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TrackBack and Cross-Weblog threading

Jeremy Zawodny states the need for "some sort of cross-weblog threading system" and questions whether this should be TrackBack. I've been thinking about the value of TrackBack during the past couple of conference days -- mostly because of its use on the Supernova Group Weblog.

I've never been shy to say that my favorite use of TrackBack revolves around the repository format; I feel that the combination of TrackBack and RSS simply makes sense for intelligent browsing. At the conference, the group weblog provided a centralized space for decentralized content. No searching for conference-related posts was necessary. Instead, we knew who was updating and when (and that the content would certainly be Supernova-specific).

We've set up a number of TrackBack at conference weblogs in the past year and I must say that I feel that the Supernova Group Weblog was the most successful implementation. Out of the the 92 pings sent to the group weblog, about 60 of them were from TrackBack enabled tools -- this figure was actually a bit higher than I expected. The web form that was provided on the page allowed those without the tools to participate as well -- a good thing. It allowed everyone to participate though it was a bit counter-intuitive, techwise.

As it stands category TrackBacking seems to work on all levels. One page that shows how it can all work fairly seamlessly is Blogpopuli over at Blogroots. Because Blogpopuli deals with one general topic -- weblogs -- it is quite easy to participate. Just assign the ping url to a weblogs category and and post as usual. TrackBacking is done by the system without any further effort on the user's part.

The practice of individual thread TrackBacking, however, is where some difficulties can arise. The easiest way to send a ping on a unique entry is by using the bookmarklet. Basically, you go to the page you're referencing, click the bookmarklet and select the specific entry. Then, post as usual. Unfortunately problems occur when (1) there are discrepancies in HTML of non-default template weblogs (2) some browsers are inable to handle the bookmarklet. (I use Chimera and have pop-up blocking on -- bookmarklets don't work for me and I'm forced to manually insert the ping URL.) This doesn't really bother me because I have a fairly deliberate and time-consuming posting process. So, the extra step is miniscule. However, as the developer, I'm an exception.

Although I do think that the method of post TrackBacking can be improved and must be made simpler (and more second-nature), I do not believe that automation should come at the price of understanding context. The extra effort it takes to send a ping guarantees that there is more or less an implicit conversation occurring. You receive a TrackBack ping from me because I read your post and had something to say about it on my own weblog.

That said, we're always very open to working with other developers to see how TrackBack can be improved and implemented in other systems. I know that Bloxsom, B2, Drupal, and Radio have varying degrees of TrackBack support. We need a common purpose and goal to really make it work and I do believe we're up to it.

December 11, 2002 8:02 PM

Hopefully, eventually, Tangent ( will turn into an automatic cross-weblog threading tool, just as soon as someone comes up with some technology to reasonably accurately determine what a given post is *about*.

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