This has been kind of a weird experience over the past few months, so I hope you'll bear with me.
It all started with reddit - specifically, how reddit had planned on getting rid of its API access. This caused a general revolt among folks on the platform (or, at least among folks I follow), with threats of leaving or at least curtailing their reddit usage. I've been through a few of these, and they suck - the death of the Google+ OSR community being the last one that still stings a bit.
I asked a general question in /r/osr: where was everyone going to go? Were we just going to weather the storm, or did people have another plan? Unsurprisingly and typical of any diverse community, there was no single answer. Some folks thought people were being "extra" and were just going to stay put. Others swore they would never come back. A lot of people wanted to return to blogs, and newsletters.
And a few mentioned webrings.
Just in case you don't know what they are, a webring was a bunch of sites linked together in a circle. There was a navigation bar you'd add to your site, and the navbar had a "back" and "forward" that would take you to the next site in the ring.
If you're wondering to yourself "... why the fuck would you need that?", you need to kind of understand the shape of the Internet back in the 90s and early aughts. There wasn't a great search solution at that time: there was Archie, and Jughead and Veronica (for searching Gopher, which was a whole other thing), and Magellan, and AltaVista, and Inktomi, and Dogpile, and (of course) Yahoo! But honestly, you'd hear about websites on usenet or you'd find them by talking to friends and sometimes you stumble on something like hyperreal.org or erowid.com at 3am in the computer lab and you'd have to write it down in a notebook so you didn't forget.
If you stumbled on a webring though, shit got real. You suddenly had access to a ton of other sites that were topically similar. You didn't have to write things down - you only had to remember a single site, the site you started at, and you could just ... explore. It was like parting the lianas in some jungle and finding a tribe telling stories around a campfire.
And if you were very, very lucky, it was your tribe.
I started out as the GM for my group way back in the early 80s, and over the years I had friends who "trained up" to be GMs themselves. We lived in western CT, and (speaking of finding your tribe) we were able to build large enough groups of players that two GMs were necessary. A friend of mine and I decided to split between Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms; because I owned The Temple of Elemental Evil [T1-8] AND had been fortunate enough to inherit the early Greyhawk boxed set from the person who got me started playing, the lands of Iuz, Furyondy, and the Scarlet Brotherhood became mine.
Fast forward a bit - still running games, I graduate college and become an archaeologist (long story). That didn't work out so great, so I got myself a temp job answering phones and running reports in the HR department of a now defunct company - which meant that I had access both to a printer and a computer with internet access.
I wish I could remember how I got onto the Greyhawk Webring - just luck I guess. I had never seen so much content in my entire life. I had really and truly found my tribe, something that wouldn't be repeated for a long while (until a member of my gaming group living in New York City told me about New York Red Box and I started getting into the OSR community). There were weather generation programs. Maps galore. An exploration into the dragons of Greyhawk - naming them, and where they lived, and their motives and desires. There was the Oerth Journal and homebrew content for Castle Greyhawk and monsters and treasures and stories and legends. My head was on fire. I printed everything I could find, assembling these treasures in binders I found which no doubt had some corporate purpose. I lurked near the printer so no one would figure out that I wasn't printing HR forms, and spent eight hours a day in my head.
Eventually someone figured out that I "knew computers", and I was transferred to the IT helpdesk. The binders came with me, but I lost access to a printer. In exchange, however, I got my first foray into programming - a hobby that became part of who I am, and one which I (now) get paid for.
The Webring Plugin
So, back to reddit. I began to wonder what a "modern" webring would look like. No one really cares about those any more as you would just search the web, but what we're talking about is "curation" - in this particular case, human curation vs. machine curation. When we're talking about curation, things can get a little fraught. Finding your tribe can be a good thing, but tribes are ... uh ... tribal, so you can get this "us vs. them" or "in vs. out" kind of vibe going on if you're not careful. I've had this happen to me recently, even - trying to get some attention on my GLOGhack (*cough* *cough*) by reaching out to folks publishing information about games, and getting told that I wasn't the right game or it wasn't popular enough to make the list (which ... weird, right?). That tribalism can hit you in a part of your ego that stretches way, way back in time to when the cool kids were getting picked for kickball and you were rolling up characters.
I wanted to create a webring where you didn't have to go through some jagoff gatekeeper (me, in this case) to get your stuff approved. I wanted that webring to exist without any need by "webmasters" to add a navbar to their site. And I wanted that webring to be available to anyone regardless of platform.
So after a lot of back and forth, I finally got a Firefox Add-On created and approved (which was a whole nightmarish story unto itself). For those of you who are attempting to create your own plugins, just remember not to include your website anywhere in the description and things will go a lot more smoothly.
Thanks for bearing with me as I tripped down memory lane. Without further ado...
Nuts and Bolts
- You can get the Mozilla Plugin here
- You can see the source code on Github here
- You can add your blog to the webring here
- You can see a big list of all the blogs here
Hope you enjoy!