Why Personal Link Directories are Better
be your own curator

If there’s anything about personal websites that I absolutely love, it’s the pages overflowing with links to the owner’s favourite sites—whether it be personal websites, useful resources, or just random fun stuff.

I’ve been getting into expanding my resources page a lot more in recent months, not necessarily for other people, but primarily for myself. It’s a safe place to store tons and tons of bookmarks, and I gained a lot of appreciation for it after my laptop recently had its Linux installation break after updating the packages (and yes, I tried for hours to salvage it, but due to school I decided to back up my files and reinstall instead). As a result of the skirmish I lost a bunch of bookmarks, but most of the important ones were saved on my website.

Despite the resource page primarily showcasing my draconic hoarding tendencies, I found that other people have been getting a ton of use out of it as well. It’s significant enough on its own now that there’s some people linking only to my resource page instead of my entire website, which I find pretty funny.

While all this preliminary talk is regarding resources directories, I also want to talk about directories that primarily link to personal websites, and how personal directories tend to triumph over official ones, while also hosting an extra grilling session on webrings and how they don’t live up to the hype, regardless of how much people push it as something revolutionary.

Official Directories & Inclusivity Issues

How I make the distinction between a directory that’s official and one that’s personal is quite simple: personal directories are hosted on personal websites, and official directories tend to be ones that have branched off into their own thing—sometimes maintained by multiple people.

As an example, an official resource directory is a place like DMOZ, whereas a place like Peelupaalu is a personal directory. In terms of directories linking personal sites, an official one would be a place like Neocities Neighbourhoods, and a personal directory would be something like my neighbourhood page.

The issue with making things “official”, particularly from the personal site directory side, is that partiality is now frowned upon. If you’re going to create a link directory that’s meant to cater to a community, inclusivity is now something that you have to worry about. Bias becomes a factor that some people don’t tend to treat lightly when they deem something to be a communal project, especially if they want to be a part of it.

But I think that this factor can detract from the overall quality of the directory as a whole.

Think of it this way: if a movie curator recommends every single movie for the sake of being inclusive, they would defeat the point of being a curator in the first place. What they’re doing is completely useless. They’re doing as much work as giving you a catalog of everything and saying “they’re all good—you should watch all of them.”

But they’re not all good. If anything, I question if they even watched any of these movies in the first place if that was the list I got. The likelihood that all of them are of high-quality is zero. And even if they were all hypothetically good, there will be some that are better than the rest, so actually recommend me those instead, please and thank you.

However, since we’re talking mostly about people’s websites instead of movies, or books, things can get personal very quickly. If they’re not included because they didn’t meet certain standards, people can take that to mean that the maintainers just don’t like their site, or more heinously: them as an individual, which can be the case, but it also doesn’t have to be. Sometimes their sites literally have nothing in it, and yet they still want to be part of the official directory. What then? You have to draw the line somewhere.

Personal link directories are biased, sure, but that’s the entire point. It reflects the tastes of the person curating them. It’s a natural way to get quality recommendations that are relevant to the person, because they’re not hampered by social pressure. If you like a person’s site, then it’s not unlikely that you’ll like the sites that they link to also. And plus, who would you rather listen to: a person who you admire, or know personally, giving their recommendations; or a faceless, amorphous but “official” source giving a list of resources—a source comprised of people which you don’t even know, or can’t get to know?

Most of these “official” sources of links, if curated, are based on personal preferences anyway, with extra steps and a different coat of paint, especially if they are run by only one person. You can have a group of curators collectively contributing to one directory to increase objectivity, but that’s hard to manage, and is very uncommon, if not nonexistent in places like Neocities.

And the thing is that a group of curators can also be emulated through personal link directories anyway. If you browse a lot of people’s sites, you’ll get a general idea of who’s being linked to the most, which can give an idea as to which places are worth visiting.

Personal directories can also cover a lot more ground compared to official ones. The scope of official directories are often limited, but if people go hunting around for their own gems to hoard in their site, then we’ll be able to find places which many people don’t even know about. Since official directories tend to cater to a larger set of people, super niche sites which will gather links only pertaining to their niche will be able to share places which haven’t been uncovered by anyone except them.

The problem that personal directories do face, however, is redundancy. While I did mention that those who get linked to the most can be indicative of how useful or nice the place is, it can get tiring to browse personal websites, only to see the same few links over and over. But then again, there are multiple official directories which are also redundant and link to the same places too, so it’s a general issue that pervades both categories.

Personal directories are not burdened the same way that official directories are. If official directories are not heavily curated, then there comes the inclusivity issue, where everyone is recommended, but then there’s no real sense of standards. It ends up landing back at square one, where there’s no difference between a curated list and a list with everything in it. And if it is curated, then people can get riled up for not being included, which may lead to some controversy.

One Webring to Rule Them All

Ah, webrings. Something pushed as alternative to link directories, but rarely has it ever been as effective as them.

