WebRings And Blockchains. Can this 1990s discovery model power the decentralised web?

My previous article ‘Decentralising Facebook with Blockchains and Userfeeds’ received a lot of interest from the community and many thoughtful responses in the comments.

I have to confess that that using ‘Facebook’ in the title was a bit provocative on my side. The goal was to introduce the idea of userfeeds in a somewhat tangible way and Facebook is always a great target to aim at when talking about decentralisation :)

But the main idea behind ‘userfeeds’ is more general:

how can we rethink the existing discovery models on the internet using the blockchain?

Bitcoin proved it’s possible to exchange monetary value online without third parties, so can we apply the same model to exchange attention online? (exchange links, traffic etc)

Discovery is extremely centralised today with Google and Apple running their respective app stores, Google running Search , Amazon being the key discovery platform for products, YouTube for videos etc. The key element of social platforms such as Facebook or Reddit is also discovery.

We’ve already explored the disadvantages of closed data platforms and the need for the more open and participatory architectures in the previous article.

So let’s look into potential applications of the ‘userfeeds’ — the decentralised discovery networks based on the idea of WebRings.

Back to the 1990s — the WebRings

Some of you might remember the pre-Google era of the Internet. There was an interesting concept that emerged at that time — the WebRing.

So what is a WebRing?

Quoting Wikipedia:

“A webring (or web ring) is a collection of websites linked together in a circular structure, and usually organized around a specific theme, often educational or social. They were popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, particularly among amateur websites.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webring

The value proposition of webrings was to help website owners to get more targeted traffic to their sites. For users, webrings helped to discover more websites from the niche they were interested in. In the pre-Google era, this was a great way to discover new sites from the same category and many sites grouped together to exchange traffic within the ring.

Webrings required an operator called the RingMaster who was a moderator of the ring and a dedicated server to host the webring.

WebRings were one of the first discovery models for sites when the web was still in its infancy and much more decentralised than it is today. In a way, WebRings were a decentralised and a bott0m-up method of curating the Web before Google’s robots entered the game.

So why this still could be relevant in 2015?

My hypothesis is that the webring idea combined with the blockchain+userfeeds could form a basis for decentralised discovery networks.

Users would announce their actions of joining, leaving or forming the Ring on the blockchain and in userfeeds they control.

Ring Owners wouldn’t have to run the infrastructure anymore (the blockchain would take care of that), they would be just a specified roles on the blockchain responsible for maintaining the Ring.

This could be especially attractive for the creators of:

  • bots (Slack, Messenger, Telegram)
  • mobile apps
  • Virtual Reality worlds

that would allow them collaboratively build alternative discovery mechanisms competitive to centralised stores. (BotRings, AppRings, MetaverseRings? )

There’s lots of potential for experimentation with voting and monetary exchange within and between Rings. For example: participants of the rings would vote to accept new joiners or a joining fee could be split between the existing members.

It’s one of the potential applications of Userfeeds that’s really exciting and we’ll be looking into it in more detail.

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