Blog Trackbackcorn Must Die

Cue up your 1970 dusty, scratch ridden version of the classic John Barleycorn tune long ago wafted by Traffic:

There were three bloggers [1], [2], [3] came out of the West,
Their fortunes for to try,
And these three bloggers made a solemn vow:
Blog Trackback must die.

They’ve wrote, they’ve dug, they’ve harrowed it in,
Threw posts upon its head,
And these three bloggers made a solemn vow:
Blog Trackback was dead.

Yup, the proclamation has been made. Trackback is Dead.

I’ve read it all before. Trackback is too complicated. It is prone to spam. It’s the wrong model for connecting blogs. It’s yucky. Yadda yadda yadda.

In the beginning, There was MovableType. Trackback was Simple. When I write a blog posting here, and reference Jermey’s posting by the mere virtue of a hyperlink, my blog software would tell his that “someone was writing about your stuff” and build a link back form his first source and he, and his readers, would know of my connection. It worked.

But there was a problem.

The hitch was in the simplicity. The MovableType URLs were rather easy to spoof, and spammers, lusting for the glory of high rank granted by the Great One, wrote automated bots to insert fake trackbacks, all in the interest of self links. Millions of times over.

So individuals have their own horror stories of how Trackback Is Bad. Does that extend to everyone? Is it a Universal Rule?

Perhaps because I am well below the graces of the Big Famous Blog Pack That We Refer To By Their First Name Only, I have had little relatively little problem with Trackback (uh oh– I am now asking for it- okay I have fought and complained about it some).

WordPress provides a robust starting set of tools, and add on top of that the protection of SK2 plug-in (I bow in Dr. Dave’s general direction. Several times. Profusely.). Rather than the plague and nuisance others are bothered with, I luckily am able, on almost a daily basis, to link to blogs and writers I had not previously heard of… merely because of the Trackback that links their writing in their blog toa reference in mine. And I often choose to click back, and expand my awareness and network.

But ahem… how is that possible, since it has been decreed… Blog Trackback is Dead?

And now I am repeating (muttering incoherently as drool dribbles down my chin?) a theme I blogged barely 24 hours ago— does one’s singular experiences (“Mes amis, I have seen three of zeesse, what do you call them, BLOGS?…. And they are ALL but measly pointless warbling of self indulgent merde, worthless.”) extend to all the vastness, diversity and complexity of the ‘net? If you, some, others, perhaps many, have had bad experiences from trackback, does that become a Rule For All?.

Does anyone else find this logic slightly skewed? Don’t just take it because some Big Blogger Says So. the again, don’t just take my line of logic either. Argue with it. Test it. Throw up counter evidence. That is the process that works.

Not overarching general decrees.

Frankly, your experiences may be sad, deplorable, but how do they apply to all? I am concerned that others will follow this kind of path, without questioning it. I find it dangerous as a way of thinking and behaving.

So if Trackback has a problem, then the solution is cutting off the notion of creating relted linkages? Links are what create the value, the power of social networls. There are steps to take against Trackback abusers, and just B****ing and M***ing ain’t the answer. Where is our cleverness? Ingenuity? Poof. Bury head in sand.

So in closing, we return to maiming Steve Winwood’s lyrics:

And little Small Blogger and their long-tail niche,
And he’s brandy in the glass;
And little Small Blogger and their long-tail niche,
Proved the strongest link at last.

The Z-list writer, he can’t find the reference,
Nor so loudly to write his idea,
And the author he can’t mend thought nor nuance,
Without a little Trackback

And those Three Bloggers who did decree,
Small never click back right to here.

’cause they’ve said Blog TrackBack Is Dead.

Next song spinning up… the Low Spark Of High Heeled iPods

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. There’s two different points you are making here – the first is hard to disagree with, that pronouncements by a few bloggers based on anecdotal evidence isn’t a very believable death knoll, and as you point out correctly, others seem to be working with trackback just fine.

    But I think you dismiss the problems with trackback (and the related comment spam) too easily, which suprises me given how much trouble I know they’ve caused you. I have had to shut down both comments and trackbacks on my site. I was actually forced to do so by my ISP because the spammers were bringing the server to its knees on a regular basis, and the ISP was going to turf me from the server. I know there are technological fixes that can help – I am still running MT, not WordPress (though I am more and more swayed that changing would help some of this), but I know I could use user registration, capthcas, mt blacklist, and others, and this would help some (at least on the comment spam). Mostly it’s a time problem; I’m barely having enough time to write anything in the blog, and have zero time to upgrade software and do more modifications. There’s a separate rant here about the expectations put on users of blog software by the software makers; it’s still too much like ‘hobbyist’ software right now because the core companies are in my mind taking a pretty relaxed attitude towards these problems – why can’t I download one unspammable instance of MT (or whatever else) instead of this plugin, that one, yada yada.

    But that presumes there is a solution – with trackback, where the fact that the originator of the trackback is often unknown to the recieving server is one of the prime attractions, this seems to open up the hole that the spammers have been driving through, and security through obscurity is not a good option here. I’d throw this right back at you – the fact that you have this working on your machine and some others still do is not in itself a good argument that it is working in general. In a world where there is no such thing as the single blogging platform, the solution will have to be more general than solving it on one platform, for as more and more people abandon it, it’s value will plummet. I expect we are not in fact opposed here, you seem to be arguing for continued efforts to fix it rather than just throwing up our hands, but the issue of how to allow for other users or sites to create content on our own sites (which is what trackback is doing now, as are comments) without requiring a high barrier to entry or a pre-arranged relationship (accounts, IP registration…) has not been solved in a general way, and until it is, it will just be a constant battle of workarounds and spammer hacks. So yes, let’s not sound the death knoll on something that we’ve all seen can be amazing for creating serendipitous links and relationships, but let’s also not denying that the current way is not working and is hobbling towards its grave.

  2. Thanks Scott- I always count on you to come back with very sound reasoning; and you are correct– I was not writing primarilty about Trackback itself.

    In reflection, when I wrote this, I did gloss over the problems with trackback that you detailed, I agree totally that the problem surpasses the skills and patience of average bloggers who do not have time to implement the stop gap measures of plugins, registration keys, captchas, etc. So I really do not blame anyone for getting frustrated with unwanted crap on their sites thrust there or getting their bandwidth chewed up by spambot attacks.. I would yank it to if it became severe.

    And I am waiting for Stephen Downes to pipe in that trackback should be the other way around (pull not push), blog entries should go out and find places where their site is referenced… I can buy that, but where is this implemented? How? It’s just not there, or I have missed it.

    I may be very naive, but attempts to plug the spam holes in blog software is a short term and wrong approach, and they key to cut out this stuff is utterly simple– take away their incentive.

    Spammers do this to up their PageRank, so if their efforts produced the opposite effect.. poof, they go away. We all ought to be pestering Google to put their great clever weight behind the code that would punish, banish, sites that have large numbers of links generated by spam bots (there MUST be a detectable pattern) — if there was a server or total drop in Google PageRank for sites that are linked via these suprious means, it would stop almost over night. Spammers would be out on the street asking for spare change.

    In my dreams.

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