Setting a Ping List
Pinging is a powerful way to alert posting and blog searching services that you have posted a new entry. There is a facility within the WordPress administration center for setting a ping list under Options-Writing-Update Services; the standard ping provided with the default installation is Pingomatic. Eliliot Back has provided a useful starting list of ping sites to include with WordPress. In reviewing his list, I looked at and decided to include these entries, excluding dead links and most foreign sites:
What is Trackback?
Trackback is a mechanism for a third-party to post on its own site a detailed response to one of your posts. When done, the third party site pings your site, provides an excerpt ithat displays in the standard comment field, and can then be viewed by URL reference from your comments list. Thus, the third party respondent need not post on both sites and more detailed responses can be provided on each author’s respective site. Trackbacks can also be used for content aggregation purposes by topic.
There are many trackback overviews — which sometimes seem hard to understand because of its poor name — available on the Web. A couple that are useful include the newbie guide from Moveable Type, the original developer of the trackback function and protocol, and a different short version..
Should Trackback be Used?
Initial difficulties in getting trackback configured for my site led me to question whether the function was even desirable. In fact, within the past year, there has been an explosion of spamming against trackback facilities. ‘Trackback is Dead‘ is one of the more provocative discussions arguing that the time for trackback is past; Matthew Mullenweg, a founding developer of WordPress, has spent time looking at how spamming can be overcome.
Because WordPress 1.5 has what appears to be a pretty effective trackback moderating facility — the same as what is used for comments — and because there appear to be some trackback spam filters and other plugin utilities, I decided to implement the feature for now, see if it is used, and if spam does occur deal with that problem at that time.
Configuring and Testing Trackback
My attempts to grapple with trackback had some difficulties, compounded by my fundamental misunderstandings. First, the term is not descriptive, and it took me quite a bit of time to understand exactly what trackback was designed to accomplish. Second, most blogs that have a trackback function show it as a link prior to the comments section. I first had difficulty writing my comments code such that the trackback link URL displayed properly (for some reason, I needed to pass arguments in single quotes, not double quotes). Then, when that problem was fixed, clicking on the link produced a 403 error from my hosting server. This latter problem suggested that I did not have trackback properly configured, when, actually, it was my misunderstanding of how the function worked that was the problem.
The breaktrhrough in understanding came from external sites that offer ping and trackback testing. The one I used was from Red Alt . Definitely use these utilities! I also testing pinging with Pingomation.
The Red Alt instructions showed that my site was indeed sending and receiving pings properly. In fact, the use of the Trackback link appeared solely to be a means to get the reference URL to display for the third party to properly link to it. That caused me to re-think the use of a link in the first place.
Displaying Trackback and Permalinks within Comments Section
To prevent others from having the same confusions I had, I decided to make two changes to how most sites handle trackbacks. First, I decided to eliminate the active links for both trackbacks and permalinks, instead replacing them with more description text fields with URLs that can be copied directly off the browser page. For example, for this post, the references are:
The URI link reference to this post is: http://mkbergman.com/?p=103
The URI to trackback this post is: http://mkbergman.com/wp-context/trackback/?p=103
Second, I also decided to make a clear distinction between direct comments and trackbacks in my post comments field. I did this by testing for the type of comment; if a trackback, it is shown as a a different type. The PHP code for implementing this is as follows, placed into the comments.php file where the comment display loop is shown:
<?php if ($comment->comment_type == ‘trackback’) : ?>
provided a trackback on
<?php else : // the comment is a true comment ?>
<?php endif; ?>
When activitated, a regular comment will show as XXX commented on date; if a trackback, it will show as XXX provided a trackback on date.
With these changes, I now had pinging working, trackback working, and clear distinctions in my comments fields as to true comments or trackbacks.
Author’s Note: I actually decided to commit to a blog on April 27, 2005, and began recording soon thereafter my steps in doing so. Because of work demands and other delays, the actual site was not released until July 18, 2005. To give my ‘Prepare to Blog …’ postings a more contemporaneous feel, I arbitrarily changed posting dates on this series one month forward, which means some aspects of the actual blog were better developed than some of these earlier posts indicate. However, the sequence and the content remain unchanged. A re-factored complete guide will be posted at the conclusion of the ‘Prepare to Blog …’ series, targeted for release about August 18, 2005. mkb