Ecosystem Blocking Open Trackbacks

N.Z. Bear has revised the rules of the Ecosystem to fix an increasing problem–and one that I’ve been a part of: Open Posts & Inline Trackbacks. This will likely be of zero interest to non-bloggers, so I’ve put the rest in the Extended Entry.

Recently, I’ve been noticing that the phenomenon of “open trackback” posts has been becoming more and more widespread across the blogosphere. […] It seems to me that the main motivation of such posts is simply to provide a quick and easy way for bloggers to generate links to each other, without any real regard for the substance of each other’s posts. The links, rather than symbolizing and codifying the relationship between two posts, or two blogs, have become an end in themselves.

I believe the Ecosystem has created at least part of the motivation to do open trackbacks, and this troubles me. My goal has always been to reflect, as accurately as possible, what is truly popular and interesting in the ‘sphere — not distort it by creating bogus incentives for blogs to create automatic links to each other with no real meaning.


And guess what: it works. Over time, I’ve noticed that some bloggers are using Open Trackbacks to systematically work their way up in the Ecosystem rankings, and more recently, to ensure that their posts are flagged on my Top Posts pages.

So this weekend, I decided to do something about it. I implemented a simple solution: when the Ecosystem scans a blog’s front page for links, it now simply ignores any inline trackback sections that are found, while still counting the links within posts or on a blog’s blogroll.

I haven’t announced the change because a) I was still debugging it and b) I didn’t really think anybody would notice so quickly. But it turns out, Don Surber and some others are apparently watching my stuff so closely that they figured out what I was doing almost immediately (which, I think, says something in itself).

Given that I have run the Beltway Traffic Jam, something of a pioneer in the Open Trackback movement, just a little over two years and have had inline trackbacks even longer, I’m a part of the problem. And, while increasing my own traffic and calling attention to new blogs were my main motivations, it helped inflate my ranking in the Ecosystem somewhat. So mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

But Bear’s move here is a good one. Indeed, I even lobbied for it.

As Bear notes, the Ecosystem was created to help rank blogs based on their influence within the Blogosphere. Systemic use of Open Trackbacks wildly distorts that purpose.

Look at the Ecosystem rankings as of this moment:

Higher Beings (4171) details
2.Michelle Malkin (4011) details
3.Daily Kos: State of the Nation (3170) details
4.Stop The ACLU (3107) details
5.Power Line (2958) details
6.lgf: those who are tardy do not get fruit cup (2427) details
7.Captain’s Quarters (2420) details
8.Boing Boing: A Directory of Wonderful Things (2350) details
9.Hugh Hewitt (2038) details
10.Mudville Gazette (1957) details

Mortal Humans

11.Eschaton (1949) details
12.The Volokh Conspiracy – – (1891) details
13.DRUDGE REPORT 2005® (1809) details
14.Wizbang (1778) details (1770) details
16.The Washington Monthly (1661) details
17.Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall (1651) details
18.Day by Day (1631) details
19.The Huffington Post (1616) details
20.Spread Firefox | Igniting the web (1567) details
21.Don Surber (1565) details
22.Le Sabot Post-Moderne (1526) details
23.RealClearPolitics (1494) details
24.La Shawn Barber̢۪s Corner (1471) details
25.The Political Teen (1436) details
26.the evangelical outpost — Culture, politics, and religion from an evangelical worldview. (1419) details
27.Making Light (2023) details – Daily Dish (1405) details
29.BLACKFIVE (1343) details
30.Right Wing News (Conservative News and Views) (1301) details

There are some longstanding flaws in the list, such as the inclusion of the Drudge Report, Day By Day, Spread Firefox, and other non-blogs. But something else stands out, too: Several highly ranked blogs that comparatively few people read.

The most obvious is “4.Stop The ACLU (3107) details.” Jay has done some interesting work there, carving out an interesting niche for himself in very short order. But is his really a more influential site than Power Line? He no longer has a SiteMeter counter, so he’s not listed on Bear’s traffic rankings. But he has BlogAds. Their order page shows the site getting 39,844 page views last week–and that’s way up, considering that his ad copy promises “over 20,000 page views a week.” By contrast, Power Line had 682,464 page views in the last seven days.

Don Surber is angry about this solution and does not understand its rationale.

And this business about everyone being the same is false. How does his software distinguish between Malkin or Glenn writing one line and getting 50 links without linking back and me writing one line and getting 20 links and not linking back until after work?

