Will spam kill trackbacks for good?

Seems the various efforts to limit comment spam across the different blogging packages is having an effect as lately the spammers appear to be targeting trackbacks instead across all blogging platforms that support it. Over the past couple of months there have been reports of massive trackback spamming from various bloggers and it’s prompted more than a few to completely disable trackbacks altogether.

Both MovableType and ExpressionEngine have blacklist filters available for them that work pretty well against comment and trackback spam, but there’s a lot of effort involved in maintaining them because they can only block what they know about. In the case of ExpressionEngine the same blacklist is used for filtering comments, trackbacks, and referrer spam and as a result anything you add to the blacklist is applied to all three areas. This is why SEB hasn’t suffered any trackback spam in the latest round of attacks. I’m pretty obsessive about scanning my referral logs and adding in anything that’s obviously a referral spam even though I don’t display referrers on my sites. The reason is simple: Today’s referrer spammer is tomorrow’s comment or trackback spammer.

This can be tedious, though, and a lot of folks understandably don’t want to be bothered with it. Most folks value comments enough to work at keeping those clear of spam, but trackbacks aren’t considered as important so the trend appears to be to just abandon them rather than fight with the spammers. There’s some debate on whether trackbacks lived up to their full potential in the first place as some folks managed to come up with all manner of interesting uses for trackback, but most of us just used it as a means of knowing when someone at another blog wrote something that linked to one of our entries.

Still, a lot of us liked it for just that reason. The folks at Six Apart that originally developed trackbacks and released it as an open standard don’t seem to be making any moves to try and improve or change trackbacks to address the growing spam problem anytime soon, but for some people that’s OK as they feel it’s outlived its usefulness and needs to be replaced with something newer and better. One option a lot of folks are adapting is simply generating a link that looks up the URL for their entries on Technorati and using that service as a form of trackback. Advantages include the fact that nothing has to be done on the part of either blog as Technorati does all the work as long as both blogs ping Technorati when they update. No trackback links to generate or hunt for, no extra server time spent responding and processing pings, etc. Disadvantages include the fact that you don’t receive notifications when someone links to your entries and if Technorati goes offline from some reason then you can’t look up who’s linking to your entries.

It appears that the simplicity of this solution is winning out over the disadvantages with a lot of people and there’s even been a proposal by Shelley over at Burningbird for making use of the emerging folksinomy systems people are developing in conjunction with Technorati’s tags to put a little more control over the process back into blogger’s hands. She calls it “Tagback” and all I need to do to have this entry tie into hers at Technorati is add the following link: . That’s pretty nifty.

So are we nearing the end of trackback after a mere three years? That really depends on how many bloggers decide it’s important enough to continue to use in the face of the growing spam attacks it’s going to invite. The blacklist systems available for most blogging packages do an effective job of limiting these attacks, but are only as good as the lists they’re comparing against which require effort to keep up with. Linking to Technorati can be automated and it’s simple in comparison. Add in the potential that the new folksinomy systems people are experimenting with might hold and it’s arguable how much of an actual loss leaving trackback behind would be.

5 thoughts on “Will spam kill trackbacks for good?

  1. I’ve actually disabled trackbacks on mine because of the damned comment spam.  Unfortunately, with wordpress, these type of messages don’t require me to approve the comment.  So it bypasses all the security of the normal comment system.  🙁

  2. It’s very little more effort to manage the trackback spam than comment spam in general (though MT lacks a granularity to allow trackback moderation—which must means that the blocked TBs just drop into the ether).  I don’t have a compelling reason as yet to drop TBs, though adding links to Technorati (and Google) seem like good ideas.

    Don’t get the Tagback thing, though.

  3. When I clicked on the Technorati link up there, it took about 45 seconds to bring up the page. This has always been my biggest beef with remote web services. They slow things down.

    I don’t have any objections to “moderating” trackback’s. I don’t think the person pinging would mind waiting a few hours for their trackback to get moderated.

    I did get hit with a trackback spam a short while back. I can’t remember if WP1.5 dealt with it in the same fashion as comment spam. I would certainly expect that the WP people are well aware of the problem and are doing what they can to help blog owners deal with the problem better.

    My site doesn’t seem to be the target of many spammers these days. I have only had about 6 since I switched to WP. Those were dealt with nicely by both WP and the plugin’s I use.

    Side note: I did get comment spam with EE. Of course they were entered by hand by someone, which I find immensely funny.

    Also, to help spread the news about this. I have a post about a new referral spam blocker that is only about 12 lines of PHP, but nails the problem beautifully! It sends the referrer back to the site that they are trying to referral spam. I love it. Info on it is located here.

  4. ***Dave, that’s interesting that your MT install thinks trackbacks aren’t working here. I think your blog is one of the few that doesn’t seem to like EE’s trackback URLs.

    If you enter the URL in your browser directly you’ll get an error message indicating the information is incomplete, which shows it’s working. Unlike MT, you’re not pinging a separate script when you send a trackback to an EE blog. It’s the same script that you hit when you come to the site with a browser and it simply looks at the URL you’re using to determine what to do with it. If you can get to the site normally then you should be able to ping it. Odd.

    Dave M., I’m not thrilled with using outside services either, but I also don’t know how often anyone actually looks at the trackbacks we do receive let alone would make use of Technorati searches so the speed may not be a big issue.

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