I'm convinced now more than ever. But I'll spare you all long rant about why it's dead, since others have already written this for me:

Very soon, I'll disable support for Trackback pings on my blog. I'll still get them via email but will not automatically link 'em. I'll probably do the same on the Yahoo! Search blog. Luckily we have services like PubSub, Technorati, Feedster, and Bloglines to fill the void.

Discuss. Or not.

Posted by jzawodn at August 23, 2005 02:20 PM

Reader Comments
# Anil said:

Naturally, I'd say "nuh-uh". There's a couple reasons why. The first is the ~50 million pages (including the news pages published by... Yahoo!) with TrackBack enabled already.

Second, modern implementations of TrackBack support moderation and whitelisting. The traits of spam TrackBacks are pretty well known, and current versions of TrackBack-enabled tools (like MT 3.2) can choose whether to display TrackBacks by default, and can help filter based on whether a TrackBack is actually coming from the source it says it is.

Also, TrackBack is explicit. Good implemenations make it a deliberate choice to create a TrackBack link from a source to its target. That's a big distinction from the centralized services that are attempting to crawl the entire blogosphere in realtime. When I send you a TrackBack, I'm making a positive association of a relationship. That's a big difference (in both semantic value and intention of community/connection) from a passive link to your site, especially since few of the blog search tools distinguish between blogroll links (which assert identity) and in-post links (which serve as annotation).

Finally, the familiarity and utility of TrackBack, especially now that current-generation tools reduce the likelihood and reward value of spamming, means that there can be a base for a new generation of TrackBack, featuring necessities like authentication and richer content payloads. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in regards to TrackBack would be as silly as throwing out email because it's been abused.

Mend it, don't end it! :)

on August 23, 2005 03:14 PM
# Jeremy Zawodny said:


I get far greater coverage using the services I named than I ever did with Trackback. I see little evidence of critical mass here...

Or maybe my blog is just unusual?


on August 23, 2005 03:17 PM
# Phil Ringnalda said:

What Anil said. I'm willing to tolerate a few false positives, so I've just been rejecting any trackback ping from a source that doesn't have the RDF to support trackback autodiscovery in reply for a year and a half now. In that time, I've gotten exactly one trackback spam, during the ten minutes between throwing in a new version of MT and hacking in my checking code (which should be a plugin, but it amuses me to be able to send a customized reply telling them exactly what they would need to do to spam me).

on August 23, 2005 03:23 PM
# Matt said:

On the WordPress dev blog we get hundreds more pings than ever show up in Technorati or Bloglines or Icerocket or Feedster or... The coverage is much more complete. Trackback is 99% spam now (which I also see at CNET) but Pingback get's almost no spam. Also WP has such great spam tools that's not an issue either.

on August 23, 2005 03:45 PM
# Sandeep said:

I disabled mine two months back. Of course, spam was another reason I did it.

on August 23, 2005 07:48 PM
# Jason Lefkowitz said:

I came to the same conclusion a few months ago and disabled trackback on all my hosted blogs except my primary personal one. Waaaaay too much junk was coming over the transom to keep up with, and the constant MT-Blacklist grinding was killing my hosting plan...

I was so moved by the Greek tragedy of trackback, in fact, that I wrote "Trackback: A Tragedy In Three Acts", which I present for your enjoyment:


on August 23, 2005 09:04 PM
# Mike said:

Yeah, trackbacks are kinda useless - they're almost always outright spam, or some schmo tracking back with a "yeah, what he said..." post in their own blog (which is kind of spammy too).

on August 23, 2005 09:57 PM
# Joe Holcomb said:

I love WordPress but trackbacks have never worked right in the software since day one. Even despite trying the fixes and debugging available from WordPress. Trackbacks for me only work within my site internally. Ultimately I gave up trying to fix it due to the amount of spam I see others getting.

I can't say I feel your pain Jeremy but I do agree.

on August 24, 2005 03:21 AM
# Josh Woodward said:

I killed incoming trackback on my blog a few weeks ago. Not because of spam (since I have custom software, there was none), but just because nobody was using it. It was just taking up space and confusing people.

on August 24, 2005 06:21 AM
# Brian Turner said:

Anil said:

"The traits of spam TrackBacks are pretty well known, and current versions of TrackBack-enabled tools (like MT 3.2) can choose whether to display TrackBacks by default"

I'm impressed you noticed - after all, it's only been a few of years since the problem of trackback spamming was raised in the MT support forums. But you only just enabled trackback moderation as a feature of MT a few days ago in 3.2.

I'd respectfully suggest that painfully slow developer response by prime open targets - especially MT - has clearly exacerbated the problem, by failing to provide the required tools most webmasters could easily apply to combat trackback spam issues in the first place.

on August 24, 2005 08:32 AM
# Reid said:

In the past seven days I've had 2,269 Trackback pings on an MT install that has not existed on any server for nearly a year and a half.

How many of those do you think were "legit"? My guess is less than 1%.

on August 24, 2005 08:52 AM
# Seth said:

I blogged a response to this post and Trackbacked, but I've either been moderated down or am awaiting moderation.

