The networked universe of e-commerce offers businesses endless opportunities for interconnecting and sharing commercial relationships. Web rings are Internet-based commercial relationships in which companies, groups, individuals, consumers, or other common interests are linked together via a succession of inter-referencing Web sites.
Web rings share a common theme among their participating sites. They pool the interest in individual sites for the common good of all participating sites. For instance, a database-software Web ring might link together companies, researchers, and others for the common benefit of all members. Users of the sites also benefit by gaining access to a wider collection of information on whatever topic the sites cover.
Companies in e-commerce turn to Web rings to help build emerging industries, attract new customers, and forge business relationships and strategic partnerships. If you decide to participate in a Web ring, it carries the added benefit of drawing finely targeted visitors to your site, because users traveling through the ring are more likely to be interested in your offerings than the average Internet surfer.
Web rings can thus simplify subject searches on the Internet, making searches more efficient and less subject to trial and error. Rather than forcing users to wade through hundreds of sites to find the handful that actually pertains to their interest, Web rings interlock many of those sites together, so that users, once they find their way into the ring, can simply skip from one relevant site to another. Web rings thus constitute their own small Internet of subject-specific Web sites.
HOW WEB RINGS WORK
Web rings usually have as their starting point a ring home page, which explains what the ring is about, when and why it was created, a description of how the ring works, an explanation of the ring's basic rules and requirements, a copy of the navigation bar, and instructions for interested sites that wish to join.
A site's Web ring affiliation is typically marked by an icon and navigation bar at the bottom of its pages. Sites agree to include a common navigation bar in order to create consistent and equitable linking between all member sites. The navigation bar, provided to members as a standard HTML fragment, can be downloaded from the ring's home page or requested from the ring master. The HTML fragment might include links such as "Next," which takes users to the site following yours in the ring; "Previous," which links to the site preceding yours; "Random," which leaps to any site on the ring as determined randomly by the ring master's computer; and "Next 5" and "Previous 5," which displays a list of the next or last five sites in the ring so users can select only those they think will be most useful.
YOUR WEB RING STRATEGY
Creating a Web ring is fairly easy. You can begin one from scratch by directly contacting owners of other sites. With their collaboration, you can decide how you want to set up the ring, what other firms or groups you want to join, what the purpose of the ring should be, and what rules ring members are to follow. Alternatively, a number of Web-ring specialty sites popped up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, offering a set of established formats and tools for devising a new Web ring, registering it, and reaching out to others. At first, Web-ring specialty sites simply lived off advertising revenue while offering their Web ring services for free. By the early 2000s, however, competitive pressures had caused the sector to change its tactics, and currently most such sites offer value-added services, including e-commerce solutions, along with their Web-ring hosting, set-up, and maintenance services.
Web rings are controlled, monitored, and maintained by a ring master, who is responsible for the overall look and feel of the ring. This involves establishing and enforcing rules for participation, such as adhering to professional standards and maintaining courtesy toward other members of the ring. The ring master ensures that all ring applicant sites adequately relate to the ring's subject, sees to it that the site installs that ring's code and navigation scheme correctly, and accepts, rejects, and revokes membership as he or she sees fit. In addition, the ring master is charged with setting up the navigation scheme of the ring, determining the order of sites in the ring and devising an overall image and navigation bar for use by all members. Setting up your own ring and acting as its ring master, then, gives you the greatest degree of control over the ring's evolution and operation, but it also entails more time and energy.
Initially, getting other sites to join your Web ring will involve seeking out prospective sites, contacting them, explaining your ideas, and providing them information on how to join. A well-designed Web ring, however, will usually see such work diminish over time, as the ring takes on a life of its own. As word spreads around the Internet, new sites should seek to join of their own volition.
Casey, Carol. "Creating and Managing Webrings: A Step-by-Step Guide." Information Technology and Libraries, December 1999, 214.
"Web Rings: An Internet Marketer's Dream." Business Week, December 15, 1997. Available from http://www.businessweek.com/1997/50/b3557124.htm.