Sunday, January 27, 2008

Talkin' Trackbacks, Part 3: The Tools

So, if you read through parts one and two of this series, you might be getting pretty excited about exploring the world of trackbacks. If you are blogging using WordPress or MovableType, then you are in luck as the trackback facility is already available to you. You might have to go into your blog settings to enable it, but otherwise, you're golden.

But what about the rest of us? Many of us are using Blogger, one of the most popular blogging systems available and it doesn't support trackbacks natively (it has a feature called "backlinks" which is similar, but as I've mentioned before, I haven't noticed too many other people using it and it is only available to other Blogger users). Still, if you look at the bottom of this post, you'll see that I do have a trackback link. How is that possible?

In a word: Haloscan

Haloscan is a service which manages comments and trackbacks for blogs which don't have those features natively. The basic service is free (though it does include advertising), but for only $12, you can get their premium service which is ad-free.

Sign-up is easy. The form doesn't even really request that much information from you. The installation process can be a little daunting if you aren't comfortable editing HTML, but if you follow the instructions for your blogging platform you shouldn't have too much trouble. If all else fails, your friendly neighborhood web developer should have no problem getting things set up for you. In fact, for those of us using Blogger, they have an automatic installation took (just be sure to back up your settings before you try anything like this).

Haloscan give you support for both incoming and outgoing trackbacks. I use it for only the former. The latter is a bit too clunky for me. In order to send the "ping", you have to locate all of the information required (the title, permalink, excerpt, etc) and then fill in a form on the Haloscan site. I much prefer that all of this information be collected for me automatically.

I have a few other minor complaints about Haloscan. First, it is a bit slow. I did a test trackback on one of my older posts and it took almost an hour before it appeared on my site. Update: This seems to be a lot faster now. Perhaps my first test was during a bad time.

Second, the trackback listings aren't incorporated directly into the site. If you click on the trackback link below, it pops up a separate window with the listings (a window over which you have no real control regarding its look and feel). Finally, Haloscan doesn't seem to have any sort of moderation for trackbacks (though it does for comments). This means that anyone can automatically create a link to their site from yours. Of course, you can just delete anything which you don't want included, but if you are someone who likes to have control from the beginning, this might be a show-stopper.

Despite these problems, if this is the only way you have to send and receive a trackback ping, it's a long sight better than nothing. And until Blogger decides to support the trackback protocols natively (chances are somewhere between slim and none), your other choice is nothing.

Tomorrow I'll do a quick piece on a better tool for some of us.

So, are their any blogs you read on a regular basis which support trackback? Which ones?

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