July 18, 2007

Did Trackbacks Die, and Who Killed Them?

In early 2006, I was fairly keen on this shiny new toy called the trackback. Rather than simply add a comment to a story I found interesting, I could send a trackback via my blog to the original source, and in most cases, the trackback, with my story's data, would be placed on top of the comment thread. On other occasions, the trackback would be treated on equal with comments, and made part of the thread itself. Regardless, it was a sneaky way to push my links onto more popular sites. But now, I can't remember the last time I sent out a trackback, and I haven't seen them used all that much. Maybe it's time to roll out the gravestone and write up their epitaph.

On March 25, 2006, Guy Kawasaki wrote a great, insightful story on "nine questions to ask a startup" if you were a prospective employee. That day, I posted a trackback to the story, referenced in a post I had, called "Entering a Startup on the Ground Floor", which recalled my first experience entering the Silicon Valley as a potential employee in late 1998, and how unprepared I was.

Surprisingly, my trackback not only got me traffic, but sustained traffic. My Feedburner stats tell me that since I left that link behind, I've had almost 1,200 visits to my Web site as a result.

Visits from Guy Kawaski's Site via the Trackback

While not large, considering it's been 16 months, that number trumps any other RSS feed link I've had to date. In fact, March of 2006 was basically when my trackback usage hit its peak. I'd commonly posted trackbacks to sites like Silicon Valley Sleuth and Internet Outsider, to name a few.

And then... I stopped. Maybe it's because I felt like using trackbacks was a cheap form of link spam, and that I wasn't adding value to the original source's story. But while that was part of it, it seems that integrated tools on most blogging platforms, like Blogger, TypePad or WordPress, automatically track who is saying what about you. Instead of relying on trackbacks to show somebody referenced your material, Meanwhile, sites like Technorati show the number of blog reactions, or "Links to this Item", per se.

Essentially, the shininess of the trackback wore off for me, and I expect it has for many others. Rather than take the effort to determine a post's trackback URL, and send a ping to that URL, I just let Technorati and Google Blog search do the work for me. As with many technologies on the Web, something usually comes along better than the last toy, and we move forward. I just hope the 1,000+ visitors Guy Kawasaki sent my way found what they were looking for.