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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.
Sites usually join a webring in order to receive traffic from related sites. When used to improve search engine rankings, webrings can be considered a search engine optimization technique.
Denis Howe started EUROPa (Expanding Unidirectional Ring Of Pages) at Imperial College in 1994. The idea developed further when Giraldo Hierro conceptualized a central CGI (Common Gateway Interface) script to enhance functionality. Sage Weil developed such a script in May 1994. Weil's script gained popularity, pushing Weil in June 1995 to form a company called WebRing. In 1997, Weil sold WebRing to Starseed, Inc.
In 1998 Starseed was acquired by GeoCities, who made no major changes to the system. Just a few months later, in early 1999, Yahoo! bought GeoCities, and eighteen months after the acquisition, on September 5, 2000, Yahoo! unveiled a fully overhauled WebRing, known as Yahoo! WebRing. Although Yahoo!'s implementation was meant to streamline the way the rings were managed and provide a more consistent interface for all rings, many of these changes were unpopular with ringmasters accustomed to the older system which gave them more flexibility.
On April 15, 2001, Yahoo! pulled their support of WebRing, leaving it in the hands of one technician from the original WebRing, Timothy Killeen. He unveiled a WebRing free of Yahoo! influence on October 12, 2001. In the years since this change, many of the features which had been stripped by Yahoo!, particularly customization options, were reimplemented into the WebRing system.
On September 26, 2006, Webring Inc. announced a new WebRing Premium Membership Program. They have separated memberships into two types, WebRing 1.0 and WebRing 2.0. Sites that are part of WebRing 1.0 will be limited to 50 webrings per URL. Existing 1.0 members can maintain more than 50, but can not add more. In conjunction with the premium membership program, WebRing introduced an affiliate program, in which webmasters earn money when others join webrings from their site; they earn an additional payment if the new member purchases a premium membership.
In early October 2007, Webring was granted a trademark on "Webring" from the USA Trademark office. Also in that month, Yahoo's long partnership ended as Webring ownership repurchased Webring stock held by Yahoo, marking the first time since the late 1990s that Webring was again privately held.
A reborn website is Webringo.com, run as a hobby by the RingMaster. The first "webringo" first appeared in the Internet Archive on September 2006, but failed on September 2011. The present RingMaster took it over as a hobby in August 2012.
A similar website was RingSurf.com, which uses the term 'Net Rings'. The site first appeared in the Internet Archive in June 1998. The site's main page and directory of rings are still operating as of April 2014, but the rings' sites are inaccessible.
While the largest webring services use their own proprietary software, a few programs have been written that make it possible for webmasters to run webrings without being dependent on an off-site service. Ringlink, SimpleRing, PHP-Ring and Ringmaker are some examples.