Webrings are more of a novelty nowadays. They were a necessity back when search engines didn’t exist. While they seem pretty cool on the surface, they become woefully impractical when they get way too big. There’s a reason why GeoCities had neighbourhoods to categorize sites instead of having a massive webring connecting them all together. And even then, it got unwieldy to browse through them all.

Some webrings do cater to specific niches, which helps with organization, but what inevitably happens when it gets too big is that the directory which lists all of the sites that are a part of the webring ends up being better in 99% of cases. I’m not sure about other people, but I never use the webring’s actual functionality to browse sites. I immediately look for the directory which lists all of the sites involved in the webring and window-shop through there instead.

And there are some webrings which are so general that the inclusivity problem that I mentioned earlier becomes incredibly apparent. The greatest example of this is one that many people are familiar with: The Yesterweb Webring.

An OK idea in theory (well, kind of…), but the fact that the webring is so incredibly general and categorically barren means that everyone’s sites basically fall under it. In the case where people who apply and aren’t accepted to the ring (outside of some general criteria), they can chalk it up to arbitrary reasons, and in that case people may start complaining about partiality. So to avoid that, everyone is involved, everyone can join, and everyone is happy… right?

Well, not quite. If anything, it’s the fact that everyone can be in it that causes it to lose any amount of effectiveness as a resource whatsoever. As of writing this there are more than 800 sites in the webring. 800. It even dwarfs the Hotline Webring which is around 5 years older than it, coming at over 500, which is also a crazy amount.

Now I don’t know about you, but there’s no way in the observable universe that I’m traversing a webring with 800 sites. No way. I can’t even stomach traversing one with twenty sites, let alone five hundred—let alone eight freaking hundred.

And even if you did want to go through all those sites as an exercise of extreme masochism, you can’t, because the probability that someone—only one—of those 800+ people didn’t include the webring widget that allows traversing it in the first place is 100%. It’s not “almost” guaranteed, it is guaranteed.

Heck, it took me no more than 5 minutes to find multiple sites that broke the chain entirely. That’s pitiful. And you have to hope that people put the widget in an accessible part of their site, too; some people place the widget in such abysmal locations that including it in their website is no different than omitting it altogether.

This is a problem regardless of how many people are in the ring. All it takes is one careless person, and it breaks the chain; two people, and you end up cutting off a portion of the webring, making their sites completely inaccessible through it.

While the Yesterweb Webring does seem to have a surf page which circumvents this webring dilemma, how do you get around this issue when you encounter it in other webrings, as a bona fide Internet surfer and website connoisseur? Well, just go to the link directory. In this case, the Yesterweb Webring has a directory with all of the sites listed. Crisis averted.

But then what’s the entire point of the webring, if that’s what it’s going to boil down to? You might as well cut the webring crap altogether, put all the sites into a directory, categorize them, and it’s immediately more effective, and less susceptible to breaking, than having to use clunky, obsolete 90s technology. If links break, just remove them. A webring makes things an unnecessary hassle for not only the maintainers of it, but also those who want to simply browse through some cool sites.

The only thing I think a webring would be suitable for is connecting a very small group of sites—and I’m talking very small. A group of close-knit friends, for example. Ten sites or less. And even then, it’s more of something done for fun rather than for any practical purpose.

Webrings are, at the end of the day, a fun toy. But don’t make it as if it was an amazing piece of technology that was abandoned because of the corporatization of the web and the creation of search engines, because it’s impractical at best, and straight-up broken at worst.

Be Your Own Curator

I want to conclude by mentioning a site that many Neocities people are aware of: Districts.

There are still plenty of sites on Neocities trying to get attention of Districts, trying to get on the directory, because if they get on there then it’s almost as they “made it” as a website; they are now officially a “good site”, certified by Districts themselves.

…except Districts is still run by, you guessed it: people. People with their own preferences. It’s not even official in the sense that Neocities themselves runs it. And even if it was run by Neocities, it would still be maintained by people with differing tastes.

Despite this, the community for some reason has deemed it to be the place where they want to be listed, despite how infrequently it gets updated. And could you really blame the maintainers for not updating it often? They get multiple follows a week, which aren’t really “follows”, let’s be real—people want to be listed on Districts, and this is one of the least intrusive way to get their attention. If I were running Districts, I would lose my mind too, with all of these people begging to be in the directory.

But official directories don’t need to be the only place where the best links and resources can be found. It can be right in your website. It’s just that many people don’t think it is as significant as it actually is.

Be your own curator. Find places where people haven’t been to before, and link to them; link to places where you love visiting. You’re still doing people a service, even if it’s not official, even if it is all based on your preferences. You can add your thoughts to them, saying why you love these places, and it would be seen as valuable commentary, rather than something as “biased” if placed under the realms of officiality.

And even if other people don’t find any use for your link directory, you can thank yourself later when your computer decides to bite the dust, taking all of your bookmarks down with it.

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