If you’re an ardent blogger on Windows Live Spaces, then you’ve probably stumbled across trackbacks. You may have even used them once or twice to create automatic links from other blog entries that point back to your post. For the uninitiated, I posted a write up of trackback basics a while back (take your time, we’ll wait). The use of trackbacks a touchy "gray area" of etiquette among bloggers, because you’re essentially inserting a plug for your blog at the bottom of someone else’s post. It can even become a source of blog spam, prompting some folks to disable trackbacks within their blogs altogether.
However, trackbacks do have plenty of legitimate uses. For instance, you can use them to quickly link related articles in your own blog, particularly those that are part of a continuing series. Sure you could also use categories to help with this type of classification, but it’s not always intuitive to your readers to filter your blog by category. And I suppose you could just edit the individual posts and include hyperlinks to point back and forth between them.
But a trackback is not as random or clumsy as a hyperlink. It’s an elegant kind of link, for a more civilized age.
See, trackbacks have the advantage of appearing at the bottom of the post and directing the reader where to go next. Plus, because they’re designed for scenarios where you can’t manually insert hyperlinks (such as adding references into other people’s posts), they don’t require you to edit your previously published posts.
Here’s how to easily stitch a series of posts together using a trackback:
Write a post and publish it to your Windows Live Spaces blog (we’ll call this one A New Hope). Once it’s published, you’ll see the trackback URL at the bottom of the post (essentially, the URL of the post with a .trak extension instead of a .entry extension).
Next, write a second post (let’s call this one The Empire Strikes Back). Use the web-based editor to add the trackback link from A New Hope (Windows Live Writer doesn’t support trackbacks), and finally publish the post.
Now, go look at A New Hope. It will automagically include a link to The Empire Strikes Back.
Repeat the process for each post in your series. For instance, if you write a third post (called Return of the Jedi, what else?), be sure to include Empire’s trackback URL, and it will automatically continue to link readers through your posts in a logical order.
Yes, trackbacks have fallen out of vogue in blogs these days, because they require forethought and a degree of structure, but I hope you’ll agree they house a tremendous amount of linking goodness. I hope you’ll consider using them next time you have a saga to publish.