While this whole Web2.0 thing appears to be little more than a vast cloud — a miasma, almost — of hype and buzzwords (maybe a swarm of buzzing words), there is a core of solid concept to it that should not be overlooked. The parts of the Web2.0 phenomenon that actually work when applied as designed work exceedingly well.
The reason these things work is pretty simple, and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, unless you’re going to be surprised that people haven’t done this sooner. It’s just a matter of applying socioeconomic principles and game theory (in many cases, the same thing) to the problem of enhancing your web presence. More than any other endeavor that springs immediately to mind, the strength of one’s web presence is directly linked to providing a valuable service or product to the general public: information. Information is distinct from data in that it is organized for maximum usefulness. The greater the degree of useful organization of the data you make available, the more generally useful the data itself, and the more such data you provide, the greater your power to inform — and the greater the use others can make of your website.
The Web places control over the user experience ultimately in the hands of the clients. They have the option at any time of going somewhere else. As such, they must be enticed with value. Shallow marketing ploys may draw in first-time viewers, but for the most part they will fail to grant you return visitors. Unless your revenue model is based on making money from ad clicks from people desperate to escape your ugly, useless website (don’t laugh, there are a couple websites out there that make real money like this), you need return “customers”. You need people to not only return, but also direct others to you. The social networking characteristics of this Web2.0 phenomenon, where they are effectively employed, are exceedingly good at providing the benefit of visitors: it’s then up to you to keep them coming back.
One example in particular of how to use Web2.0 methodologies to draw readers into your website, assuming for the sake of argument that we’re talking about a weblog, is the ultimate topic of this SOB entry: trackbacks and pingbacks.
Trackbacks and pingbacks are essentially the same thing. The difference is that trackbacks require you to jump through extra hoops to get them to work, if you’re the tracking party (as opposed to the backtracking party). It’s worth the effort, however, because it provides instant link love from others: when you link to someone else’s weblog post, a trackbackor pingback inserts a link into that website that leads back to you. This draws interested parties to contribute on your weblog, and it provides the people reading the backtracking or backpinging weblog with more context for the topic of discussion to which it referred.
As an administrator of a weblog site, it is definitely in your best interest to provide trackback and pingback service. This typically manifests thus: someone reads something you had to say, writes something related in his own weblog, links to what you said. Via either trackbacks or pingbacks, your weblog software automatically creates a link with some excerpted text from the other person’s weblog for context, preferably somewhere useful such as in the comments area on your weblog post.
Now, someone shortsighted and self-centered who is trying to get away with something rather than merely participating in a mutually beneficial economic relationship might look for a way to encourage incoming links without using trackbacks and pingbacks. Such a person might think of this as some kind of competition where people only “win” by making other people “lose”, and want to ensure that he is always at least breaking even with the other “winners”. Such a person might thus wish to deny links to others, preventing them from getting reciprocal traffic, and look for ways to “trap” readers at his own weblog. Such a person would in fact be doing himself a great disservice by exempting himself from the mutually beneficial sharing of link love made possible by trackbacks and pingbacks. Disallowing trackbacks and pingbacks only hurts you, because people are less likely to link to you when you are stingy about reciprocation. Self-centered market dominance tactics wherein one attempts to “win” by making others “lose” are more visible and obviously unpleasant than you might realize.
Allow pingbacks in your weblogs. I cannot stress this enough. The reduction in effort involved in taking advantage of pingbacks (where the incoming link is automatically detected and the reciprocal link is automatically inserted) is a distinct positive characteristic in encouraging others to link to you. Even if you’re not in this for the fame, you wouldn’t be publicly posting your thoughts to the web if you didn’t want complete strangers to come by and contribute to interesting discussion (or, if you would, you’re not very smart), and this is one of the most effective ways to get that.
Allowing trackbacks is an excellent idea as well. It places a greater effort burden on people getting reciprocal links from your weblog when linking to it than allowing pingbacks, because the person needs to explicitly specify a trackback URL for your weblog post for it to work. This means it is not as effective in encouraging incoming links, because people don’t like effort. They’d rather link to someone posting the same general ideas elsewhere, where pingbacks are implemented. On the other hand, when the pingback technology fails to notice an incoming link, trackbacks can provide a nice fall-back, a safety-net if you will, so that the opportunity to mutually benefit from reciprocal linking is still there. With trackbacks, however, make darn well certain that the trackback URL is not hard to find. Make it clear and obvious. Don’t make people guess based on which weblogging software you use or search throughout your website for it. Do not force people to guess what changes need to be made to a general-purpose trackback URL for it to work for a given post, either: ensure that the URL is available on the same page as the post to which someone might link, and that the URL is customized (automatically) for that page as much as necessary so no real thinking need be done by the would-be linker.
There’s a downside to trackbacks and pingbacks: spammers. Call them spingers or spacklers or whatever else you like, there’s a new breed of unregenerate marketing blood flukes attempting to suck nutrients out of your precious weblog fluids in acts of drive-by parasitism. It is for this reason, if no other, that you should implement post moderation for first-time trackbackers and pingbackers. When someone who has never linked to your weblog before without getting a trackback or pingback approved does so, it should go into a moderation queue, and not directly onto the page. This requires a little more effort from you, of course, as you then need to examine what’s in the queue and determine whether it’s worthy of approval, but if your system is set up to allow you to provide blanket approval for a given source once you determine that the person in question is not a spammer (as WordPress does), you’re home free.
There is one exception to using trackbacks and pingbacks. Someone like Randy Charles Morin, who obsessively tracks down incoming linkers without the benefit of trackbacks and pingbacks (as far as I’m aware), and makes a specific effort to link back to them with a personal touch, actually provides a far better alternative to trackbacks and pingbacks — at least, better for someone like me, who (very) occasionally links to him. The effort involved in that, however, is well outside the realm of reasonability for me, with my schedule, so I rely on trackbacks and pingbacks instead.
By the way, Randy runs something like a dozen different weblogs (I’m sure that’s an exaggeration, but still) that are usually updated at least daily. The man makes Real Money at this “blogging” thing: I’m impressed to have grossed just over $20 since February via my blog, and he probably makes more than that every day on his Google ads. While I don’t necessarily agree 100% with everything he has to say about how to improve the effectiveness of your weblog, I do tend to agree at least 98%, and even when I disagree it gets me thinking about the matter in a way that is ultimately beneficial. He posts tips and tricks about such things in a number of venues quite regularly, and he is definitely worth the read if you want to benefit from his extensive weblogging experiences.