Until newspapers embrace trackback, they’re not really part of the Web.
Weblogs aren’t powerful because a handful of A-list bloggers are influencing their loyal dittoheads. Weblogs are powerful because they’re part of a web of their own where millions of individual bloggers are pointing to stories — amplifying, clarifying, or debunking them. The size and complexity of this web-within-the-Web is staggering.
The power of all these links is multiplied by the power of trackback, which links a story back to any story that links to it, as long as both stories are on sites that support the trackback protocol. Trackback is the most original and important innovation that blogs brought to the Web, and is the last one that newspapers are likely to adopt. When you read a story, you know who’s pointing to it and what they’re saying about it. Trackback creates the kind of context and metadata for each story that you can’t buy at any price.
Trackback also provides accountability that comments cannot. You can’t get a trackback link unless you have a site that supports trackback and you’re willing to disclose your identity (or at least one of them).
Trackback is so good and so well accepted that it’s a requirement for weblog software. It should be a required feature for content management in general. Trackback solves the problems of the one-way nature of Web links and is especially useful for news stories.
Trackback is powerful, and it can be merciless. When SixApart announced its licensing terms for Movable Type 3.0, its users condemned the license on their sites, and linked to the announcement. Hundreds of trackback links to these negative stories festooned the announcement and created a network of dialog and feedback. SixApart had the nerve (or the good sense) not to interfere with the process, and eventually things calmed down a little. They banked some karma by leaving those trackbacks in place — karma that will stand them in good stead as they turn Movable Type into a for-pay product.
If they’re going to succeed on the Web, Online newspaper publishers are going to have to let go of the paralyzing fear that somebody, somewhere is going to make a little money from pointing people to their content.