Either way, I'm of the opinion that Trackback is a great tool that's preferable to some third-party (Technorati, Blogpulse, IceRocket) system for tracking related conversations.

I'm no A-lister so the traffic I receive from my legitimate Trackbacks to my (hopefully) well-reasoned, thoughtful and interesting responses is vital to me.

My 2 cents. The rest of my long rant is here:


on August 24, 2005 09:05 AM
# vanderwal said:

Using a homegrown blog tool I (using it for years) the first three trackbacks I got a year or two ago were spam. I never implemented it.

Comments were closed possibly last Fall after a flood of hundreds of comment spam in a couple hours. I have not had the time (nor has it been that high on my priority list) to fix them.

Following this it became quickly appearant that conversations on the web are distributed. Neither trackback nor comments capture everything. But solutions like the ones you mentions are better means for aggregating the conversations. These tools are more socially aware that the site specific solutions we currently have in our blogging tools. I have been strongly considering a move to one or two of the options you mentioned for each post so I can share with others the conversation I am currently tracking personally with the same tools mentioned.

Since others have comments available on their site's I often comment on these other sites and handle my tracking with a commented tag in my del.icio.us bookmarks (when I remember). Not perfect but it is a hack that is passible for me, if only for the moment.

on August 24, 2005 09:52 AM
# Darren said:

Amen. I gave up on trackbacks about a year ago. They make no sense to normal humans, who wonder what the heck they're used for. And the spam, oy, the spam.

on August 24, 2005 10:04 AM
# Mike said:

Not only have I had to disable trackbacks, but I have to firewall some of the trackback/referrer spammers they hit so much. The maggot spammers take to blogs like flies to sh_t.

on August 24, 2005 10:25 AM
# Anil said:

I'd also submit that Jeremy's presence in the blog search indexes is probably not representative of most people's indexing frequency, due to the popularity of his blog. People wouldn't be complaining about the performance and data quality of the blog search (or back-link search) systems if they were giving everyone as good an experience as you're getting, Jeremy.

on August 24, 2005 11:51 AM
# Grant barrett said:

I never read trackbacks. They require too much work. They usually show only partial comments, which forces me to go off-site, and they tend not to fit the chronological flow of comments, instead being jammed in at the top or bottom. From here, they look like they're more for site admins and editors than they are for other visitors--even more so because they also seem to be positioned or styled on many sites as if to say, "See how popular I am!"

on August 24, 2005 01:04 PM
# Jason Golod said:

To me Trackback is one of those ideas that are great on paper, but don't really work in the real world. Like most of the people who have commented here, the number of TBs I have received are less than 10 and most of the time their content is suspect. If TB were to totally fall by the wayside, I don't think most people would care/notice.

on August 24, 2005 01:13 PM
# TDavid said:

I would agree when it comes to one way trackbacks. One way trackbacks blow and I rarely approve them unless they contain great value for the reader (they rarely ever do), otherwise they go bye bye. Two way trackbacks that are related and not spam? The more the merrier, I say!

To my knowledge trackbacks (via WP) haven't shown up here for ages that I've sent, so no difference as far as I'm concerned.

I think trackbacks have their purpose but like comments they need to be monitored. Those who have time to do it, great, those who don't can use tags or whatever whiz bang tool that comes out. They are kind of like Wikis which the Yahoo developer area already canned, yes/no?

Forget Technorati as a reliable tracking tool. Feedster, pubsub, bloglines, blogpulse, etc? A little better, but still not completing the whole picture. If one is looking for a _partial_ picture of who's linking in, then some combination of those services will get by but if one desire reliable notification? Stay with trackbacks/pingbacks.

on August 24, 2005 03:43 PM
# karim said:

Yay! I'm interested!

Well, that's a pretty interesting debate :)
I used to dream about the whole possibilities that trackbacks would offer. And they're still numerous, I still think.

I've been talking (shame on me) about those dreams here:

And after a kind chat with Scott Johnson about including trackback urls in RSS feeds


A scary of spam comments were posted on that entry especially.

Scott was right, but I still think that ... say, we still haven't the techniques, the "smart" way to use trackbacks.

Back to the spam problem, IMHO, it's the pinged website's owner to protect himself against spams. Sure you'll say. But i'm sure that we can develop some techniques similar to those known in mail anti-spam software such as filters, baning ...

Comme par hasard, that's the same thought I share with Anil:

knives are dangerous but we use them in our kitchen

Thanks :)

on August 25, 2005 07:23 AM
# pwb said:

I don't really get the point of trackbacks/ Even the legit ones just seem to pollute comments. Does anyone actually follow them?

on August 25, 2005 10:55 AM
# Jacques Marneweck said:

I don't think that trackbacks are dead yet. I'm found more interesting information from trackback in numerous cases, and find them to be interesting in the respect that you get to read other users views about a certain article that they've commented on from their blog. What would be interesting is if when commenting on another blog there was an option to create a new post based on your comment.

Just food for thought ;)

on August 25, 2005 04:24 PM
# Alan said:

We have ranges of varied experience with Trackback, yet I hardly see the value of extending them to general world wide principles, it is like characterizing all the forests of the world based on the scraggly tree in our front yard.

