22 February 2007

Backlinks are better than trackbacks

I know I am someone who has actively asked Blogger for trackbacks since the new version came out. Trackbacks are a great way to get some traffic back to your blog, if you're someone who links a lot to other stories and your blog serves as a way of commentary on news broken on well known blogs. A simple link can do wonderful things. But the current system is inherently flawed.

Trackbacks explained

As things stand now, a trackback is essentially a simple post to the target blog's platform's trackback RDF with the necessary details about the new post. If all goes well, a link back to that post is displayed in the trackbacks listing of the target/old post. The post can be manual or automatic, depending on what Blogging platformWordpress and Movable Type can essentially recognise links to send trackbacks to based on the links in a post. This solves the problem of trackback spamming a bit, but still isn't foolproof you use. Can you see the problem that arises? The post itself doesn't need to have anything to do with the target post, and trackbacks can be sent to all kinds of unrelated posts just to get links back. This is called Trackback spamming.

Trackbacks are almost like the taxi's of the blogosphere, which helps you jump from post to post of related content, that being the essential purpose of blogs. A glitch such as this can cause for a minor setback, but setback nonetheless, in a truly wonderful system.

How are Backlinks better

Backlinks rely on Google's indexing of your new post to display snippets of other posts which link to your post, which Google's crawlers have indexed. The only good thing about this is that bogus links don't show up. I believe Google filters pages from it's index (even blog posts) and hence, the blogs which are marked in Google's index as spam blogs, won't show up in your backlinks list. It becomes sort of an AkismetDeveloped by Automattic originally for Wordpress. Akismet is considered the best protection against spam comments and trackbacks. Via a public API, it has been extended to other platforms as well. for Blogger, albeit a less effective one.

New Blogger's storing of post content in a central repository (for faster serving), should also improve the speeds with which your link is caught and displayed by Google for the simple reason that it's easier for them to now keep a track of links (it's easier to crawl just the post content rather than a whole page). This also means that links in people's sidebars (like mine) shouldn't be counted as backlinks.

With new spam blogs coming up everyday, each one innovating on what we today know spam as, it will only become hard to filter them out. But we do trust Google, don't we? :P I can now see why Google has stuck with backlinks for displaying incoming links despite people requesting trackbacks. As a good alternative, Stephen's Blogger Trackback user-script does the job fantastically. But I'd still like a trackback 'sending' system for platforms which still rely on a manual post to their RDF, natively from Blogger.

Another point to discuss, which I didn't throw in initially (goodness knows why) is how Google tackles (or should tackle) the problem of spammy links. I think it is safe to assume now that Blogger serves all post content from a central repository, or what we can call a 'database' for ease. Now, since Google itself is storing all the data, they can easily check for links, and add the required backlink to the respective post. Hence, I don't think they do so much as a reverse-blog search, but rather just look at the new posts being added to the database.

So in effect, not only did the page serving become faster, but essentially all data coming from Blogger's side became faster, including backlinks. And this is ideal to keep spam links away, because just content is much easier to analyse for spam rather than a whole page. So this is a good alternative to Akismet which, as Avatar points out in the comments, is not available to many platforms, and is almost Wordpress exclusive.

So these should sum up why backlinks are actually better than trackbacks, but keep track of the comments as discussions say more than a one man's view. :)

Further Reading

Trackback is dead - Tom Coates bids adieu to an old friend
Trackback Technical Specification
What is RDF - Building a more semantic web


Sumesh said...

Adithya, can you add a google web search function to your native search in blogger? it would be really cool to have that.

Aditya said...

I was actually going to offer tabbed searching of more than one blog, and a Google search in the next update to the Native search. However, Google's AJAX search and Hoctro's (I think) documentation of how to implement it seems to have people implementing that instead of my hack, so unless some serious requests pop in, I don't know if I'll update the hack.

I don't want to let it die, since it's been my favourite hack, but I rather put time into something people really want. So only time will tell! Thanks for the suggestion though! :)

Singpolyma said...

