How "Trackback" Works

For those of you are are snickering at how this blogger didn't really understand trackback, a basic feature of blogging, just picture for a moment the all-too-common occurrence of four PhDs struggling at the lecture podium to get the A/V program to work for an esteemed guest speaker.

Well, I've got me one of them thar PhDs. However, a PhD is also supposed to give you license for "life-long learning," not that you really need a PhD to do so, of course.

Example: I try to do my best to cite interesting things I see in the blogosphere, especially those posts from my brilliant and witty friends outside of the ScienceBlogs corral.

But I could never figure how the trackback feature works - ya know down below where folks' blog posts say something like "Blogs that reference this post." You'd think that simply hyperlinking to someone's post would be good enough these days. But my citations never seem to make it to people's trackback sections for that particular post.

But, you would be wrong.

My Learning Moment: I just came across a fabulous, step-by-step example of how to use trackbacks by the blogger, Michael Pusateri, who writes Cruftbox, about the not-so-funny example of a friend's post on his vasectomy. Unfortunately, Michael did not post this on his blog - it's just a separate webpage - so I can't practice trackbacks for this page. However, Michael does have a very short post from 2003, back when most of us were still in the blogging uterus, that refers to this page; hence, I shall practice trackback presently.

The bottom line, from Cruft (the legendary, Michael Pusateri):

1) The purpose of TrackBack is to let a site know that you are referencing them on your on site.
2) The TrackBack URL is different than the regular permanent link URL.
3) TrackBacks are fun. You should use them.

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Interesting. I was never a big fan of trackbacks myself: it is a much bigger source of spam than comments and a combination of Sitemeter referrals page, Technorati and Google Blogsearch tells you who is linking to you and where the readers are coming from.

I always thought that the habit of trackbacking is something old-timers had to do in the infant age of blogging before those three services were invented and that modern bloggers have no real use for trackbacks any more. How many of the relatively new bloggers care to use them?

As coturnix points out, spam is a HUGE problem with trackbacks, and most sites have abandoned using it for this reason. It's a shame, as the idea was a good one, and I hope that future implementations find some way around the issue.

I started using trackbacks when I first started blogging, but now I find it a huge pain to have to remember to do the trackbacks.

Sometimes though, if I am commenting on the topic of a post I will still do trackbacks. This allows both the original post author and other readers to find out that I am continuing the conversation. I suppose, I could put a link in the comments instead.