Entry: why trackback me? 1/29/2005



Ha! A pledge of Real Soon Now™ is actually fulfilled...

This is actually an article I've been meaning to write a long time ago. I first got interested while trying to find out how to get myself a freebie Moveable Type blog. And then there was the time I followed Wordpress (which also supports Trackback) from a Wired article, which lead me to discover The Anybrowser Campaign. And then there's my discovery, from the links section of Erratic Chants of HyperrealitYog's (now named YOGASM), which uses HaloScan for its commenting system instead of Blogspot's homebrew system.

There's a lot of talk over the years since Moveable Type's release of the trackback open spec with MT 2.2. Initally it was exciting. Then there was the complaint that it was hard for people to implement it. Then came Haloscan. And mere mortals still don't use Trackback, even though it was now free as in free beer, even if you use freebie blog services. People still perceive it as too much hastle with too little benefit.

So then, what exactly is Trackback?

The simplest description of Trackback technology I can manage, is that Trackback is a way for blogs to talk to each other. How do blogs talk to each other? Don't humans do that? I mean some of us use blogs to talk about ourselves but...

And yes we sometimes do talk about each other in our blogs (or about each others' blog(s) in each others' blogs), heck we talk about anything here! And we've done it so far without any help from trackback technology. Now wouldn't all this talking be more fun if we can talk to each other instead of becoming like crazy people that only want to talk to him/herself? Or something like that... Now how does trackback make it more fun to talk to each other in this cool, fun, great, big, revolutionary conversation? (OK, perhaps I'm overrating here). Lets look at it this way: trackback technology allows our blogs to 'ping' each other (that is, to send PHP notification packets to each other on the Internet) that lets our own comments, posted on our own blog as a response to other blog posts, to be displayed in the blog post that we commented upon as trackback comments.

Yah wel at least I tried...

I guess the simplest explanation for how trackback technology is applied to MT blogs is available here [from Michael Pusateri]. Its the oldest trackback explanation article on the net, and still the simplest and most popular. And then there's an explanation by Mena and Ben Trott, creators of Movable Type and TrackBack who made their own page explaining TrackBack for Beginners shortly after the Cruftbox original. Ben and Mena's article is more detailed than Mr. Pusateri's (and it also shows other uses of Trackback other than remote commenting). The MT developers also maintain a Trackback weblog, though the last time it was updated was on June 2004 (at the time of this writing).

But how does Trackback apply to all other blogs? Isn't it supposed to be an open specification? That's where Haloscan comes in. Back in the old days before trackback, Haloscan was a site that provides a commenting system for blogs that don't support it. You know, that little link at the bottom of blog posts that you click on, then a small window pops up (or you're moved to a different page), and then you can write something back at me. And when Trackback appeared with MT 2.2, Haloscan made an implementation that applies trackback commenting (sometimes referred to as remote commenting) to blogging systems not supporting it natively. Unfortunately Haloscan trackback support was limited to the few services which still cooperated with Haloscan and its commenting system. I've always wanted to apply trackback to my blog, and it was one of the primary reason I had seriously considered moving to Blogger's service (aside from Blogger's XHTML support; but that's a story for another time). At least until Haloscan implemented remote trackback on February 18, 2004.

Haloscan has a tutorial on how to use trackback with its free service. I'll implement it on my blog. Real Soon Now™(sic)

There are other important implications of trackback, and there are also other important blog technologies to talk about, but I think I'll have to save them for some other time. This post looks long enough. Besides, my brain is already haemmoragingly dizzy with all the research I'd done for this single post.

I've definitely spent more time blogging (and 'netting) than what would be considered financially 'healthy' in Indonesia. If only I can make a living being a professional blogger. Or at least to make it a profitable hobby. I'd have to live in the west to do that... One can dream, of course ;)

addendum: Haloscan also has a usefull trackback faq, linked from the Haloscan trackback tutorial I mentioned above.

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