What the Heck is a Trackback?

| June 15, 2007

I’ve been trying to find a clear definition of a trackback and a pingback. A trackback is where you leave a comment on your blog on another blog post. Huh? A pingback is similar except the server does the heavy lifting for you. Whatever! OK, I’m just going to try it. By linking to an article about trackbacks written by Andy Wibbels on the brilliant problogger Blog by Darren Rowse. This still isn’t as clear as I would like it to be. I hope to clarify this better in the future.

Here’s a definition of a trackback taken from the WordPress documentaion. Hope this helps:

In a nutshell, TrackBack was designed to provide a method of notification between websites: it is a method of person A saying to person B, “This is something you may be interested in.” To do that, person A sends a TrackBack ping to person B.

A better explanation is this:

  • Person A writes something on their blog.
  • Person B wants to comment on Person A’s blog, but wants her own readers to see what she had to say, and be able to comment on her own blog
  • Person B posts on her own blog and sends a trackback to Person A’s blog
  • Person A’s blog receives the trackback, and displays it as a comment to the original post. This comment contains a link to Person B’s post

The idea here is that more people are introduced to the conversation (both Person A’s and Person B’s readers can follow links to the other’s post), and that there is a level of authenticity to the trackback comments because they originated from another weblog. Unfortunately, there is no actual verification performed on the incoming trackback, and indeed they can even be faked.

Most trackbacks send to Person A only a small portion (called an “excerpt”) of what Person B had to say. This is meant to act as a “teaser”, letting Person A (and his readers) see some of what Person B had to say, and encouraging them all to click over to Person B’s site to read the rest (and possibly comment).

Person B’s trackback to Person A’s blog generally gets posted along with all the comments. This means that Person A can edit the contents of the trackback on his own server, which means that the whole idea of “authenticity” isn’t really solved. (Note: Person A can only edit the contents of the trackback on his own site. He cannot edit the post on Person B’s site that sent the trackback.)

OK, So whats a pingback. Here’s what WordPress documentation had to say:

The best way to think about pingbacks is as remote comments:

  • Person A posts something on his blog.
  • Person B posts on her own blog, linking to Person A’s post. This automatically sends a pingback to Person A when both have pingback enabled blogs.
  • Person A’s blog receives the pingback, then automatically goes to Person B’s post to confirm that the pingback did, in fact, originate there.

The pingback is generally displayed on Person A’s blog as simply a link to Person B’s post. In this way, all editorial control over posts rests exclusively with the individual authors (unlike the trackback excerpt, which can be edited by the trackback recipient). The automatic verification process introduces a level of authenticity, making it harder to fake a pingback.

Some feel that trackbacks are superior because readers of Person A’s blog can at least see some of what Person B has to say, and then decide if they want to read more (and therefore click over to Person B’s blog). Others feel that pingbacks are superior because they create a verifiable connection between posts.

In conclusion a pingback will notify the the linked author automatically, and a trackback will leave a comment and you have to manually put the trackback url in the trackback area at the end of your article. In wordpress it has a trackback field at the bottom.

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3 Comments on "What the Heck is a Trackback?"

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  1. Hey , I finally decided to write a comment on your blog . I just wanted to say good job . I really enjoy reading your posts.

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