The Internet as we know it changes rapidly. The web even gets more social and the users are more in control then they used to be. Therefore, I've decided to write a non scientific article about an older phenomenon of the web. It was quite a popular website element back in the days when the only choice you had was browsing with Netscape or Internet Explorer, next to a dialup or ISDN connection: webrings.
What is a Webring?
First off for the less experienced Internet users (read: young folks), a webring was basically a group of websites linked together in a circular structure, all about a certain topic or theme. Webrings were widespread mostly among amateur websites, and were quite popular in the 1990s and early 2000s. To be a part of a webring, each site had a common navigation bar; it contained links to the previous and next website. By clicking next (or previous) repeatedly, you would eventually reach the site you’d started at; this is the origin of the term webring. Most of the time a "random" button led to a random website in the webring (“I’m feeling lucky” anyone?). Although webrings had moderators (your website had to be approved by the moderator), the click-through rate would presumably drop if one of the websites within the ring were broken, unavailable, or offline. A webring absolutely added extra value for a visitor. I remember when I started surfing the Web (around 1998) I used webrings a lot. Back then it was my source for new Commodore Colt and (starting) Console Emulator scene websites. Without webrings, I would have never known these websites existed. Of course, the main reason was the absence of good search engines.
Webrings & SEO
Websites usually joined a webring in order to receive more traffic from related sites. Back in those days, webrings could be considered a search engine optimization technique. And it probably was since search engines had quite different ranking factors back then. If you look at it now with the current ranking factors, webrings seem quite useless for SEO as they would lack authority. Although there is physical linking to other websites, the links show up randomly and the website owner doesn't control the “next” or “previous” link in the ring. Of course a webring looks like a "link wheel." The strength is much lower when webring expanded. Imagine having 100 websites within a webring; there won’t be any link value passed all the way back to the "original" website. But mostly the randomness and the embedded script/HTML of the link placement takes the value out of webrings for your SEO campaign (though you might find some potential sites to seek links from).
Want to reinvent the webring? It can be done, and we are doing it!. You can make a small webring act like a “link wheel.” Every “next” link will link to the next site in line to pass link value. If you link every site to the main ring the link wheel is completed. If you use the “random” button the link wheel is still completed ...
The history of web rings started with the development of Expanding Unidirectional Ring of Pages by Denis Howe in 1994. This was followed by the development of a Unifying Common Gateway Interface in the same year by Giraldo Hierro and the formation of a company called WebRing.
WebRing was sold to Starseed in 1997 and was sold, in turn, to Geocities in 1998. With the merger of Geocities and Yahoo, the WebRing program was enhanced and modified to give it a more standard look and control. These modifications, however, were not too popular with the webring users and, so, Yahoo had to give back webring control to its original developers.
Today, some webrings operate using a membership program in which a webmaster has to pay a fee in order to be included in a webring community. The membership program was further modified by the introduction of an affiliate program wherein webmasters can earn money by referring the webring to others.