But why would we distinguish these things. People are linking Glenn and Michelle (especially Glenn, since he has no Trackbacks at all) because they found something interesting at their sites and wanted to draw attention to it. They’re linking Open Trackback posts (including my Traffic Jam) because they are getting a link back. The former is the entire purpose of the Ecosystem.

I have now written more copy today than certain posters will combined today. That’s only fair. I will get as many hits today as they do in a half-hour.

Certainly true. Those who write good copy that interests a wide variety of people will, over time, build an audience. Don has himself generated several posts that have been linked on their own merits. Open Trackback posts, on the other hand, contribute nothing to the discussion.

In a previous post, Don illustrates that Reynolds links a lot of people while generating little content. While that’s often true, I’d note that Glenn does indeed write substantive posts from time-to-time on a wide variety of topics. Moreover, his talent for reading widely and linking to posts that an extraordinary number of people find interesting has found him a niche.

Let’s see, open posts are not to be counted, but Instapundit’s many links that get linkbacks are. But that was what we were doing, linking and then taking linkbacks.

But, again, the whole idea of the Ecosystem is to count links to a post because they reflect what other bloggers are talking about. Open linkbacks don’t do that; they are links to nothing.

In yet another post, Don recounts an email discussion with Bear wherein he writes, “You are stifling startup blogs though We are not stupid. We figure these things out.” But that’s not true. Lots of blogs climb the ecosystem.

Now, sure, it’s hard. It was hard when I started OTB in early 2003. It’s even harder now, with so many blogs out there and so many very good blogs already established. But being at the top of the Ecosystem isn’t the goal of blogging, it’s a measurement of having reached those goals. Startup blogs get to the top of the Ecosystem all the time by typing in the wrong URL and getting credit for, say, all of the links pointing to Blogspot. What does that prove, exactly?

I’ll keep both inline trackbacks and the Traffic Jam because I think they serve a useful purpose. They’ll probably draw less attention in the future because of this change in the Ecosystem’s counting. If the result is a better measure of “influence” in the Blogosphere, though, that’s fine by me.

FILED UNDER: Best of OTB, Blogosphere, Religion, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bill says:


    Bear’s new system is flawed still.

    1- It excludes all honest to goodness inline trackbacks including ones that link posts on the same topic. You may have noticed, I link to your posts like that five times a week on average.

    2- People can still do the trackbacks like Don Surber or I do by manually inputting the URLS.

    All Bear has done is create more work for himself and other bloggers plus hurt others who benefit from this. Its Bear’s system but he even has said it, it was for fun.


    PS- All these open trackbacks and my Blogosphere status has stayed relatively the same but my traffic is up about 10-15%.

  2. Squiggler says:

    I’m going to have to think this through, but it seems like a good move. Many of us believe we have salient comments about subjects that we link back to. The links, at least on my blog, take you to the original article that generated my interest in the first place. Therefore, I get few trackbacks and probably the original post I’m linking to gets all the traffic, even if I’m only referencing them.

    I think the one thing I find the most frustrating is that as a general rule, I get more comments to posts I put up that neither link nor trackback to anyone else. These are usually posts of a very personal nature, while those posts I consider hard hitting or so scintillating it is beyond belief they aren’t winning awards (ducking) are ignored. Go figure.

    I had my blog nearly 8 months before I joined the Ecosystem. I knew about it, but had a bit of a reverse snobbery thing going on at first and didn’t want to be boxed in by someone else’s criteria. Then when I did join, my only goal was to stop being an insignificant amoeba. Once I attained that goal, the rest has been gravy.

    A thanks to all the bloggers, this past year for me has been one heck of a ride and I appreciate all of you, whether at the top of the heap or just a little guy/gal starting out.

  3. Doc, I told NZ Bear privately and publicly: Your site, your rules. No anger. No furious.
    I make no apology. I used the Echosystem to publicize Actual Posts. I will find another way to get my message out

  4. Bithead says:

    Well, here’s another poser for TTLB… I think as of tonight, I’ve figured our where my hit rates are going… Adboocker on Mozilla is blocking the SiteMeter Script. I can’t imagine that’s not going to screw things up a bit in he ecosystem.

  5. I got tired of the trackback parties, so I generally think this is a good move.

  6. Well, this is exactly why I don’t pay any attention to the TTLB. I believe firmly in making my own way and not inflating my own numbers, which I see TTLB ecosystem, Blogrolls such as Blogs4Bush, etc to be. Granted, I’m having a hard time growing, but then again, to me the point of blogging isn’t wrapped up in numbers or making the A, B or C list… That’s just me.