by: Jon Watson
My recent quest to understand and implement trackback on my blog has left me with more questions than answers. It seems that in an attempt to bring relevant blog entries together, there are (surprise, surprise) competing technologies.
First there is the issue of bringing relevant blog entries together. What's the point and should we bother?
I believe that although blogging is primarily a sole pursuit, the ability for people to comment, refute, correct, or admire a blog entry more deeply than a simple commenting system allows is the next step in making blogging more meaningful, and possibly more accountable.
So how do we do it?
The three main players (it seems, feel free to add someone if I've missed them) seem to be Technorati (http://www.technorati.com), Haloscan (http://www.haloscan.com), and native blog commenting systems.
Technorati seems to be popular amongst the established blogging community - the users who understand the Technorati 'Cosmos' and what it means. I think that Technorati is deliberately vague about what their system does and how it does it as there is no documentation that I can find on the Technorati site (other than an 'About' page obviously written by a marketer). I assume that the name Technorati is a play on the word Illiminati which perhaps gives us a hint to Technorati's lack of explanation on how they work. Maybe we're just supposed to 'get it'. While Technorati seems solid and has a large subscriber base, I think (again, no documentation) that only Technorati subscribers are considered part of the 'Cosmos'. There are millions of blogs out there that aren't participating in, and therefore not accounted for by, Technorati.
I just ran across Haloscan yesterday and implemented their trackback system into my blog. Haloscan offers a central commenting and trackback facility for any type of web page, not just blogs. The idea is that the comments and trackbacks of a page are kept in one central repository rather than scattered all over the blogsphere on each individual blog. When considering blogs specificially, I don't see the logic in this. Since all comments must reside somewhere - what's the difference between having them reside on my blog or on some other server? Unlike trackback, I think all blogware supports comments.
The trackback part is interesting because it actually provides a service to people (like me) who don't have trackback available natively on their blogware. It works well, has some features such as moderation, and generally provides what it promises. The only change I would like to see is the ability to implement the trackback code right into my page rather than having it in a pop up window. I really like the commenting/trackback ping layout of Blizza Blizza (http://www.chrislawson.net/blog).
I also ran across a somewhat related technology called Gravatar (http://www.gravatar.com) which stands for Globally Recognized Avatar. As near as I can tell, the idea is that you upload a small 80x80 avatar and then Gravatar supplies you with the link to that image. You can then use that image anywhere on the web that you wish. It's a neat idea: creating a sense of continuity for users between blogs and websites, but in the end - it's just a small bit of webspace. Anyone with a blog can probably upload an avatar and use it in the same fashion.
Finally, the last little bit of magic is Google. Google has many 'operators' and one of them is the 'link' operator. Typing 'link: www.somesite.com' into Google will reveal all the sites on the Internet that link to somesite.com. The data returned by Google for my site is much more extensive than Technorati, but it is also very out of date. I know I am linked to (by using Technorati and by discovering it through surfing) yet many of these links do not show up on Google.
So which technology will win, if one does at all? I'm in favour of trackback. It's easy, all the big blog platforms support it, and it has a good format. By that I mean that a typical trackback entry contains a 200-ish word summary of the entry so a visitor can decide whether they want to bother reading the whole entry before clicking on it. As well it breeds inter-linking between blogs of a like nature, or at least between blog entries of a like nature.
Just because I like it doesn't mean trackback is going to win, there are problems with it. Roy - the administrator of a large blogging site called Tabulas (http://www.tabulas.com) - for example, feels that even if he were to implement it natively on Tabulas that very few users would have the technical savvy to figure out how to use it properly, and most users wouldn't bother with it at all. Roy knows his stuff when it comes to blogging, so perhaps he's not only correct - but also echoing the sentiments of many blogware authors.
I guess only time will tell, but for now I'm hoping for trackback as the victor in this little skirmish.