  • Orca Ringmaker is a bit harder to start up (you have to install a script) but at least it’s off the shelf and ready to roll once you overcome that.

 

None of this gives me hope for a resurgence of widespread webring adoption.  I’d like to be wrong.  Unless somebody like Taylor Swift suddenly makes a webring and promotes the heck out of them, I just don’t think people will notice in enough numbers to matter.

I hope somebody proves me wrong.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Coroner’s Report: Webrings are Dead, Part II

  1. This reminds me of these “useless web” sites—this
    being the primary one—that have managed to stay very popular. (A lot of YouTubers
    make videos of themselves clicking through this site and I often see kids at school
    using the site.) And it’s basically a webring. But it’s not a code-based one, it’s
    the opposite—it’s totally curated.

    (Oh, also, the fellow who does this also works on a directory
    of “inspiring” projects that looks great. So, this is a person who is having some success playing
    with curated discovery projects.)
    I think computers have completely blown it with discovery. The smartest minds have all
    been working on this for decades now and it has been a disaster. The question to me now is just:
    how do we equip our librarians? And I tend to think that we don’t need anything
    more—our technology is totally under-utilized.

    However, there is one promising development that I see from the Microcast.club
    directory: the self-designed cards that show big images on each entry. The directory
    is using the itunes:image entry in the podcast RSS feed. This is fantastic
    because the curator can select/filter the directory entries—but the authors
    can customize their cards.
    I wish RSS stylesheets would have caught on so I could offer this kind of thing
    for the Indieweb.xyz blog directory.

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