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Lost in Cyberspace

Theme-based rings help bring order to the Web

This article was originally published on April 7, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

For something originally designed in order to help researchers organize their work, the World Wide Web is incredibly disorganized. If you want to find a bit of information on the Web (or, God forbid, elsewhere on the Internet), there is no single, central location where you can go – despite the claims of the various search engines.

While not a cure-all for the Web's anarchy (which, in some ways – fending off government regulation, for instance – is a strength), one site does help bring some order to the chaos.

Webring is a free service that allows people with similar interests to organize their individual Web sites into a larger structure – a "Web ring." Typically, each site in a particular ring will then include a hotlinked icon that allows visitors to jump to the next site in the ring with a single click. No more going back to a search engine to try the next hit – when you're done with the site you're on, just hop to the next one with a similar theme.

Best of all for site owners, the Webring site includes a CGI script that automatically checks all links and eliminates sites that are no longer available, meaning if your site is on a ring you don't have to worry about having a bad link on your page.

The idea of a ring predates – and there are rings that are not affiliated with But brings most of the Internet's rings together in one easily accessible spot.

Topics for Rings are nearly as varied as topics for Usenet newsgroups (although not quite as numerous as the 40,000+ newsgroups – at least not yet; as of a year ago, though, there were more than 10,000 rings registered with Webring). Ring themes range from the anti-Microsoft ring to the Spice Girls to Down syndrome to pro-life feminism to a dozen or so Star Trek rings.

The more popular rings can have hundreds of Web sites; most have a half-dozen or so – and plenty of others are now empty. Part of the problem is that, just as on the Usenet, anyone can start a ring – and folks sometimes start a new ring not realizing a similar ring already exists. Thus, there are three Amiga computer rings – one with 189 sites, another with 12, and the third with 3 – and no discernible difference between them. (And that doesn't count the specialized Amiga rings, like the Amiga Unix ring, the Amiga "Formula 1 Gran Prix" ring (devoted to a racing game), or the Amiga IRC ring.

And, as on Usenet, even after traffic on a ring dies out (i.e., no more Web sites affiliated with it), the ring itself lives on, still coming up on Webring searches but containing 0 sites. Why not drop them after a few months?

The Webring server can be slow; it's often easier to have a second browser window open so you can do something else while waiting for pages to load. But it is well organized, with rings organized by larger interests – i.e., civil rights, environment, music, programming.

Most of the pages I looked at were run by nonprofit organizations, activists or hobbyists; there aren't may university or professional sites here. So if you're doing research for homework or publication, for instance, you won't find many primary resource sites on a ring. But most of the sites on these rings also contain links that share the same theme as the ring, so they can be a great place to start looking for sites with hard documentation.

As mentioned, Webring is not a centralized traffic cop for the Web, but it does make finding what you're looking for on the World Wide Web a little easier.