Nostalgia Lane: Webrings

The mid-to-late 1990s was a weird and wild time for websites. The internet and the web was practically new to all of us, so we were giddy just to get our own personal slice of it and make a virtual home. But yeah, it was really strange as everyone tried to figure out the best way to set up websites and connect to each other — especially as this was in the era before Google when search engines weren’t all that great or helpful.

So somewhere along the way, people got into their heads to invest in the idea of “webrings.” The concept here was to group up (mostly amateur) websites that covered the same topic or general theme so that visitors could easily surf — we said “surf” a lot back then — between them and discover new sites. It was a way to drive traffic and be discovered, even if it was awkward as all get it out.

Because it really was. One person would be the webring owner and then have to coordinate adding all participating sites onto a list. Every participating site would put one of these webring frames on their page with links back to the OG webring owner, an invitation to join it, and various navigation tools.

I think the best part about webrings is that you knew you were getting a curated list, so if the owner had any taste at all, you knew you could depend on where the webring would send you next.

While I most definitely had a Geocities site — animated GIFs and guestbook and MIDI player and all — I don’t specifically recall if I did participate in any webrings. I’m sure I must have. I do, however, recall using webrings a lot when I was bored and wanted to see other sites. Of course, loading up a page back then took up to a minute or more, so you wanted to make sure you were getting something good and not some 8-year-old’s “THIS IZ MY FIRST WEBBY PAGE!” announcement.

Slow as surfing was, there was something really fascinating to actually exploring the internet back then that I don’t feel in the slightest today. It’s that once-and-then-gone-forever moment where novelty and ignorance intersect, and I had a lot of fun just seeing the creations and information that other sites had. It’s what led me to meeting a good online friend in 1997, which in turn led to the creation of a mutual movie review site, which in turn led to my interest in blogging.

2 thoughts on “Nostalgia Lane: Webrings

  1. bhagpuss November 6, 2020 / 9:53 am

    I’d totally forgotten web rings. Although even in the 1990s and even when I was “surfing” GeoCities, something I did a lot, I was far more likely just to put random search terms in and pick from the results than go around someone’s “curated” list. Just like I don’t generally work through playlists on YouTube but jump around randomly.

    Also, as far as search engines go, I’d still take NetScape (then) over Google (now) any day.

  2. Minimalistway November 7, 2020 / 7:54 pm

    Some people using them today, there is a growing number of people who are sick of social media and they want to bring back the old web but with new content and design, so they start personal websites.

    Neocities offer 1GB of hosting space for free, no advertising, you’ll find some webrings there.

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