Thursday, May 15, 2003

Who wants Trackback? I sure do...

I forget where I read this, but whoever said it really nailed it. Trackback isn’t what I want. I want it in the other direction. I want to know which of my outbound links were the most popular. Yes yes, we know how to do it.

I disagree. I first asked for Trackback in Radio nearly a year ago but it became clear that the guys at Userland didn’t see it as a compelling feature. I still don’t understand why Trackback is seen as a bad thing. In fact, now that I’m using Movable Type I have already seen the benefit. For those that don’t know about Trackback, here’s a quick explanation.

Once this post is made, someone may link to it on their weblog. If their weblog supports Trackback, their weblog application will send a “ping” to my server to tell me that they have linked to me. My weblog will update my post with a link back to the new external post. The end result is that any readers of my blog who are interested in what I wrote now have a way of continuing the conversation. The people who’ve sent Trackback pings to my site likely added their own comments, or perhaps they are just writing about similar things. Whatever the case, my readers now have a way of broadening their exposure to the ongoing conversations in the blogosphere of which I’m a small part.

I think blogs (and, more importantly, many bloggers) are insular: they assume that their readers are well aware of the blogging phenomenon and know which weblogs are out there that are relevant to their interests. Judging by the amount of traffic I get from Google, I’d wager that many of my visitors are seeing a weblog for the first time, or at least are not daily readers of weblogs. Consequently, it’s more likely than not that they would benefit from the extended conversation that is represented by Trackback.

Like I said last fall, the issue comes down to whether you look at weblogs as a writer or as a reader. The writers want to know what gets read. The readers want to know how they can find out more. Trackback, though it’s really designed to address the latter, serves both purposes.

In my first experience with Trackback, I can report that it works well. When I posted last week how I’d extended Movable Type to manage my blogroll, a number of people found it interesting. Two people linked to my post and made their own comments; thanks to Trackback, any visitor to my site can now see who else linked to that post.

Dave’s last point is to ask for a way of tracking outbound link popularity. I wanted to know this too when I first set up my weblog more than 18 months ago. I used a freely available Perl script to do this – and after several weeks discovered that knowing which links my readers were following didn’t change what I wrote at all. I also don’t think that readers of my blog would really care what links others were clicking on.

It’s also interesting to see Dave’s comments about Trackback in the Radio environment; given the need for server-to-server communication for Trackback to work properly, I expect that they’ll have a real challenge finding a way to implement this without relying on another third party server. (It’s those servers – for comments, for stats, for referral tracking, etc. – that really slow page loads down.) That said, I’m glad that they’re moving in the right direction.

Final note: the folks at Movable Type have created a “Trackback for Beginners“ tutorial that goes over the concept in more detail.

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