Horst Prillinger explains trackbacks, and discusses when you should and should not trackback. This is something I’ve been thinking about lately too.
Horst’s first point is that you should not ping if your post does not have anything to do with the post you’re pinging, which is good common sense. He also advocates that you don’t trackback if you do nothing more than link to a post without adding to the conversation somehow.
My response to that second point is that some software automatically pings – i.e. if I link to you in a linklog style post, the software will ping you anyway. The software doesn’t differentiate between post styles, it just sees a link, derives a trackback uri and pings. I may be able to tell it not to, but I’ll probably forget.
I can see why Horst feels that a trackback from that sort of post is not worthwhile, as linklogs aren’t really adding to the conversation per se. But you do get some useful information from that sort of ping – it brings to your attention bloggers who are reading you and with whom you may have something in common.
That may seem like a very author-centric reason for accepting this sort of ping, but readers may also derive value from being able to follow the link trail to other blogs which, even though they don’t pass comment may also point to related posts that do.
There’s another circumstance where the value of trackbacks are debatable, and that’s when someone pings even though they are not quoting a post directly, but just talking about the same subject.
I had a trackback like that a while ago and initially I was rather miffed. I’d followed the link back to the referring blog, but there was no link to my blog there at all. In retrospect, I think my annoyance was down to my ego – here was someone implying they had mentioned me and they hadn’t.
On balance, this sort of trackback is no less useful than any other sort. It is, after all, extending the conversation and that is what trackbacks and comments are all about.