I‘ve read a half dozen “layman’s” explanations of trackback, and I confess I still didn’t really understand it until yesterday. I also somehow thought it was connected to comment notification, which it isn’t. For those as befuddled as I was, here’s my attempt to explain it. If this just confuses you further, I apologize in advance.

Trackback simply lets another site know that you have a post referring to it on your own site. Read the previous sentence until it makes sense.

Sometimes when you’re reading someone’s blog you want to comment directly on their site. But sometimes you want to pursue the discussion on your own site. If so, and provided the other site has trackback enabled (i.e. the word ‘trackback’ appears below each post, as illustrated above) this is what you do (Movable Type users, I’m told, must use this ‘bookmarklet’ process instead of OPTION A):

  • OPTION A: If you want to include a link to the other post in your article: Go to the other site, click on the word ‘permalink’ under that post and copy the other post’s ‘permalink URL’, then draft your article, inserting a link to the other site with the permalink URL you copied      – OR –
  • OPTION B: If you don’t want to include a link to the other post in your article: Go to the other site, click on the word ‘trackback’ under that post and copy the ‘trackback URL’ that pops up, then draft your article and paste the ‘trackback URL’ in the edit space called ‘URLs to Ping’

Now when you post your article, the number in brackets beside the word ‘trackback’ below the post on the other site you referred to will increase by one, and when someone clicks on the word ‘trackback’ on the other site they’ll see en extract from, and link to, your referring article. In other words, you’ve established a 2-way link between your article and the post on the other site.

To allow others to trackback to your site, you need to ‘enable’ trackback. The process to enable trackback on your site depends what blogging tool you use. For Radio users the enabling process (you just have to do it once) is here.

What the bulleted instructions above describe is called an ‘outbound trackback’. From the perspective of the owner of the other site it’s an ‘inbound trackback’ to them.

Once you’re enabled, you can practice on this post if you like. If you do, I’ll reciprocate when I see your trackback by posting a trackback to one of your articles, so you can see how it works the other way. It all makes more sense when you’ve done it once or twice. The only drawback is that, having given your readers a third way to respond to your articles (besides comments and e-mail), now you have to check out your inbound trackbacks as well, to get the complete picture of what people thought of your article.

As for comment notification, it’s just an e-mail sent to your inbox each time someone posts a comment on (or trackback to) one of your blog posts. This is available so you don’t have to scour back through comments threads on your old posts to see if there are any new comments. The process to enable this also depends on which blogging tool you use. For Radio users the enabling process (you just have to do it once) is here.

Postscript: Tests for readers pinging me:
Here is a test ping to Philip at Perils of Caffeine.

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  1. Lis Riba says:

    Have you found information anywhere on implementing Trackback for Blogger-based blogs?

  2. Phil says:

    How long should it take for the ping to hit your post? I’ve done a couple, and none has shown up.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Lis — nothing so far. There was a group doing a pilot of this last year, but no evidence it was ever implemented, and that was before Google bought them out. Any other readers have more info on this?

  4. Dave Pollard says:

    Phil — should happen really quickly, about the same speed as comments get posted. And you’ve done it correctly as far as I can see. I’m going to try a ping the other way. Get ready.

  5. Phil says:

    Dave,I’ve banged away multiple times, can’t get outbound trackback to work.

  6. Dave Pollard says:

    Phil: It should work. Did you update your ‘root’ directory? If that isn’t the answer, leave it for the update overnight and try it one more time tomorrow. Sorry you’ve had so much trouble with it.

  7. Phil says:

    Aha! I had been merely altering the referring post on my site. I deleted it and then reposted it as a “new” post, and voila. Thanks again.

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