Trackbacks - Keep the Discussion Going

February 28th, 2007 | Categories: blogs, networks, social media

Internet enthusiasts and non-techies alike can appreciate the value of conversation and the ‘two-way dialogue’ provided by the blogosphere. Unlike the push model of traditional media companies where articles and information are disseminated from the top-down, there is a give-and-take in the blog world. Comments are the obvious example. A given reader can quickly and easily provide his/her opinion on a blog post. What are often overlooked in the blogosphere are trackbacks. This is unfortunate as I believe trackbacks are one of the most important parts of the conversation.

There are certain levels of user participation by readers of a blog. Deeper involvement occurs over a period of time. Firstly, the reader must discover a given blog, whether it be via a back-link, search engine result, or blog roll, for example. Next, the reader will browse the posts and articles to determine if the content is both meaningful and useful to them. If so, the RSS feed may be added to their reader. At this point, the reader may comment on a personally stimulating post, or may refrain until a later time. User-participation and commenting are two of the most sought-after actions by bloggers.

Commenting isn’t the only way a reader can get ahold of a blogger. Some bloggers encourage e-mail correspondance or communication over an instant messenging client. I highly encourage both.

Finally, we come to trackbacks - probably one of the most useful, underrated aspects of blogging.

As defined by Wikipediatrackbacks (or pingbacks) are “methods for Web authors to request notification when somebody links to one of their documents”. In the blogosphere, a trackback appears below a blog post when another blogger has linked to that specific post. In other words, the trackback is coming from a blogger who has additional information to provide or an alternative view, with respect to the original post.

These are what keep the discussion going in the blog world. If every blog post had a trackback, the conversation would be perpetual. A personal goal of mine is to have at least one trackback per post at some point in time. This would ensure all conversations I start or continue live on.

Although comments are nice, trackbacks are the ultimate form of participation. Comments are more pervasive and widespread, as they aren’t labour-intensive or overly time-consuming. But they do provide an opinion or perspective on the reader’s behalf. Trackbacks, on the other hand, are much more labour-intensive and time-consuming. If a blogger provides such a linkback, he/she has not only gone to a lot of trouble in terms of evaluating the topic of the post itself, but also formulating a blog post of their own. This is not only flattering in some ways, but also very productive for all blog enthusiasts - authors and readers alike. It provides a deeper view and insight into the topic at hand.

For this very reason, trackbacks should be given more light, if not the spotlight. They are both powerful and meaningful. They are the black sheep of the blogosphere.


  1. Jeffrey Keefer Says:

    Aidan, this is probably the best explanation of trackbacks I have seen. I know Movable Type and the other blogging applications have this, but I see very little mention of this feature.

    Can you perhaps show an example of this for those of us who are more visual?

  2. Gregory Kohs Says:

    Aidan, thank you for this post about trackbacks. At risk of sounding a bit too spammy for a blog comment, I’d like to get a message out there, and you seem like the type who could help.

    The message is this — 99.9% of bloggers’ output is not appropriate for or accepted by Wikipedia. However, I’m co-developing a wiki directory called Centiare that’s rivaling Wikipedia in terms of semantic web design and search engine optimization (on obscure topics), and we would WELCOME (no, should I say, “WORSHIP”?) the contributions of bloggers who might want to create their own Directory listings for themselves and their blog.

    For a blogger familiar with wiki editing, it would take them about 15-20 minutes, and then they’d have a permanent backlink to their blog, and a likely reference page for higher search result “finds” by prospective readers.

    I knew this was going to come off sounding like spam. Damn.

  3. Aidan Says:


    Someone blogged about one of my post, which can be found here:

    Trackbacks usually start with a […] and end with the same thing. This is how you can differentiate them from regular comments. In addition, they almost always contain a snippet from the target blog post.


  4. Aidan Says:


    Sounds like an interesting concept. Perhaps you could send me some additional info via e-mail.


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