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(Courtesy of fravia's advanced searching lores)

(`. The importance of Webrings for combing purposes" .)
by Lorenzo Gatti
published at fravia's searchlores in October 2000
Very slightly edited by fravia+

Lorenzo sent me this info some time ago, and, indeed, it is worth explaining more in depth how webrings can be useful for combing purposes.
As Lorenzo writes:
" This leaves webrings to motivated people, likely to offer good contents (if not, they wouldn't put themselves on display) and likely to cluster sites in the appropriate rings for their topics (often there are mailing lists etc. behind a webring)"   Enjoy!

A resource that is cited in your page about "combing" but not very well described is www.webring.org (or www.webring.com); I use it often in my searches with usually good results.

A webring is a set of sites of similar topic, linked in a ring so that you could (in principle) navigate through all of them all the way back to the starting site; you put in your pages some special fragments, and you are linked (to the list of all sites and to +1, +5, -1, -5 and random sites in the ring).

Webring.org is a directory and server for this kind of structure (you register the webring you set up with them, giving a title and textual description).

Obviously you don't need them to build a webring, but this site allows searching for your otherwise less visible ring.

Webring.org offers a simple keyword search form that gives you a list of webrings; their name and description and the number of their sites is shown and for each webring there is a page with a site list.

They also offer a thematic directory, listing all rings in big pages; you can use the search form within one of these directory branches (not commonly useful: if you need a specific keyword you don't want to miss results in other sections).

After you have found a list of relevant webrings, you must select some and inspect the list of their sites. How do you choose?

Some rings have hundreds of sites, some one or two. The population shouldn't usually be considered when selecting promising rings, because a single site can give you all the links and contents you need, while a random (well, not so random) sampling of the sites of a huge ring will cover the important contents and links (which are obviously redundant if there are so many sites).

You should look at the titles and descriptions of the rings, like you do with the site lists from a search engine; but in this case titles and description are always freely selected by the ring maintainer as a presentation and manifesto. Would you prefer seeking pornography in the "#1 XXX ring" with "thousands of FREE working thumbnails" or in the " Association of webring" with "the home pages of Association members" ? Now you have the site list of a ring of relevant topic you have found (of course you should also check the rings an interesting site you have already found belongs to, by jumping to their site list) and you must inspect sites; this isn't much different than choosing from a search engine results page.

Be warned that many (even more than half) of the links in the rings you inspect will be dead. It's a law of nature and it doesn't mean that the other sites aren't updated; often the site corresponding to a dead link exists but has moved (and is referenced correctly in the regular links of other sites).

You shouldn't bother following the links along the rings, but always open sites in new windows from the ring site list; the two great benefits of this procedure are that you can easily discard dead links without useless waiting, and that you can filter sites by looking, again, at their names and descriptions instead of jumping blindly. Be warned that in my experience the probability of a browser crash is highly correlated with the number of open windows.

What searches are webrings useful for, and why?

If you are interested in a topic that someone might write a specialized page about, chances are that a few of these people might bother to setup a webring to supplement the normal links on their site. If you find the ring you find their pages and the pages they link to, with the obvious very high S/N ratio (you can find only shallow and redundant, but on topic, pages).

Lamers (defined generically as people whose sites you don't want to find) tend to be uninterested in webrings, or to be uninvited (remember that rings have a maintainer), or to segregate in their own rings (for example, I saw today in the "Sexuality" section some rings with typical worthless porn titles mixed with genuine looking rings by "amateurs" and associations).

This leaves webrings to motivated people, likely to offer good contents (if not, they wouldn't put themselves on display) and likely to cluster sites in the appropriate rings for their topics (often there are mailing lists etc. behind a webring).

Sites unlikely to be found on a webring are those of corporate, academic or government institutions (too official and egotistical to link with amateurs or between each other) or those on high-tech topics; yesterday I had only 4 (four) unpromising hits for "Java Swing".

I recommend webrings for general and detailed information about the small topics that can be someone's hobbies and special interests; not for specific people and sites (they aren't visible in ring descriptions, although you should find them easily from ring sites), nor for specific files and data you have pinpointed (which might be in the sites you find, but you don't know exactly where).

Some examples of what I successfully searched through webrings:
-The "4d Sports Driving" (aka "Stunts") PC videogame and related software. I easily found a thriving webring and I got a few slightly different versions of the game, all known level and resource editing software, many tracks and demos, pages of tips and tricks, etc. in one or two hours (mostly download time and delays restarting after IE3 crashed).
-The "Roborally" boardgame from Wizards Of The Coast, with a similar outcome in information, game modifications and software.
-Documentation about the "Street Fighter" series of coin-op videogames (strategy, history, variants, etc.)
-Some popular roleplaying games (adventures and settings, suggested rule modifications, general discussions, advice and information). This is a particularly interesting case, because I didn't want to find everything known by man but only a few good sites with something worth reading and adopting; it was a simple task because site and ring descriptions are very informative and allow an easy choice.
-Freely available fonts; in an early stage I discovered important authors and collections this way, but today I've reached saturation and I only check periodically the main sites for new releases.

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