A Case for Webrings in a Post-Social Internet

How’s that for a headline for the first post of a new year!

Webrings hold a special place in my memories of the late-90s early internet. For those who never encountered one, or weren’t around back then, webrings were an early tool for content discovery. In the pre-Google and social media era, finding content — let alone good content — was a significant challenge. DNS provider Hover wrote an insightful blog post about webrings a few years ago.

I recommend giving it a read before continuing here.

I found it interesting that webrings were such an integral part of the early internet that the company was actually acquired Geocities; and then when Yahoo! later acquired Geocities they found it worthwhile enough to attempt to monetize it with ads. Go figure.

I ran a webring. Any tech-savvy teenager with an internet connection could set up a webring and recruit members. This early exposure to a “democratized” internet piqued my interest in blogging, podcasting, and WordPress later on.

Find a niche in the post-social, post-Google Internet

Restate my assumptions:

  1. As everyone has noticed by now, Google is starting to suck.

    I don’t want to say that finding quality things on the internet is as bad as it was before Google even exists; but I can’t recall the last time I’ve found something delightful via a Google search.

    Most of my delightful finds come from reddit, newsletters, or TBH the RSS.
  2. Social networks are decentralizing and fragmenting.

    This is a good thing (but that’s a different blog post) but it’s making discovery more difficult. A various points in the past, Twitter’s algorithmic feed and Facebooks newsfeed have both surfaced genuinely good relevant-to-my-interests content.

    With all my contacts fanning out across different mastodons, if not different apps entirely, it’s becoming more difficult to casually stumble upon good stuff.

Which makes me feel a lot like we’ve swung back around to the content recommendation zero-state that existed on the internet of the 90s.

Everything 90s is back, why not bring back webrings?!

A retro solution for modern times?

Why not consider reviving webrings? But what would a modern webring look like?

I’m not really envisioning a literal revival of webrings. The original webring UI, as detailed in the Hover post, would feel out-of-place in today’s internet (in a bad way). The UX, the concept of browsing sites in a linear order, curated by someone else, might hold some novelty but lacks practicality.

What intrigues me is the essence of webrings: a centralized yet distributed system of recommendations.

If I knew what that looked like and how it worked I would be building it right now.


On Phones In Schools

Today’s child is bewildered when he enters the 19th century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns subjects, and schedules.

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage

My eldest child just had their first day of grade 10 and informed us that phones are banned this year, outright1.

On the face of it, I can’t help but feel like these rules are the result of an outdated system trying to reign in progress, flailing for relevance. Administrators overreacting to a technology their outdated system can’t cope with. Those phone hold the keys to more information than could ever be taught in school.

IMHO allowing most kids to keep their phones in most circumstances2 is perfectly reasonable. I might even consider it a right.


The primary argument that parents often cite in Facebook groups, etc when demanding their kids be allowed access to their phones in school is safety.

Parents want to be able to message their children to check up on them or to make sure that they’re where they are supposed to be with apps like Find My.

In the 21st century, it’s entirely normal for parents and children to be in constant communicate — it’s almost like having a telepathic superpower. Removing this ability can be unsettling.

The counter argument from school administration is usually that any genuine3 emergency or concern can always be routed through the school office, which is a valid point. However…

Safety From The School

A more compelling safety argument is that of students’ safety from the school itself, when they are being harmed by or feel unsafe at school.

Phones are powerful, impartial data recording devices. Consider the numerous instances where cell phone videos exposed misconduct by teachers or documented unruly student behaviour. Without documentation it’s a kid’s word against and adult in a position of authority.

Despite the inspirational quotes adorning school walls and the well-intentioned staff we hope for, the system generally resists believing students who report issues against it.

The level of accountability enabled by allowing students to keep their phones with them at all times is a very compelling argument in favour of this practice.


The current generation has grown up with screens in their hands from birth. We can debate whether this is good or bad for society4 but at this point in time it’s simply a matter of fact. Kids are innate multitaskers.

This reality means that many kids are totally capable of rapidly switching contexts. They can legitimately be engaged with a group chat on their phone and a classroom lecture during the same time-frame.

Multitasking at Work

If the goal of school is to prepare kids for the workforce, then schools need to grapple with the fact that many employers allow their employees to take their phones to work.

Why not take the opportunity to teach kids some skills that will come in handy in the workforce and be better humans.

Maybe something like a “healthy online behaviour” class, as part of the health curriculum?

It could cover things like:

  • How to avoid doom-scrolling yourself into oblivion.
  • Using focus modes to avoid distraction during crunch time.
  • How to report non-consensual intimate image distribution.5
  • How to not feed the trolls.
  • How to not be a troll aka how to express yourself in short text.

…that sort of thing.

Nefarious Behaviour

Obviously, a global communication device enables, amplifies and accelerates the harm children cause each other. I’ve heard some horror stories about tiktok adjacent cyberbullying. And it would be ridiculous to suggest that a child has any right to continue to this sort of activity during class time.

But most kids are good, most of the time.

When a school proactively bans phones for everyone, the school is communicating that it believes most kids are bad, most of the time. And I strongly believe that is the wrong message to be sending.

Should be Allowed by Default

In 2023, the little always on global communication device has become an extension of our minds; like another limb or a super power.

We use it to learn things more efficiently than we could ever learn anything in a classroom.

We can reach out to friends across the world for moral support when we’re in need.

We can record and report wrongdoing instantaneously and definitively.

We can hear bad news directly from our parents, without a layer of bureaucracy.

