Thursday, August 31, 2006

What is a trackback?

First, I apologize for the delay on this post. Trackbacks are the simplest yet most oddly complicated part of blogging, and I just didn't have the time to do the topic justice. Now on with the show.

Everybody who reads blogs and their comments should have at least a vague familiarity with trackbacks. Some blog software & blog comment providers allow people to leave a trackback on post. This trackback is little more than a friendly notification to a blog and its readers that you have written something at your blog that mentions that particular post and/or it's topic. It is a mutually beneficial activity: It benefits you as the person who is leaving the trackback in that it cues readers of the other person's blog to the fact that you have more on the other words, it brings traffic; it benefits the blogger whose post is being trackbacked in that it lets them know that you have thought enough about what they wrote to comment on it and to link back to them; finally, it benefits readers because it gives them more sources of information to read if they have an interest in the topic of a post.

Good blogging ethics dictates that you only trackback to someone's blog post when you have mentioned them and linked back to their post in your own. The reason for this is that when you leave a trackback, you are giving their readers and their traffic a reason to leave their blog through an action your own, not theirs. Most trackbacks that do not mention or link to the host's blog post are regarded as little more than annoying spam.

Now, how does it actually work? Well, it is all easier than you might suspect. What you are doing when you trackback is sending a notification or "ping" to the other blogger's software to let it know that you have written about that post. (Don't be confused by the word ping-think of it in similar terms to one submarine bouncing sonar, or pinging, off of another sub, just like in the movies.) For most Blogger users, trackbacks are confusing because Blogger is not trackback friendly. In fact, if you use Blogger's default comments, I still don't think you can use trackbacks on your own blog, although you can with Haloscan comments.

So how do you leave a trackback on someone else's blog? I personally use Wizbang's Standalone Trackback Pinger (if you use Haloscan, you can click on your Manage Trackback tab and then choose "Send a Trackback"). With this, all you need to do is follow the instructions. The first thing you will need is the trackback URL from the post at the other person's blog. This tells Wizbang's pinger where it is actually sending the trackback to. After that, all you need to do is fill in the permanent address of your post that you are leaving the trackback to, the post title, your blog's name, and short excerpt from your post. Those four items then become the content of your trackback.

I wish I could explain this in one paragraph. I know that reading through all of this can still be a little confusing-I know because it used to confuse the hell out of me when people tried to explain it. If you are still a bit confused, go to either Wizbang's or Haloscan's manual trackback services mentioned in the paragraph above and look at the form. Then read this post again. Just seeing the manual trackback forms helps crystalize everything. If you want to practice, feel free to trackback to this post. I hope this helps.

Additional sources
Wizbang Standalone Trackback Pinger
Haloscan trackback FAQ
Haloscan trackback intro
Wikipedia trackback entry

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