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January 27, 2009

Trackbacks Are Still Dead. Could Tweetbacks Take Their Place?

By Phil Glockner of Scribkin (FriendFeed/Twitter)


The Trackback Problem

Today, as I was visiting different blogs reading the news of the day, I made a special note on how many comments each post had and if trackbacks and pingbacks were listed.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks are two of three types of linkback, defined by Wikipedia as "... a method for Web authors to obtain notifications when other authors link to one of their documents."

What I'm coming to realize is that, in terms of showing buzz around a post, trackbacks and pingbacks are dead. Worse, they just show how many spam blogs (splogs) are out there, hanging off of an RSS feed and republishing part or entire posts in order to artificially inflate their Google rank numbers.

(See Also: Did Trackbacks Die, and Who Killed Them? from July 2007)

Take this Inquisitr post, for example. If you scroll down to the bottom, you will see 6 or more trackback links, most of them with the same block of quoted text. After quick inspection, it appears all but one of these links go to blogs that are either partially or completely ripping off the Inquisitr's content.

In essence, instead of showing relative popularity and linking to further discussion, this has become an avenue that is not only exploited by spambots but flaunted right under the noses of the content creators.

One Option: Tweetbacks

As news blogs increasingly extend into social networks, they are looking for a way to register their reach on those social networks. A good example of this is Digg. One of the reasons Digg got so popular so quickly was due to it allowing blogs to display how many times a Digg user had submitted (or Dugg) the article. This provided a fine synergy between the blog and Digg, and in theory both services benefited.

However, even solutions like Digg, Mixx and Sphinn seem to be losing clout, as people turn to using Twitter instead to highlight items of interest.

With that in mind, it seems only natural for blogs to want to show how their posts have legs on Twitter. To that end, several WordPress plugins have been created that attempt to serve this need, such as TweetSuite, TweetBacks, and to a lesser extent, TwitterTools.

From these three, I would say TweetSuite is the most stylish and functional. However, TweetBacks is a solid framework and with a little skill can be integrated much more cleanly into a blog theme.

FriendFeed..Backs? FriendBacks?

FriendFeed may not be as popular or as well-known as Twitter, nor have as much reach, yet, but because of its unique ability to aggregate RSS streams and simultaneously act as a community hub, with the addition of a powerful and flexible open API, there has been a significant amount of development around it as well.

Recently, there was news that Disqus turned on two-way integration with FriendFeed (after also enabling Track- and Pingback support and more recently, Facebook Connect). However, there are already at least two other good solutions, including FriendFeed Comments WordPress plugin and FriendFeed-to-Disqus Sync, a cloud-based synchronization utility that Disqus itself wrote about here.

What's Next?

Buzz and reach are always going to be things that blogs strive for, especially blogs that employ multiple bloggers and are ad-supported. Are tweetbacks and 'friendbacks' going to keep them going indefinitely into the future? Absolutely not. Something new will appear and, if it has an API, people are going to figure out how to tie their blog to it.

Read more by Phil Glockner at Scribkin.com.