We can be reassured that our children are in fact on the bus on their way home, even though it’s 4:30 and it’s getting dark with a blizzard setting in.

A globally connected supercomputer in your pocket is an immense good. Banning them is wrong.

That said, a school should be a safe space for learning and collaborating. If students are using their phones to spread harm, definitely ban them from using it on school grounds. I wouldn’t expect any less.

And obviously, there are probably some other carve outs for disruptive or extremely distracting behaviour, that — while not harmful — should probably result in temporary phone bans. Things like playing immersive video games, creating complex social content, listening to music, etc.

But by default, students should be allowed to take their phones to class.

  1. Though in a later conversation it sounded like teachers may still have the ability to suspend this rule on a class-by-class basis. ↩︎
  2. Except tests, you probably don’t want kids looking up answers to tests. Or maybe you do? Testing itself is a largely outdated concept anyways. ↩︎
  3. “House is on fire,” or “Dad was rushed to the hospital” kinda thing. ↩︎
  4. After years and years of FUD, the current thinking seems to be leaning towards “it’s probably fine” (see Screen Time Is Not As Dangerous As You Think—And It May Help Your Child Make Friends). ↩︎
  5. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection will actively help remove images online, see ↩︎

Time Travel

I often think about what it would be like for teenage Ryan to be transported 25 or 30 years into the future… as you do. What aspects of culture or technology would surprise him the most?

The two things I come back to over and over again are tattoos and FaceTime.


I don’t even know how to explain to my children just how much of a taboo tattoos were when I was their age. Teachers, parents, adult authorities basically looked down upon tattoos (and piercings to a lesser extent) as a death sentence.

“Nobody is ever going to hire you if you’ve got arms full of tattoos and your head full of holes,” they’d say.

I am genuinely and pleasantly surprised just how wrong they were. Even many of the most conservative people I know seem to be generally accepting of tattoos. It’s legitimately surprising.

TBH I’d love to see a good documentary on the normalization of tattoos.

It almost doesn’t make sense.


Global. Instantaneous. Free. Video calling.

We completely take it for granted that we can have a video call with anyone in the world, for free!

As a teenager, a future with video calling seemed plausible. That it would be high fidelity and instantaneous, also seemed plausible but maybe more of a stretch goal.

The fact that it’s totally free I think would blow my mind.

When AT&T said they would bring us the future, IMHO there was a strong implication that we’d have to pay (a lot more) for it.

I’m looking forward to finding out what my children’s equivalents to these are. Cyberware and space travel? Who knows.


The Implicit Contract of The Internet

Earlier I posted this…

…and I’ve realized that this is actually something that’s been bothering me for some time.

I’ve been living in public online – posting details about my life that might have historically been seen as private, right out in the open – for decades now.

Especially during the heyday of web 2.0. Want to see where I’m eating ice cream right now, sure why not. Care to know every single song I’ve been listening all day, every day? There’s an app for that.

During this era, I even thought it would be cool to correlate all of these activities into a history I could look back on. Being reminded in 2032 that I listened to Architecture in Helsinki while riding the tram in actual Helsinki 10 years earlier would be neat. Or correlating all my tram rides around the world with music, or mood, photos, weather, words, etc. (I’m hopeful that Apple’s upcoming journaling app will fill this niche but that’s a post for another day)

That was a tangent, here’s what’s been bothering me all these years.

Even though a tweet, photo, a bike ride, workout, check-in, etc is posted publicly, it does not mean that it was intended for a broader audience.

These blog post are, I love it when people engage with me about the words I’ve spent time crafting for this site. IMHO this is one of the things that makes blogs unique (another tangent for another day).

Social media is different, context is important. If you’re only flying by @ohryan on twitter every once in a while, you’re missing a lot about me personally and about the medium that is Twitter (or X app 69 or whatever its called today).

If you’re keeping tabs on my peleton app to see how often I’m working out, please don’t. That’s gross.

You might be saying “but Ryan, if you don’t want people to see your posts, make them private.” While technically true, private accounts are not very social. I’m been introduced to lifelong friends (locally, virtually and internationally) by mutually engaging with relevant content. That’s just not possible with a private account and really defeats the purpose of social media.

The implicit contract of the internet is: mutual follow.

That’s it.

If you want to read my tweets, create an account and follow me.

If you want to compare workout habits, grab an Apple Watch and friend me on the fitness app.

Don’t be rude.


Thoughts on Threads

Threads Launched.

My overall impression of threads 48hrs in are pretty “meh.”

If anything, it’s proving just how mature of a product Twitter really is at this point. It’s missing simple things that we’ve taken for granted, like gif integration. It’s missing more substaintial things hashtags and a way to actually see posts from people who follow.

Is it actually enshittified from the get-go!?

All the “Twitter killer” micro-blogging apps popping off in the past 6 – 12 months lead me to agree with growing thought that we are at the end of an era.

I’m getting strong deja vu of peak-MySpace when we had a bunch of bad choices (Friendster? Bebo? Orkut? Dogster? Facebook) and no real direction.

I’m just not sure what era we are at the end of.

Twitter invented a new type of web app, a new category of discourse; a sort of global “town square” and love it or hate it, Twitter (along with Reddit TBF) has been the catalyst of so so much social change.

As I’ve said before, IMHO this is the main reason it’s hard to “kill” Twitter – even with a feature-complete clone – it’s more than the sum of its parts.

I have no idea what’s next, but if we’re on a retro-internet tip, maybe blogging’s coming back.


Add another item to the lack-of-support tally.

Threads does not support oembed. Unsurprisingly, I suppose.