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.