What ever happened to Webrings?

In the olden days of the early-mid 90s, websites on like topics were linked via webrings; links / arrows on the bottom of the page that would link you to other sites on the same issue, topic, theme or industry.

Yahoo! carved out an audience not through search or email, but through their wonderful Directory service – one of the first user generated content sites whereby you could suggest sites to be listed. At one time almost every site in the world was listed in categories according to topic / subject. Webrings became obsolete as people could visit Yahoo! and find a one-stop “link shop”.

Webrings evolved from site based to browser based – Netscape started a “What’s Related” link on their browsers in 1999, where people could use the browser to find other related sites. However “What’s Related” failed due to privacy concerns.

Search overtook directories and webrings, as people could find the single or few most informative sites based on specific topic or keyword searches. Far more focussed and efficient, but at the cost of a broad view.

The beauty of webrings, Directory services such as Yahoo! and “What’s related” (although the latter was hardly a success), was that you could access the “universe” of websites on that subject directly – without being distracted or misled by search.

Webrings aren’t dead – Blogs have adopted a form of webrings through Blogrolls – lists of links to similar or related blogs.

But what of the vast majority of sites? Have companies and web developers forgotten about the social nature of websites – and that people want to know about the company, but also about the industry (dare we suggest competitors) through links!

So, what are the new webrings? In the era of search, are they relevant? Do we need them? Is the web too big to afford webrings? Or are webmasters now being judged on time spent ON site rather than sharing time between sites?