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TrackBacks Tough to Understand?

I don't understand what's so difficult to understand about TrackBacks, but this surely wouldn't clear it up if I was confused.

A TrackBack list is simply a list of entries that relate to (usually by linking to and discussing) the page (be it an individual entry or a category) at which you're staring. The article (and author Tom Coates) will see that I've linked to it because my blogging software will say "hey, I've linked to you" to his blogging software. That's it. That's all. Tom's pictures don't even make sense because - guess what - he doesn't seem to display TrackBacks on his site like he mentions ("in that funny pop-up").

TrackBacks aren't that hard to understand. I think anyone with an IQ of greater than 80 can figure them out. I've explained them - by demonstration typically - in 30 seconds to everyone I've started on blogging. Why has there been a mini-explosion in people trying to explain them lately?

(Edit: some comments edited or removed, including my own, in regards to how Tom's site displays TrackBacks. Because he can change them at any time, as he did today, it's silly of me to comment on them.)

20 Responses to "TrackBacks Tough to Understand?"

  1. No no! Please! Tell me what you really think! The problem isn't that the concept's hard to understand, it's that there isn't a place where people just go "Look - this is stage one - this is what you have to know before everything else". The next piece might be a bit more illuminating - assuming of course I have any interest in TRYING to be helpful to a newbie audience after having my bottom smacked by you!

  2. By which I mean... "Hello, Sometimes when I do something out of the goodness of my heart, without being paid or anything, to try to be helpful, I get a little upset when people are just mean about it. All you have to do is be a little nicer about the way you phrase your criticisms and then we'd all get along better and people would feel comfortable adding informational value to the internet. Wouldn't that be nice?!"

  3. I think you're being overly sensitive. What exactly was cruel in what I said? I simply said I thought your pictures were confusing and inconsistent (with your own site).

    Then I asked what's so hard to understand about TrackBacks, and why so many people have trying to explain them lately.

  4. OK, so I agree, the diagram was pretty basic, but it would sure help introduce the concept of TrackBack to someone like my Mum...

  5. And on the topic of TrackBacks, I honestly don't see all that much utility in them. I was impressed with the system that Mark Pilgrim had setup which in an automated manner offered all of the benefits that trackbacks do without user intervention but he seems to have pulled his system and I suspect that it's for the same reason that I never bothered implementing it - spam, spam, spam.

  6. This is not a comment about their utility. It's merely an attempt to get people to understand them so they can make up their own mind.

  7. How many spam TrackBacks do you see on this site? I've never gotten one. I've had to delete a duplicate or two a few times, but that's it.

  8. Ah, the IQ thing again :-).

    Well, I for one had a little bit of trouble figuring out what trackbacks were initially. I was involved in weblogs early on, and then got sick of the pretention that often attends them, so I missed quite a bit of the flurry of "semantic web"-ish development work that went on after the first wave. When I started looking at them again (mainly for Mac-related reasons), I did a bit of head-scratching at the trackback links on everyone's sites.

    The problem was not a lack of intelligence as much as a lack of context. Everyone just assumed that you were initiated and that you understood what things like trackbacks were (and if you didn't, I daresay, you didn't matter). And there are certainly things about trackbacks that struck me, at first, as counterintuitive--such as the fact that I have to use a program on my side to send a "ping" to a program on your side rather than simply entering something into a form on your side, as one does with comments.

    So, I, for one, think Tom's attempt to demystify things a bit is justified. You can quibble about the execution, but I think its wrong to say that since trackbacks are so simple, they do not need to be explained to newcomers.

  9. Buzz, thanks, but what's so difficult? I'm asking and nobody's been able to give an answer other than "they confused me." How? I show someone an article, I say "here are my TrackBacks" and I point at that each article that's TrackBacked is linking to the original article. I don't see what's difficult in that. What is?

  10. Well, I think the concept isn't hard to understand once someone explains it to you--it's just a way of letting other people know you've commented on their post. That part is pretty simple (although I would add that I don't think the term "trackback" is particularly descriptive, which probably adds to people's confusion).

    I think a lot of my personal confusion, as I said above, centered on the actual mechanism used to send trackbacks. I would click on somebody's trackback link and not see a form to enter anything, which made me wonder what sort of covert mechanism was being used to post them. As I explained in my previous comment, the fact that I had to use a program on my side to ping a program on their side was not at all intuitive to me, as someone who was used to simply posting comments.

    As a side note, I guess I'm still not exactly clear why the decision was made to require both sides to have a piece of software to send and receive the trackbacks. Couldn't I just have a web form that people could use to enter trackbacks in the same way they enter comments? I suppose that the reasoning has something to do with a level of automation that may not be appreciated by me as someone who doesn't use Moveable Type.

    At any rate, to sum up, the whole trackback thing was not difficult for me to figure out, but I did have to do a little bit of digging to discover what trackbacks were and how I could use them. If I had run across something like Tom's post early on (or, perhaps, something a tad more detailed), it would have just saved me some trouble.

  11. I just think of trackbacks as automated backlinks initiated by the linkee. No big deal. And I don't think the pictures really help, but maybe that's because pictures rarely help. For example,

  12. Trackback away

    It's unrealistic to believe everybody will have something new to say but it doesn't mean they are any less valuable in the debate

  13. Random Rants

    Just all the random things crossing my mind in the past few days. Steffen pointed me to this nifty

  14. Well, If it weren't called "Trackback", we wouldn't be here looking it up. A nice little heading like "Links to this posting" wouldn't require any explanation. It appears, on first encounter to be just some links to the posting; but not having seen the term before, maybe it means more than that, so let's google it!

  15. Sorry guys. Niether of you make sense. The problem is directionality. Who is linking to whom saying what? AND what do they have to do to do it, whatever it is. It's not clear.

    I write something.

    Someone reads it.

    They write about it and reference my article.


    Then what? How does the original author know this? Does the software do something automatically?

    Does the author of one of those two articles have to do something manually?

    Which one? What do they have to do? What do see once they do it, whatever it is?

    And I've been tested at an IQ greater than 80. I'm sure that the concept itself isn't complicated. But the information I've seen so far explaining it, has been poorly presented. Sorry guys.

  16. Well I found Tom's explanation helpful enough for me to understand what a trackback was. Prior to that, it wasn't clear. And I am computer literate.

    So when you write "I don't understand what's so difficult to understand about TrackBacks, but this surely wouldn't clear it up if I was confused." -- well clearly that doesn't apply to all people.

    A previous poster is right -- the term trackback, on its own as well as in web-context, is unclear in meaning. "Pages linking to this post" is far better, because you don't have to use Google to figure out what the hell it means.

  17. Today I stumbled onto an article I wrote quite awhile ago (Mar/03!). It's called "TrackBacks Tough to Understand?" In 2004 TrackBack spamming swelled like crazy. As a result, many people turned TrackBacks off entirely, and their utility is still being...

  18. It's pretty clear from the comments above that the concept and terminology are confusing. Once you've actually seen it in action then perhaps it all clicks into place. Matt Simpson raised some of the key questions that are not clear to someone who is new to the topic.

  19. Yes, the answers to Matt's questions would really clear things up for me. Thanks Matt.

  20. Hi,

    The Libra that I am appreciates your article as well as Tom's. I truly didn't have a clue. ❓

    Thanks to you all