Trackback is one of the major blog features that has been declared dead over and over again. This recently led Kyle Eslick from Hack WordPress to ask his readers “Does WordPress Need Trackbacks Any More?” Eslick’s own answer is straightforward: “In my opinion, blogging has outgrown the trackback and the pingback has made it irrelevant.”
The question is not so much if spam or the Pingback killed the Trackback but rather if the medium has rendered it obsolete. The medium and practice of blogging are entangled in the blog software and with the introduction of Pingback the inter-blog notification system became automatic instead of manual. When I described the difference between the manual Trackback and the automatic Pingback in On Using Manual and/or Automatic Link Notification Systems I also described how I mainly relied on Pingbacks.
Gathered from the discussion in the comments (and the slowly disappearing Trackback URI on blogs) it seems that especially the newer generation of bloggers, including myself, is not aware of the Trackback feature let alone use it. Does that mean that WordPress, or any other blog software for that matter, should remove the feature? If Trackback is only being used by spammers should we keep that little Trackback box that hardly anyone uses?
I am sure users would raise hell if WordPress would remove the Trackback feature because as Martin Emmerich comments: “Trackbacks and pingbacks are the threads of the blog web and part of the blogging culture.” Trackbacks play(ed) an important part in our blogging culture and they have helped to shape the blogosphere as we now know it.
So what should we do with the Trackback? Should we do anything at all? Anil Dash from Movable Type, who developed the trackback, replied to a first wave of “trackback is dead” declarations in 2005 that we should fix its problems:
Finally, the familiarity and utility of TrackBack, especially now that current-generation tools reduce the likelihood and reward value of spamming, means that there can be a base for a new generation of TrackBack, featuring necessities like authentication and richer content payloads. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in regards to TrackBack would be as silly as throwing out email because it’s been abused.
Mend it, don’t end it! :)
Did Pingback fix TrackBack sufficiently to render it obsolete? Should we remove obsolete features from the already abundant options in the blog software interface? Troy Duncan shares my wish of further developing conversational techniques: “Instead of removing choices, I would like blogging platforms to develop more ways to extend the conversation.”
Anne is a New Media Lecturer at the University of Amsterdam. She participates as a blog researcher in the newly found Digital Methods Initiative of the University of Amsterdam. Anne also writes about blogging and academics on her personal blog and the collaborative Masters of Media blog.