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So, You Want to Know More About Trackbacks

Every blog is different, but there is a family of functions that are generally deployed on most blogs. Features like comments, categories and blogrolls are commonly used and generally well understood by bloggers and their audience as well. There are, however, features that are thinner on the ground and less well known.

Trackbacks are a prime example, The trackback is a linkback specification created by Six Apart and launched in august 2002. (A linkback system is a way for blogging software to track other places that add a link to a particular entry or page.)

It works like this: You write a great blog post. I come along, read it, and write a post that responds or relates to your post in some way on my own blog. I can trackback to the entry on your blog by inputing a Trackback URL. Then my blogging software will ping (send a message) yours. Your post will updated with link to mine, and my blog post will show that you originated this conversation and link to you. We both get a small positive SEO (search engine) boost and you build your reputation as a trendsetter. Or provocateur! There are several linkback systems, but Six Apart’s trackbacks are generally accepted as the industry standard. Blogger is the only major online publication software that doesn’t support it, opting instead to use the “backlinks” specification.

This sounds like a great idea, and for the most part, it is. Trackbacks can build community between blogs, increase traffic and brings an acknowledgment system to the rough and tumble of the blogosphere. So why isn’t this widespread, in use by every blog?

Unfortunately the primary reason is that trackbacks have been overwhelmed by spammers. Trackbacks offer an means for malicious links or content to be easily inserted into your blog. Why did this happen? Well, at first, trackbacks offered very little spam protection, though spam filtration tools have since been developed for them. Many bloggers find that the chore of managing the large spam load is not matched by a significant increase in traffic.

Trackbacks are aimed at the classic blogger, an individual who is trying to send a message on their own. So business bloggers who use trackbacks may be put in the awkward position of linking to the competition, or sending traffic away from their site. Linking to someone in this way is a courtesy, and often benefits the originator more then the linker. This doesn’t make sense in every blog application.

Trackbacks are also confusing and poorly explained in most blogging tools’ documentation. Many bloggers don’t use them or bother to understand them. Unlike comments they require a little extra expertise to use. Many otherwise net savvy people simply ignore them. There is debate in the blogging community about the validity of trackbacks. Some claim that trackbacks are outdated and not worth the effort, others claim that maintaining them is helping to build a healthy blog ecosystem.

Hop Studios often does not implement trackbacks on sites we build, unless they are requested by the client. We take the view that the spam risk and workload is greater then the potential gain.

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