I know some of you won't believe me, but a long time ago, when the internet was young, there was no such thing as Google. Honestly, I'm not making that up. By the time I started this site in 1999, most of the current search engines had already been around for a couple of years, Excite, Google, Lycos, MSN, WebCrawler, Yahoo and the rest but they were slow and hadn't indexed that many sites. Not that there many around, around 2 million as compared to today's 1 billion.
In order to help increase the visitors to a web site there were a couple of strategies that people employed, banner links; reciprocal link exchange pages, web "awards" and webrings.
What Webrings Are
Webrings were, and still are, a system that grouped and linked web sites of similar content together. A webring manager would create a piece of code either using their own independent system or one from the organizations such as RingSurf, Bravenet's SiteRing, WebRing, WebRingo, RingLink (now WOW Webring) (World of Webrings), Alt-Webring, RingsWorld, Looplink, OneSeek's WebChains or one of the others.
People would ask to join a webring and they would, if accepted, be given a unique identifier and the code to be placed on one of their pages. Some ring manager would insist that the webring code be placed on the homepage, others would allow them to be placed on a "web ring" or links page.
An example of a webring snippet
The code would usually provide links to the ring home, links to the next and previous in the ring and be able to provide a list of sites in the webring.
A Short History of Webrings
Denis Howe started EUROPa (Expanding Unidirectional Ring Of Pages) at Imperial College in 1994. The idea developed further when Giraldo Hierro conceptualized a central CGI (Common Gateway Interface) script to enhance functionality. Sage Weil developed such a script in May 1994. Weil's script gained popularity, pushing Weil in June 1995 to form a company called WebRing. In 1997, Weil sold WebRing to Starseed, Inc.
In 1998 Starseed was acquired by GeoCities, who made no major changes to the system. Just a few months later, in early 1999, Yahoo! bought GeoCities, and eighteen months after the acquisition, on September 5, 2000, Yahoo! unveiled a fully overhauled WebRing, known as Yahoo! WebRing.
Although Yahoo!'s implementation was meant to streamline the way the rings were managed and provide a more consistent interface for all rings, many of these changes were unpopular with ringmasters accustomed to the older system which gave them more flexibility.
People really were upset by the takeover. Webrings started appearing called "Another Victim of Y! Hooliganism Screams", "The Day the Rings Died", "Because Webring is Broken", "The Y-Free Webring", "The Anti-Yahoo! Webring", and "The Pissed Off with Y!WebRing Web Ring".
On April 15, 2001, Yahoo! pulled their support of WebRing, leaving it in the hands of one technician from the original WebRing, Timothy Killeen. He unveiled a WebRing free of Yahoo! influence on October 12, 2001.
In the years since this change, many of the features which had been stripped by Yahoo!, particularly customization options, were reimplemented into the WebRing system. On September 26, 2006, Webring Inc. announced a new WebRing Premium Membership Program. They have separated memberships into two types, WebRing 1.0 and WebRing 2.0. Sites that are part of WebRing 1.0 will be limited to 50 webrings per URL. Existing 1.0 members can maintain more than 50, but can not add more.
In conjunction with the premium membership program, WebRing introduced an affiliate program, in which webmasters earn money when others join webrings from their site; they earn an additional payment if the new member purchases a premium membership.
In early October 2007, Webring was granted a trademark on "Webring" from the USA Trademark office. Also in that month, Yahoo's long partnership ended as Webring ownership repurchased Webring stock held by Yahoo, marking the first time since the late 1990s that Webring was again privately held.
By the beginning of 1997, there were over 1,000 webrings. By May of 1997 over 10,000. By April, 1998, there were over 40,000. By January 2000 there were over 80,000.
Much of the information for this section came from Wikipedia. Katharine Mieszkowski, a senior writer for Salon wrote a good history of WebRing and Yahoo! in the article The Strange Saga of Yahoo and WebRing on that site in 2001. Another marvelous site about the history of webrings is James S. Huggins' Refrigerator Door.
A List of Webring Systems
WebRing and and still is, the largest of the webring systems but there were and are others. The following is based on what I can find in the Internet Archive.
Alt-Webring is owned by Andrew McPhee who started it in April 2003 due to his dissatisfaction with the other webrings. It is still going but the webring directory is broken.
Bomis was formed in 1996 by Jimmy Wales, Tim Shell and Michael Davis and hosted hundreds of webrings. Hosting soft porn it also saw the start of Wikipedia and hosted it from January 15, 2001 to June 2003. The last time the Bomis site had any content was in 2010. In October 2014, it justs says "Hello, World!"
Looplink (archive) appeared in January 1998 then disappeared in November 2000.
Mimanet Webring Zone (archive) appeared in November 2000 and last appeared in May 2010. James Huggins wrote that the site had "apparently acquired the assets of the the Plebius.org site, including Martin Kretzman's perl script to operate a webring." Plebius (archive) seems to have been a web directory, programming source and generally as mixed bag of material. It first appeared in the Internet Archive in January 1999. It went through several changes, becoming Plebius Press, "a psychology resource center" in January 2003. "Publishing Solutions" in September 2005. A "Myspace Resource" in April 2006. "Politi Comments" in December 2012, and Pimp-my-Page, a social media resource in September 2013.
OneSeek (archive) had a system called WebChains and appeared in July 1998. The WebChains seem to have stopped in April 2000, and the web site more or less closed down apart from their logo in September 2011.
Page-Ring (archive) appeared in February 2001 but was gone by November of the same year.
