Interaction on the personal web looks very different than social media, and it could take some getting used to if all you've experienced is scrolling through social media as your main interaction with other people on the web. For one, you're expected to participate in the personal web! Social media has made us complacent in how we look at content in the modern internet, but when you create your own website, you're not just creating Content™ to be monetized or trendy; you're showcasing your expression of yourself, your interests, your favorite things, your hobbies—who you are!
People who might be apprehensive about getting involved in the personal web (including making their own website) may believe they don't have "good enough" hobbies, coding skills, writing, or art to share with the world. We're happy to report that none of that is a prerequisite for having enjoyable websites. Your website is a like having a piece of land on the internet, and you get to build whatever you want! The best part about that is folks just want to see what you build. There's a whole demographic of people who just want to see what other people are interested in, what your life is like, and how you express yourself. The pressure is officially off!
We're going to explore how to interact with other websites so you can be a full participant in the communities you might stumble into and be a full citizen of the 'net!
Your participation is entirely dependent upon how much time you want to spend on this hobby. Some folks create websites, and others might just browse. Some might even make full-fledged communities of similarly-minded folks. Participation just means you are contributing to the ecosystem of the personal web by making your presence known to your 'net neighbors—leaving comments, getting involved with various events, posting on forums, leaving guestbook entries, or updating your website. Otherwise, this entire ecosystem could feel like a giant void. Doesn't it feel better to know that others are reading and taking in your cool website?
For this guide, we're going to assume you have a website to be able to link to. If you don't already have one, it's never too late to get started creating your own site.
Before we get into the different methods, let's talk about etiquette. You should always try to promote positivity, since self-expression is inherently subjective. Even if someone's website doesn't look good to you, someone worked really hard on that website! They should be commended for their efforts and, if warranted, encouraged to continue what they're doing and get better. The golden rule best applies: treat others as you want to be treated. This goes a long way on the personal web. In fact, here's some guidelines our community came up with for moving and participating throughout the independent web.
Crowd-sourced from our community!
It should be stated that you might encounter hateful or mean comments throughout your tenure of your website. We promote a positive, encouraging environment for folks, but it's not like that everywhere on the web. Just like on social media, you might get straggles of trolls or just mean-spirited people who want to discourage you from doing what you're doing. Don't let them. You have a right to be here, just like everyone else, and you deserve to have a space to express yourself. Be vigilant with the services you have for your website, making sure to remove any negative comments as they appear or turning on moderation and comment approvals. If you give them no attention, they will quickly move to another target. Responding to those comments (which aren't being posted in good faith, anyway) just encourages the behavior and ends up being a misrepresentation of who you are publicly, since visitors to your website become onlookers in the fray.
Trading links is a great way to get folks viewing and interacting with your site, which can be super encouraging. This is probably the baseline way of getting the word out about your site, which is to affiliate with other sites or trade links with other website owners by asking them via email or in their guestbook. Links are usually on their own page, also known as a linkroll, to help guide the visitor to another space on the personal web. Linking matters because you don't want your site to be a dead-end, you want visitors to continue exploring this side of the web!
The most common way to trade links is through buttons. There are two main sizes of buttons that people tend to use: 88x31 or 32x32. The idea is to create a button wall of many buttons that can be displayed next to each other on a page. Your button can also be a great show of who you are to whoever is browsing since folks will put yours on their button wall. Hekate has an awesome 88x31 button maker if you haven't already made one. One thing to keep in mind is, even if there is a textarea with the code inside on someone's website, don't ever hotlink—or link directly to their images—to display their button. Download the image and upload it to your host where your files are. It helps preserve graphics from disappearing websites, prevents bandwidth theft, and reduces the loading time on your button wall.
Affiliates (also called "affies") means more than trading links: you're frequently visiting each others' sites, interacting on their site often, following them in multiple webspaces, collaborating on projects, or you're just friends with them online. It's an intentional agreement to become web-friends, and it can also be a sign to outsiders that this is a trusted person with like-minded content or at least content that you personally enjoy. Affiliates also tend to send each other gifts to display on their websites for special occasions, holidays, birthdays, or just because.
Finally, listings are directories by another name. It seems as though back in the '90s/'00s, the term "listings" meant it was geared more toward the personal web than "directory," which may have felt too corporate. Nowadays, they're used interchangeably. A directory, or listing, is one way to promote your site among others, which can be helpful for folks browsing for new websites to visit.
Regardless if it's through a text link or a button, your site added to a links page is a huge honor! If you ever see it, be sure to say hello to that person on their guestbook or cbox. They've clearly seen your stuff already, so return the favor!
You're probably already familiar with comment systems, as most social media (thanks to Web 2.0) are centered around commenting as a form of interaction. With websites, webweavers might have comments underneath their blog posts or they might have a tagboard system. Tagboards, also known as shoutboxes or cboxes, are a quick way to leave a mark on someone's website to let them know you enjoyed their website.
When commenting on other people's tagboards, you can generally keep your comment shorter and sweeter—it's a good way to quickly interact if you're short on time. Consider these drive-by comments, whereas more in-depth commentary about the website should be left to guestbooks. Posts on cboxes tend to be moved up and out of the box altogether, so your comment can eventually be pushed up and out of sight.