I love Trackback, can't get enough and tired of blogs that don't issue 'e,; I get nil spamback (Thank you WP, Thank you SK2) and I find lots of interesting things when I click back to where some new blogger I have never heard of picked up on something I wrote.

Yet I will not extend my experience to say "All Trackback is Good and Glorious"-- therefore proclamations of "Trackback is Dead" are rather spurious. Heck, some people are not even convinced Elvis is dead.

on August 25, 2005 05:30 PM
# Marco said:

I kinda like trackback really. In fact I receive them occasionally on my site and usually they're legit. I never receive spammy ones because I created a quite effective defense against that. It's impossible to trackback-spam my weblog unless you're using highly sophisticated sofware (if it exists at all at the moment). Just try and send me a trackback spam with an automated process ;)

on August 26, 2005 03:52 PM
# Jacques Distler said:

Aw, dang!

Just this week, the arXivs ( http://arxiv.org ) enabled trackbacks. And, according to those links Jeremy posted, trackback've been dead for months!

I guess I'll have to rework my announcement ( http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/archives/000638.html ) into a eulogy.

on August 26, 2005 06:32 PM
# Taylor said:

Listen. Trackbacks help us with horizontal news gathering. Without it, what is the blogosphere? Just another top-down political organization.

on August 28, 2005 11:43 AM
# mrG said:

re: Anil et al, it is not a matter of fixing TB, it is a question of the very foundational assumption of the internet vs the nature of humanity.

Question #1: Have you ever known or been a member of a band that played pub gigs?

Question #2: Have you ever participated in the traditional band custom of plastering posters on any available urban surface?

No sense in us trying to play "holier than thou", TB and Comment spam are the same thing. We gave them the free advertising surface, and they will plaster their band posters because they want to make money; we all want to make money, and you cannot ethically fault them for that. We can complain and scrape the punk posters off your restaurant facade, but more will show up tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. We can deploy filters and scraping tools, but they are still going to come back ... because they are motivated ... and we will lose ... because we are volunteer. QED. Maybe you'll catch a few, maybe you'll haul a few into juvenile court, but there's plenty more where they came from; it's a game of escalations that we just can't win.

My own rant is here: TechnObituary - Trackback 2002 - 2005 (http://blog.teledyn.com/node/2235)

so I side with the PubSub/Cosmos people, only even that is not foolproof since we've seen both get easily spammed, but the thing is, the punk posters get glued to their wall, not our own.

on August 28, 2005 05:58 PM
# eric said:

By "dead" I assume Jeremy means it has no future, and I agree with that: Any future trackback might have had was obliterated by the introduction of automated discovery. That's what made spammers sit up and take notice of it.

At the present, for my purposes and most people's purposes, it's absolutely useless. During the first two weeks of August, I got something like 50,000 hits on my site that were attempts to post trackback spam. They were unsuccessful because I don't enable trackback, but they indirectly resulted in a CPU warning from my ISP (the rapid expansion of my log database caused the database optimization to get out of whack). (Between trackback and comments, attempts to spam my site amounted to about 6GB and something over 100,000 page loads on my site during those two weeks.)

And that's for a pissy little site that nobody looks at.

If you take that forward, it should be clear that any exposed interface will be more or less useless, so long as spam remains a problem -- and I don't see that changing any time soon. What's needful is for someone to devise simple *manual* methods for tracking-back.

on August 29, 2005 06:32 AM
# eric said:

MrG said: ".... we all want to make money, and you cannot ethically fault them for that."

For wanting to make money? No. But for pissing on other people's lawns? Yes, we can ethically fault them for that. The fact that the door is unlocked (or even open) does not mean that any entry is lawful -- and especially doesn't mean that any behavior, once inside, is lawful. Or ethical.

(And as for the difference between ethics and law, I'll quote Miss Manners: "Law is what keeps us from killing each other. Ethics are what keep us from driving one another crazy.")

on August 29, 2005 06:37 AM
# Steven Ericsson Zenith said:

Was Trackback ever really alive? I don't think so.


on August 31, 2005 06:08 PM
# Eric said:

I had read quite a few pro and con views on trackbacks and thus far have decided to turn them off on blogs I have running. I know some people who disable all commenting and I have done that as well on some sites. However, it would seem a tradeoff. There are sites where one does not need commenting and others where it is an integral part of the site. Every choice in life is typically a compromise of risk and benefit.

on September 29, 2006 09:32 AM
# Fact Frenzy said:

I've found the need to disable ping/trackbacks on certain posts. For some reason, certain articles on my/our site draws more spam through trackback, than others.

Still have mixed feelings whether to disable trackback throughout the whole site altogether.

In the meantime, certain comments have come in through trackback that are actually worthy of being on the page.

on April 25, 2008 04:26 PM
# Dahlan said:

I still believed trackback is helping our missions

on August 7, 2009 10:43 AM
# Riki said:

I still allow ping/trackbacks but only aprove the one that add value to the post.

on September 8, 2009 09:03 AM
# Nick said:

Well played mate, I've also opted to do the same, for the same reason as you of course ;)

on May 1, 2010 11:27 PM
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