RingLink (archive) first appeared on February 22, 2001 and is still going as WOW Webring (World of Webrings). It seems that the owner, Gunnar Hjalmarsson, had his hosting company unexpectedly closed down in 2014 causing the change of URL. WOW was also a place to discuss the various webring systems while RingLink was the actual code base, a CGI Perl program. Ringlink v1 appeared in February 2001. The links below are from the Internet Archive of SourceForge.
v1.13 on February 9,
v2.01 on October 27, 2001; v2.1 on February 9, 2002; V2.37 on September 1, 2002; v2.41 on February 27, 2003; v2.51 on May 29, 2003
v3.03 on July 30, 2003; v3.04 on October 2, 2003; v3.05 on October 6, 2003; v3.1 on March 18, 2004; v3.2 on February 21, 2005, v3.3on January 3, 2009.
RINGo first appeared in 1999 and was (is?) administered by Kaloyan Tenchov. It started off with 18 webrings, had 32 in February 2001, 23 in March 2001, 19 in July 2001, 12 in March 2002, 15 in June 2002, 19 in December 2002 and that number has not changed right up to the present. Most of the sites listed are now gone, but some are still around.
Ringsurf appeared in 1997 and are still going but are ridiculously slow.
RingsWorld (archive) appeared in 2000, seems to have been relaunched in January 2006 then disappeared in May 2012.
Stardust (archive) was a webring system that used RingLink. It appeared in January 2001 but had gone again by the end of 2003.
WebRingo appeared in 2006 and are still going.
There were webring systems set up for specific audiences. One was ChristianWebRings.org (archive) that was formed by Rudy Brinkman and Doris Howie in October 2000. It ceased operating by January 2003 and the domain became a dating site - Christian Soulmates, which itself stopped in November 2006.
Are They Still Relevant?
Webrings are best suited for single subject hobby sites. Sites like mine which cover a variety of subjects, are pushing their use a little because not everything on the site is relevant to users of the ring and means I have to keep the web rings together on a separate page so people can get back to them. They are probably not suitable for commercial sites because of the nature of rings which are supposed to connect sites of similar content then the sites in the ring will all be competitors not collaborators or complimentary.
Webrings are not difficult to implement. They simply involve asking to join a ring and pasting the code into a web page. The problems start with poorly managed rings and sites that remove the ring code from their pages or simply cease to exist but do not leave the ring. That results in broken "previous" and "next" links that can leave the user lost. WebRing has a system where the links are automatically checked and if the code is not found that site is suspended from the ring.
There's natural wastage as sites change or cease to exist. When I rewrote my webrings page in October 2014 I found I was the only member left of some rings and some had so many broken sites it wasn't worth my being active in them any more and so I deleted my membership of them where I could. Some of them, I had no choice but to simply remove the code from my page. That experience led to the writing of this page.
One advantage of webrings is that everyone is equal in them. There's no messing around with SEO (search engine optimization) techniques. A site may be on page 27 of a major search engine's results but that doesn't matter in a webring. So long as a site is relevant to the ring and is included in it, then it stands just as much chance as being the "previous" or "next" link as any other and is always listed in the ring's site listings.
Another possible disadvantage is that the presence of a webring link on a site may be seen as an invitation for a visitor to leave the site. I'm not sure the rings actually work like this. Webring links only appear on one page of a site, either the homepage or on a specific link or webring page such as mine. If people want to the leave the site it's just as easy for them to leave from any page rather than navigate back to the home or whatever page the webring link is on.
Yet another disadvantage was that because not many commercial sites used them then the sites using them were seen as amateur. Most were and looked it, but back then, people had to not only write the content themselves but also design the pages and write the HTML as well. No Content Management Systems (CMS), blogging or journal sites back in those days.
Webrings were once very popular and being extolled in articles such as by Greg Elmer in "Web Rings as Computer-Mediated Communication" (January 1999) and Larisa Thomason, Senior Web Analyst for NetMechanic in "Site Promotion With Web Rings" (May 2001) but even by 2002 people were asking if they were worth joining, saying there were dying and going the the way of animated email gifs, web counters, scrolling and/or blinking text, midi background music that could not be turned off and the "under construction" images. Some people were even asking what they were!
The traffic from the webrings have been decreasing and I now just get a couple of people a week visiting my site from each of the rings I belong to. It doesn't bother me too much. I have always sent more people into the other sites in each ring I belong to than I have received back and I have always been in the top contributors of the rings.
Now and then I look at other sites in the rings and have visited some very interesting ones I wouldn't have otherwise seen.
Webrings, SEO, and Link Wheels
Webrings are not link wheels. Webrings are rings, link wheels are more like spokes than wheels. Link wheels started out when some people realized that one way search engines worked page rankings was that the more links a site had going to it the better the page rank. Around 2000, mini-sites sprung up, often loaded with keywords, that were in effect adverts for the main site. Most search engines quickly got wise to this and now class these links as they do link farms and can actually decrease a site's page ranking or even remove the site from their listings altogether.
Nowadays a link wheel is usually meant sites that provide real content that point to a main site. These usually involve social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Google+ and even include sites like Flickr, LinkedIn and YouTube. Blogging sites such as WordPress, HubPages, TypePad, LiveJournal and others are also used. Using these the aim is not only to provide a lot of quality links to the main page but to get people interested enough to visit it. That will increase the site's page rank or at least generate visits and hopefully for commercial web sites, sales.
It would be interesting to know what effect, if any, webrings have on SEO but I haven't been able to find anything definitive. Webrings have never worked as even the early link wheels. The sites in webrings can vary wildly in content, style and quality but I really have no idea how search engines treat the links; good, bad or indifferently. One discussion from 2011, offers two point of views. One that that webrings were a type of SEO back in the day and another that search engines didn't even crawl the links.
The main difference between a Webring and a Web Wheel
The list of all the webrings this site belongs to can be found here.