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.

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When I find an interesting new tool, I like to think of all the ways I can use it.  When I found out I could put HTML on a Page on a Micro.blog hosted blog it got me thinking.

So what else will work there?  Nothing earth shattering here but a couple of small ideas.

One thing you can do is make a webring landing page.  The key here is that you can post HTML to Pages on MB.

For those that don’t remember the webring heydays of the 1990’s, webmasters would join several webrings,  now you didn’t want all those ring codes taking up space on your index page so you created a separate page for your webring codes.  Usually visitors would enter and leave the site by this page.

Landing Page:

Now Micro.blog does have a footer space you can place HTML in, but what if you wanted to join several rings?  You create that landing page.

  1. in your MB admin you create a new page.  Name in something like “Webrings” so visitors know where to find the code.
  2. Join a webring somewhere.  Use yoursite.com/webrings/ as the page you join with.
  3. Place the webring code on that page. (An HTML code should work.  I’m not sure if a javascript code will work but you can try.)
  4. You probably should place a greeting on that page explaining where visitors are at.  You want to make the ring easy to navigate.

Done.

Ring Homepage:

Let’s say you want to start your own webring and run it.  You can start a webring at a ring host.  I recommend Webringo.  Old school rings need a Homepage where you set out the criteria of your webring (example).

Have some fun!

What other things can you do with a micro.blog Page?

  1. Cool!
  2. Neocities.org and webrings are made for each other.  Both Webring.com and Ringsurf.com appear to be malfunctioning when you try to join.  Webringo.com works. If I were the owner of Webringo I’d try to get exposure on Neocities somehow.
  3. Duckduckgo.com provides the site search to find Neocities hosted pages.  They have done a good job.
  4. There are some subjects that are better suited for a static site rather than a blog.  In fact the content will probably get buried on a blog. Neocities is perfect for such micro-sites.

First, let me say, I understand that the IndieWeb movement already has a lot on their plate and that they have already accomplished a lot.

It seems to me, at some point, the problem of commercial silos of web search engines must be addressed since 1. a near monopoly is held by Google, 2. both spidering engines (Google and Bing) are oriented towards brands, data mining user profiles, advertising and the commercial.

How we build websites today, is largely controlled by what Google likes and dislikes.  If you don’t build the site Google’s way, you don’t rank in Google.  If you don’t rank in Google, you might as well be dead.  It has happened slowly over time, but Google has warped the Web into it’s own image. We don’t build websites the same way we did Before Google (BG).

But there are alternative search engines, and I like and use several of them.

Duckduckgo – protects user privacy. Draws search results from many sources. Bing is the backbone of their search results.  They do have their own spider and index but I’m not sure how large that is.  If Bing should cease operating DDG will be in trouble.

StartPage – protects user privacy. Is basically Google feed stripped of geolocation and personal search history data. But if Google ever turns off access to the search feed, StartPage is gone.

Hotbot –  claims to protect privacy.  Appears to be straight up Bing feed, stripped of advertising and tracking customization.  Clean, minimalist results pages. But if Bing should cease operating, HotBot will go down.

As much as I like Duckduckgo and StartPage, both depend on the search indexes of large siloed companies.  With only two major search engines (Google and Bing) that spider the web it seems like an unhealthy state of affairs.

What can the IndieWeb do?

Off the self solutions

There are a couple of smaller search engines that are trying to stay alive.

Mojeek.com – privacy protecting. UK based. Active spidering as money permits.  Has potential.

Gigablast.com – Open Source code. Active spidering as money permits.  Can index URL’s very quickly. Has potential.

Both need larger databases. Both need funding. Both need some R&D to improve search results and ranking logarithms.

One option might be for the IndieWeb to campaign for private donations for one or both of these independent search engines. Publicity within the movement would help.

Build Our Own IndieWeb Search Engine(s)?

Here are a few resources available “off the self.”

Searx – (running instance). Open Source Meta search script.  At best this would be a stop gap solution.  One major problem is it is scraping results from other engines without permission, sooner or later that will get shut down.

Gigablast – The script is Open Source.  Gigablast, as is, is quite impressively capable if one can afford to keep it indexing and provide the coding to fork it and improve it.

More Open Source and P2P Search Engines.

Curlie – is the revival/continuation of the Open Directory Project.  Large meta directories have had their day but Curlie could provide two things: 1. a big index for a starting crawl for a new search engine, 2. A ranking indicator of quality for web pages. Human reviewed collections like ODP were used by Google in the early days as a quality indicator in ranking and can be used by new engines.

Wikipedia – 1. Using Wikipedia itself to answer queries, 2. Wikipedia contains a lot of outside links, so it would be another place to use as a starting crawl.

Guerrilla Discovery Options

Webrings and Blogrolls – Webringo is free and seems underutilized, why not use it to create web rings for discovery?  Blogrolls, hey why not?

Directories and Filter Blogs –  niche directories can still work when tied to an interest community (just ask almost any local Chamber of Commerce).  Filter blogs might work too. Boingboing is an example of a filter blog that leads you to things posted on the web.  Most bloggers already do some filter blogging.

I’m sure this has already been discussed within the IndieWeb community.  Coming up with a full fledged search engine would be a monumental task and expensive.  But I’ve also tried to lay out smaller interim steps that will gain experience or help break the corporate silos.

Agree? Disagree? What am I missing? Feel free to comment.