magpiebrain

Sam Newman's site, a Consultant at ThoughtWorks

So let’s look at the figures. Number of posts: 272. Number of comments: 506. Number of trackbacks: 12. Spot the odd one out? “Trackbacks(What is a Trackback)”:http://www.plasticbag.org/archives/2003/03/what_is_trackback_part_one.shtml have been enabled since virtually day one of this blog, and have been surprisingly underused. I’m starting to wonder if they were worth the bother.

So why have they been so underused? Firstly, we have to consider the content of my site. Trackbacks are someone else commenting on you post – perhaps people don’t want to comment? Well, that can’t be the case – my comment count is fairly good. Perhaps people who want to comment don’t blog, or they do blog and find that posting a comment is a better approach? I can buy that – it normally has to be a fairly emotive subject for me to consider posting a comment as a follow-up (I expect that less than 10 of this site is commentary of other peoples posts).

Next, let’s look at the technology involved. Theoretically, all you need to do to send a trackback is send a request to a specific URL with a few parameters (for more details see the official Movable Type “trackback specification(Movable Type – Trackback Technical Specification)”:http://www.movabletype.org/docs/mttrackback.html) certainly something that most blogging should be capable of. But let’s perform a quick survey of popular blogging tools out there, and see if they support trackbacks:

* Movable Type – Yes
* WordPress – Yes (although it seems it might “be buggy(WordPress – Fix Trackbacks Please!)”:http://wordpress.org/support/4/8583)
* Bloxsom – Yes
* Manilla – Yes
* Pebble – Yes
* Roller – Yes

No problems there it seems. So how easy is it to send a trackback assuming you have one of these tools? Well, taking MT as an example, it attempts to automatically extract trackbacks when you make posts, although this works imperfectly (perhaps because if differences between blogging systems), but even if that fails, it’s just a case of pasting the URL into the trackback box.

There is another side to trackbacks of course – whilst they were originally used as a system to enable distributed commenting, they are being used with on line services such as bloglines, blo.gs, technorati etc. Here, they are used to inform these services that you have made a post, resulting in the services not have to poll your site. This is a more efficient model and enables these services to be more up to date than would otherwise be possible. The majority of my readers (at least before I started getting some decent googlejuice) come from aggregation services like bloglines and JavaBlogs, so I’ll certainly continue to send trackbacks to them.

The benefit of sending trackbacks I think are clear (at least as far as online services). Receiving of trackbacks on this site does entail some overhead in terms of site development, so I think I’m going to think long and hard about whether or not I continue to support them, given how infrequently they are used. The alternative is to start educating my readership as to what trackbacks are. Looking at my current site, I simply add the trackback URL to the bottom of each post, without explaining what they are. I wonder how many people use the above tools without ever using trackbacks?

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One Response to “Whither trackbacks?”

  1. rampy

    FWIW,

    It’s worth it. It helps with your google pagerank, and is a way for someone to comment on your post, but on their site, but still maintain a thread between the sites.

    I guess it just takes time to build momentum, to where they are used more… and it will build upon itself.

    Unless it offends the layout of the page somehow, my suggestion is to just leave the functionality there… it can’t hurt, and may eventually help…

    rampy

    ps thanks for the linkage to byopvr =)

    Reply

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