With guestbooks, picture your entry as being a time capsule, frozen in that moment, for the rest of our digital history. Make note of something you enjoyed about their site in particular, or let them know that you're linking to their site. Guestbooks are also a great way to share your website as well, so make a great first impression! If you're interested in becoming mutuals or sharing buttons, make the first move and include their button first on your site.
Regardless of the system used to communicate with the website owner, make sure to visit and comment again! Folks update their websites all the time, and letting them know you checked out their new update is sure to make their day. This kind of activity makes you more visible as an interactive person. You might see more folks coming to your site and leaving you comments!
If you're interested in adding these to your websites, here are some services you can put on your site:
Webrings and web cliques are a great way to join an already-existing group of folks on the internet with websites, especially if you're interesting in aligning with others around a particular interest, aesthetic, or theme. You usually have to reach out to the webring/clique owner or fill out a form in order to join. There is no built-in community in joining webrings or web cliques, but the idea is that you would interact more with sites you're adjacent to with your webrings, cliques, and neighbors in respective "areas" of the web. Interacting with your neighbors by visiting their website with some regularity, commenting on their shoutboxes or guestbooks, and participating in activities on their website, will generally make you a good e-neighbor.
If you want to learn more about webrings, Ray has an amazing history of webrings that is worth a read. Usually, webrings and cliques will have some set of requirements for you to adhere to with your website and will require some sort of code to be present on your site in order to join.
If you join a webring, make sure your webring is visible from the page linked in the webring. This is usually your splash page or
index.html page. Having to search for the "next" button on the webring widget can be annoying for visitors to your site, and it breaks the spirit of being in a webring. The idea is that you can feasibly travel to each website in the webring without having to click off into any other part of the site.
Web cliques (shortened to just "cliques") are usually split into a couple of variations: either the clique is a link that goes back to the main clique website which then lists off all the members of the clique (a text clique) or there is an interactive element, such as creating pixel art, displayed on your own website that then links to other members in the clique in order to join (a pixel clique). Cliques can vary widely in theme, aesthetic, and overall function, so try to explore some and see which ones you'd like to add to your site. Pixel cliques are a fun way to express your creativity through pixel art, creating anything that could be collected (from teacups to pills to rooms in a tower, and everything in-between!) to be displayed on your website. There are text cliques for your astrological sign, protectors of your websites, fictional character claims, what your website would be scented, whether or not you like cats, whether or not you're a cool cat... the possibilities are endless!
Fanlistings are also a type of clique in a way, but it's a list of people who are a fan of a particular thing, and having a website is not required. You can read more about fanlistings over at TheFanlistings.org, which is a listing of fanlistings.
Finally, one of the best and most creative ways to interact with other sites on the web is through a "for you" page on your website: a part of your site dedicated to giving things away to your visitor, who presumably has a website of their own. You can share original graphics that visitors can "adopt" (putting it on their website) in the form of pets, drinks, food, trinkets, toys, or anything you'd like; free layouts or code snippets for anyone to use; interactive elements like a choose-your-own-adventure game; free fonts or other downloadable assets; free web materials like backgrounds or blinkies; or even awards!
If you find yourself not really wanting to create anything new for your visitors, but you want something to offer them for coming by, offering web resources that you've found (especially from the '90s and '00s!) with links to where you found them is a great way of sharing resources on the personal web. It's especially easy to just browse around on the Internet Archive, finding and linking to things like backgrounds, gifs, blinkies, and website assets like bullets, dividers, and userboxes. You'd be helping preserve the "old web" in cases like that! And, bonus, you'd be offering something to your visitors that others may not have.
Adoptables are essentially a collection of pixel art you can download and put on your own website, or digital art that you offer to others to download and display on their sites. Adoptables, which are linked to the creator directly when placed on your website, can range from animals and toys to original characters and inanimate objects at any size. Typically, visitors can see them displayed on a "toybox" page on your website, but you can also have any type of page for collecting things from other websites, put them on your index page, or wherever you'd like. If you create a page full of original art for others to adopt, be sure to tell them to link back to you! And, for others, be sure to read the pages to make sure, when downloading adoptables, that you're downloading from the website of the original creator so you can properly link back.
Awards can either be free for anyone to download or they can be used as a linkshare. Website owners can submit their websites to pre-determined categories in order to be judged to receive an image to display on their website. This is not just a way to interact with folks visiting your site, but it's also a good way to display winners in a linkroll of sorts, who then link to you as well through the award. It can also be used as a form of curation of favorite personal web content you come across for people visiting your site.
If websites were islands, I don't think the internet would be very interesting. It certainly wouldn't be the World Wide Web, which is meant to be linked together and explored. Interacting and, ultimately, participating in the independent, non-corporate web is what will make more people create websites. The more people that you interact with, the more they're likely to interact with others, too; and more importantly, keep their website alive.
Keep in mind that this isn't a popularity contest, and there's no "best" personal site. The best personal site is yours—the one that you create yourself, that shares the things you want to share and the things that make you happy or the subjects you know a lot about. Your work in progress inspires other works in progress; and, sorry to say, but your site may never feel done—but people will keep coming and encouraging you. Keep it up! Spread the word! Happy browsing!