I have been thinking about webrings lately.
Webrings are lists of websites grouped on a particular subject, • and if you perhaps browsed a certain slice of the web in the 90s and early 00s, you might have found a rectangular embed on the bottom of a page, with directional forward and backward links, • and if you kept following them, you'd have visited all the sites in that webring. • Before search engines actively crawled the web, this was a way for tiny websites to share in each others' exposure.
Fun fact: Did you know what webrings were pioneered under the codename EUROPa by a fella named Denis Howe in 1994, • that they were later developed further by a separate company called WebRing, • and that it was later sold to Yahoo! which subsequently drove it into the ground? Does that sound familiar?
So a colleague in my field made her own webring earlier this year. • Webrings are a 25 year old technology, so this is purely a labor of love, right? She wanted to make one using more modern web techniques, and I realize that this isn't the crowd that wants to hear me talk shop, • but basically that inspired me to do the same in a different way • by following a different set of design decisions.
Now the reason I was inspired to make my own was nostalgia. • I was hit in the gut with memories and longing for my youth. And this feeling is what kept me building all through the weekend. • But in the back of my mind, • I could feel something was off.
After a while of thinking, I figured this out: I have never used a webring. • Sure I encountered them, but I'd never been part of one, I'd never followed the webring embed links until I was aimless and lost in the woods, so to speak. • So why was I struck by nostalgia for something I never really experienced?
There's a certain narrative for queers my age (if they had the privilege of Internet access), • and that narrative says that you first start off with a vague unexplainable feeling of strangeness, • but through the magic of the Internet you gradually start to put names to that strangeness, • slowly decide why it makes you feel bad or good, • and generally figure your shit out in the company of likeminded folx.
This was not my narrative. • Don't get me wrong, I was fortunate enough to have a hand-me-down computer with Internet. But I never used that access to find the right communities • (though, in retrospect, reading pages and pages of racy lesbian anime fanfic brought me perilously close).
That is what felt so off about the nostalgia I was feeling. • It wasn't really nostalgia: • it was more like the extrapolated idea (based on memoirs, • retro TV shows, • games like Secret Little Haven) • of what I could have been nostalgic for today • had my life taken a slightly different path.
So • after that weekend of work, • what do I have to show for myself?
- A webring prototype. • Again, you're probably not the crowd that cares about the cost/benefit tradeoffs of my implementation.
- Some really mixed feelings about online adolescence • and fabricating a lost youth you never had • and wow, I really didn't expect the angsty trans symbolism to come pouring out when I opened up my text editor and started coding.
There is no good conclusion for this story.
Webrings are from a time back when communities were actually run (as in adminstered, built, guided, curated, moderated) by their members. • This part of my story was going to get real preachy about online censorship, • until I remembered that this is the room • where everyone would already be well aware of what's going down on social networks everywhere.
Right now, teaching web and tech literacy is my strongest interest. • I am a web literate person, • but not everyone knows how to build and spin up their own services. • But if you would like to know your options, • I will be here • and you can come say "hi" and we can talk about it.