I must disagree. With a good anti-SPAM (A-K-I-S-M-E-T) system one doesn't have to worry too much more than one does for simple commenting about SPAM.

Reverse-blogsearch is nice, but it does not find everything.

kca said...

Just to say that I am relly,really impressed by your comment layout...;)

Aditya said...

"Reverse-blogsearch is nice, but it does not find everything."

Actually, Google does find links from non-blogger & non-wordpress blogs as well. I've seen backlinks show up from platforms like Drupal or ExpressionEngine. So I think Google is doing a good job there. Things can definitely improve, but so can everything, and Google is improving everyday :)

As far as Akismet goes, I did mention it in the post. But the problem doesn't come from links from spam blogs. What if I sent a trackback to 5 of your posts, completely unrelated in topic to this one? It won't be caught by Akismet (since it's not a spam blog), and for all it knows, I could be linking to all 5 of your posts, so as far as justified linking goes, you can't have a case with just a system. I know Akismet is monitored by people as well, but I guess you see my point here :)

It's better to create trackbacks from existing links in posts, rather than have a separate system of sending and housing them independent of the post.

Avatar said...

Given i talked to you about trackbacks being dead too just 24hrs ago, i must say part of the why they are mostly dead, and they SHOULD be left for dead beyond what have you already stated.

the thing is that is not only something that atracts spammig of the most common order, as stephen has said, askimet resolves that, but there is no askimet in blogger. and there is no askimet in a lot of the other blogger patforms, but my main problem with trackbacking is beyond spamming, my problem with it is that right now it is just a overkill, and not only that, it is something that still depends on a proactive action and that unlike cross context reference (folksonomy-taxonomy) the trackbacks are a one-way tool, it lacks what makes tags work.it lacks a true social factor.. it is more of a personal activism (sort of speak) that anything else, and from the moment the post enters in your archive it is for the most part dead already, no ones talks about trackback anymore, no ones really cares, and much less in blogger where you got a Machine reference link index (backlinks) that are automatic and that by being generic, and automated, they actually can do their job way better...

Now i must go litsen to a song or something, just talking about track backs made me want go to sleep... :P

Aditya said...

I've updated the post with a few more points!

"it is more of a personal activism"

But so are backlinks. You can't say that backlinks add the 'social' element since they look and work just like trackbacks, except for the separate housing (as I mentioned in my previous comment).

Tags are something different. They don't point to individual posts, but a broad generalised and related word to the context of the post. It'll be wrong to compare backlinks/trackbacks to tags.

Backlinks were Google's way of making sure irrelevant trackbacks don't show up. I must confess that it was an absolutely spot on foresight on Google's part not to adopt trackbacks and go in this direction! :)

Deepak said...

I've never been able to understand or appreciate backlinks/trackbacks; never gave much importance to them. :...(Err.. Don't know whether I should be sad or happy about that!)

Avatar said...

th tags reference, was just htat a tiny reference.

and don´t confuse social withactivism.. they are not the same thing either, and in the case of backlinks, the social aspect is a reflection of them bieng displayed, it is reactive only to the readers and supplied by a automated process in a trackback the human ellemts generates the bridge too, not the machine. it carries a intention from the start, be it bad or good.

anyway in the end i do think backlinks is a better system

Singpolyma said...

"there's no askismet in blogger"

nor are there trackbacks... haloscan has an anti-spam system of their own.

As per non-splogs spamming this way, again I point to comments. What's to keep me from commenting here and linking to five of my blog posts in the comment? You could remove it, but you can remove trackbacks.

There are still two extra-nice things about trackbacks:

1) On good systems (ie WordPress), it's automatic
2) You can also find posts that may be related or even mention yours, but may not have a direct link (because they're not ABOUT yours)

Oh, and plus it means we're not relying on a third party (google) for our tracking... we can do it ourselves :)