Trackback Ethics

I have a somewhat ethical question related to Trackbacks. But I'll start with an explanation. Several sites allow you to add a Trackback manually if you don't have the feature built into your weblog tool. (eg. BlogFodder, BlogPopuli, LazyWeb.) And there's no authentication or identity management that goes along with these. They're open for anyone and everyone to add a Trackback linking to any post on any site. (It relies on the honor system + moderation + IP Logging [hopefully!] from the site administrators.)

As Trackbacks are used now, there's an extra bit of information that doesn't show up on the page: the implication that it was the author of the remote post that initiated the Trackback. Is it wrong to use one of these open forms to trackback a post that you didn't write?

For example, Mena posted about her panel at SXSW and I'd like to see it under that panel's entry at the SXSW Notes Exchange. And I could add it with the open form. But should I? This example is no big deal, and I don't think Mena would mind too much. But I can think of situations where this would be a problem. I think Trackbacks could be used for all sorts of information aggregation, but the author-implication could restrict its use.

Comments

PB: I think you raise a very valid point. What I think works about TrackBack is that there is a definite act on the author's part. They feel that the ping is worth being sent, therefore they send it. It's a concious decision. When there is a form to send a ping, and the ping is sent from someone other than the post originator, it defeats that relationship.

However, the forms do serve a very good purpose: TrackBack is not implemented on a wide-enough software scale and those who do not use MT (or another TB-enabled tool) do not want to be left out. Take the Supernova conference, for example. It had a TB-enabled repository that was a huge success because of the form option.

I would like to reach the point where enough people are using TrackBack within their tools so that forms aren't necessary. Ideally, TB will also have to become increasingly transparent.

(By the way, I pinged the notes for our panel)
(Thanks, Mena!)

I think that leaving the author-implication is too limiting to Trackbacks, though. What if someone is an expert in, say, medieval swords. And this person scours blogs to find information about swords. Instead of copying entire posts, this expert would simply like to Trackback the posts and create a collection of links to outside sources along with an excerpt. Having all potential uses for a post be approved by the originating author is a bottleneck. The post author may not know about the medieval sword site...or may not have time to participate. Having the concept of Trackbacks more open would allow it to be used for all kinds of applications. (Just thinking out loud here.)
Submitting masqueraded trackbacks is a little like submitting masqueraded comments. Nothing stops us from the latter; I suppose we'll have to find a way to live with the former.
In the scenario I mentioned, though, Trackbacks are used as a way to aggregate information...so they're not necessarily "masqueraded" Trackbacks. It's just using the system/technology for a purpose other than its current primary implementation. I think playing with the convention that a Trackback is always from the author could expand their uses. (and usefulness.)
Personally, I'd rather be pinged by a third party than be pinged by TrackBack autodiscovery. I completely agree with Mena that what makes TrackBack work is someone saying "there should be a link from this post to that post," but other than people getting used to the idea, I'm less concerned that it be the author of a post doing the saying. In fact, I've considered building myself a third-party pinging tool, for all the times when I see someone who thinks that TrackBack is a substitute for comments asking a question that I know someone else's post answers. I suppose it would get a bit ugly, with Over The Toppers running around pinging every Undersider's post from a The One True Way To Install The Toilet Paper post, but that's bound to happen eventually anyway.
It raises a core question that I've been noticing more and more over the past five years. Integrity today is waning. Where has it gone?

The internet has brought to light that people will do all manner of things if you remove accountability from the equation. Why is that? Were our parents or their parents the same? Have we changed on the rule as a society?

I know this wasn't your original line of concern, but it certainly made me think. Thanks.

And I'm Will, by the way.
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