I was just sent an email asking “what’s up with trackbacks?” I thought the info might be of use to many readers here.
Trackbacks are a way to say “I posted a blog post about this post of yours, so I’m going to leave a trackback to connect the 2 posts.” It’s like a citation for a particular post. It solidifies the conversation by allowing readers to follow links to other places online where any given topic is being discussed.
Trackbacks usually have to be created by hand. Your blogging or commenting program may have an option to send a trackback to some one else’s blog. Many blogs include URLs in each post for you to send a trackback if you want to. (Mine here for example.) Some blogs will automatically detect trackbacks elsewhere (links to your post).
When you post a trackback, you usually select a snippet from your article linking to the one you’re making a trackback to. I think this is an important chance to show what unique perspective you offer in the discussion, not just to say “I’m some random person linking to your blog.” In other words, it’s cool to offer some value in your trackbacks.
Your text snippet and the trackback URL of the post you are what you need to make a trackback.
Some people have turned off trackbacks on their sites because of trackback spam. This is an even bigger problem than comment spam for some people. That’s true probably in part because there’s not generally an expectation that trackbacks are going to clearly be valuable, relevant contributions to the discussion. People often put no thought into writing them, so when we read them we often don’t read them closely and realize they are spam. It’s probably easier to send out trackback spam than it is to send comment spam too.
All of this is likely to change in the near to mid term future as people figure out how to maximize connectedness and conversation while minimizing technical barriers and spam. But for now, that’s what I know about trackbacks. Let me know if you need help sending them to sites you are citing.