Google, the fallback for trackback?

Sometime yesterday or early this morning, flowdelic was added to the Google index. It’s official — I’m now “in the book” as it were. Yeah.

As I expected, my site is in the top spot (easy to do with an invented word I guess), but I also found some sites that that pointed here that I didn’t see previously. Thanks and thanks.

It’s great to see those other links — but I wonder, why did I have to wait on Google to find them? Having been a reader of blogs for some time (okay a really, really long time), but not an author, I had thought that trackback links were more automated than they appear to be. I found the very helpful How TrackBack Works — but it really just confirmed what I’d recently discovered — trackback is a very manual, error-prone process. (BTW — I’m also using MoveableType)

That’s not what I expected. My expectation was that if I linked to another blog’s post in my blog entry, that link would be extracted when I posted the entry, and a trackback “ping” would be sent to the referenced article automatically. I understand that trackback URLs are different than permalinks — but shouldn’t the remote blog system be able to map permalinks to postings?

Why do I, the user, need to go track down a special URL? Is this how all blogging systems work — or is this something specific to MoveableType?

Before I got the hang of this I was entering permalinks into the “URLs to ping” box in my editing interface. (Why should I need to type these in at all?) MT gladly accepted these and dutifully “pinged” the incorrect URLs I had given it without a hiccup. I would have expected to see some kind of error message if the ping wasn’t accepted. At least then I would have know I was “doing it wrong” and could have learned faster how to do it right.

I see trackback as a crucial feature of the blogsphere. It enables readers to follow a conversation from blog to blog. Wouldn’t it be cool if RSS readers could organize posts by thread as well as by blog? Without that I feel like I’m missing part of the conversation (and I probably am). Why should the burden fall on users to discover and follow cross-blog threads? If any RSS readers do threading, I’d like to know, I just haven’t seen it yet.

It seems obvious to me that trackback is a useful feature of blogging — but to be really useful, it has got to be reliable. And if the reliability is based on trusting blog authors everywhere to track down and correctly use trackback URLs, well we’re going to have to continue to rely on Google to piece together strands of conversations for us for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE: I found “A Beginner’s Guide to Trackback” on the MoveableType site. There, I found that there is an auto-discovery feature that works how I would expect it to work. Nice. But — if that’s how it works, why didn’t I get trackback pings from all the sites that linked to my posts? It still seems that trackback reliability leaves something to be desired.

Also, I wish I could use the bookmarklets too, but they don’t work in Safari. (My laptop at work is Windows XP, but at home I have a G4 PowerBook with Mac OS X.)


7 thoughts on “Google, the fallback for trackback?

  1. Actually, why do we need trackback? I very much agree with John Gruber’s thoughts on trackback:

    I agree that a “threaded” or otherwise centralized view of the flow of conversation would be incredible. But I don’t want to shut out non-trackback using tools. The referrer is common across all web-platforms — it’s just links, after all!

    That being said, for tools that don’t do trackback, you can use Simpletracks:

    I’ve written up these comments on my website as well, which doesn’t do trackback:

  2. Mason:

    About the post–not all weblog publishing tools support Trackback, either by default or handling the URLs automagically. I use Radio Userland ( and it will read the source URL and look for a link reference to the source Trackback, but it’s only had that feature for about six months.

    About me–I called you a couple of months ago after reviewing old mail from the late 1990s regarding a domain name you used to own. We talked about weblogs then and I was disappointed when you didn’t have one going. I’m thrilled to have found you (via a weblog called Stupid Simple Blog– I’m subscribed and welcome to the blogosphere.

    PS–Surf over to Technorati. It’s a Google for weblogs and more.

    Steve Kirks

  3. Mason, a combination of Technorati (, TTLB Ecosystem ( and a customized Feedster ( feed should keep you in the loop.

    Personally I love trackback as it’s responsive, not passive (unlike the methods above where I need to go search it out).

  4. Steve — thanks for the pointer to Technorati. Very cool and much needed. Also – a public thank you for tracking me down and calling me a few months ago. Our exchange got me thinking “hey, why don’t I have a blog?”.

    Boris — I don’t buy the argument that because not everyone can play in the sandbox, no one should. There are obvious benefits to linking everything together. We should figure out how to make that happen — effortlessly. Agreed, trackback is not ideal. While I really dig Technorati — I’d prefer a distributed design to a centralized one.

    Refer logs sound promising, but I’m already getting some garbage in my logs — I expect that to get worse. Need a way to filter that out.

    The other issue I have with referrers is the referrer doesn’t tell me which post was referred to, just the page. But, yeah TBL was thinking way ahead by building referer into the HTTP header. (To bad it’s misspelled!) We should use it. It’s about time it got used for something more than tracking ad click-thrus and search rankings.

  5. Kirk Munro says:

    FYI, NewsGator + Outlook 2003 = threaded blog aggregation. You just sort your blogs into whatever folders you want and for those blogs you want threaded you just sort the items in the folder by conversation.

  6. Hi Mason:

    The best way to track if anybody is linking to is to use PubSub.

    Simply do an advanced weblogs search using “” and you will get an RSS feed from PubSub that gets updated every time somebody makes a link to anywhere on

    Technorati has similar functionality but you can only track one URL and not all URLs

    More here:
    Lazy Person’s Guide to being a NewsMaster Part 1: Use PubSub to track your URL, name and topics at:

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