Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Trackbacks died last night

I disabled trackbacks last night. Somewhat sad about it, but it seems to be all the rage. TypePad announced plans to disable trackbacks and WordPress may be soon to follow.

I've never been a fan of the trackback protocol. Last night I looked at great many voices--some I was re-reading having first seen them over 10 years ago!--talking about the weakness in Six Apart's Trackback specification and slow definition of a version 2.0 that would include some kind of authentication mechanism. There were quite a few 10 year old posts talking about the death of the trackback...then. It may have taken 10 years to finally die however.

For me trackbacks became a spam vector that grew into a management problem. I just didn't want to spend 5 minutes a day or 15 minutes at the end of the week purging the moderation queue when every. single. trackback. was just spam. It was tiresome. 

My platform has support for trackbacks, pingbacks, and comments, including comment and trackback throttling (throttling is the ability to reduce trackbacks from a single IP to manage volume). I never get pingbacks due to the low adoption of the specification on many platforms, but it is the HTTP "back link" protocol I liked the most.

Ian Hickson wrote extensively about the pros of pingbacks vs. cons of trackbacks in 2002. I've been a convert to the specification ever since. While there have been emotional arguments to saving trackbacks, as a developer and actual maintainer of a blogging platform, I'm not convinced by touch feely arguments about making new friends because of trackbacks. Sorry, but I'm not seeking friends in the spam community. And making friends is not a specification that can be defined, so let's keep the death of the trackback moderately scientific in nature.

My appreciation of the pingback specification is not because it has the authentication that is missing from trackback, both don't seem to have any defined support. My appreciation is about the simplicity: it's just HTTP. There's no auto discovery necessary, no IDs, etc. Pingback just used good old HTTP and HTML metadata. And yet, while I have pingbacks on and trackbacks off, I don't expect a flood of the former. The specification kind of took off in 2002-2003 but fizzled in support.

Alas, this is all moot: with TypePad removing support, Blogger never really making it easy to support, and WordPress considering dropping support...2013 might be the year that the Trackback really died. Pingbacks may quietly follow.

Posted by caffeinated at 12:21 PM in experimental madness


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Comment: Lorelle at Tue, 9 Apr 4:48 PM

Sorry you are taking unnecessary drastic measures. Instead of turning trackbacks off, demand your spam filter program adds trackback verification. Consider becoming part of the solution not the problem.

I've done an informal study over the years on the issue of trackback spam and find it represents a tiny part of all comment spam. I find TypePad's move a baby with the bath water excuse as it doesn't merit the facts of comment spam.

I know it is a blight, and it is your choice, but the greater disease is comment spam. That has to be put to rest once and for all. Wish there was more we could all do to dissuade evil doers on this account.

Comment: Tim at Tue, 9 Apr 6:59 PM


I don't necessarily see it as a "drastic measure" to disable trackbacks. The simple fact is that the trackback specification has not evolved in 10 years and as a developer of a blogging platform written in Java, I've tracked this. A simple truth is trackback spam is a problem. A serious problem.

Every April I participate in Blogging A-to-Z. I get zero trackbacks on my biggest traffic month, bet the activity on my blog spikes traffic. Through out the year of 2012 I got (looking at my database) 753 trackbacks. 753 of them... spam. not a single valid trackback.

Without an auth mechanism in the spec, trackbacks will die. Unfortunately, the spec didn't evolve. TypePad may be leading the way. It will never go away from tools like blojsom (this blog engine) or Wordpress given plugins, but without official support in the platform, it will not be enabled and trackbacks will die. It hurts me too in some small way, but given my experiences, I've made a decision that reflects the amount of time saved from managing the spam.

Talking about it raises awareness, but our small voices can't fix a dead specification that has been pinched by spammers.

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