The Tar Pit

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Open Letter to N.Z. Bear: Sabertooth confesses!

Dear N.Z. Bear,

About the open track back mini-controversy, you wrote to Don Surber: "I'll explain my reasoning more when I post about it. Given that I haven't done so yet... where did you hear about the change?"

I confess, Don heard about it from me, and I'll explain how I figured out the change after addressing a few points from your post today. You wrote:

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 plead guilty, but I don't feel very guilty. Well, except that my Open Tar Pit #4 made it into the TTLB "Top Posts" page the other day. It wasn't my intention to crowd a more informative post out of the category.

You also said:

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).

Don emailed me asking if it was true that I was filtering open trackbacks, and I responded that I was, but that I hadn't yet announced anything as I was still working on the system. A few minutes later, Don posted my email on his blog (without asking my consent, although I would have granted it). I'm also told that certain other bloggers (not Don) are emailing around trying to fire folks up about the grand injustice of it all.

Since I was the first to notice the change, I'll weigh in here on a few things. I'd been using open track backs as a means to promote my blog and get more readers. No one wants to spend a lot of time at the keyboard just posting into the ether. My blog isn't an aggregator, I'm more interested in deep digging. I often put hours, or sometimes dozens of hours into a post. Why wouldn't I want to promote it? Some of my posts have been noted at TTLB as "hot posts," which has generated a fair amount of traffic for my blog, and yes, I used the open track back system to achieve that. More importantly, as I saw things, my posts were featured in some of the "hot topics" categories, like Bob Woodward and Plamegate.

For anyone who thinks that's been easy, I've spent a lot of time locating the current open trackback threads and then manually tracking back to them, in order to generate links and readers.

So, when I noticed this past weekend that the "hot posts" updates had halted, I wondered what was going on. As I kept an eye on TTLB movement in "hot topics" and the Ecosystem, I thought I detected a filtering pattern regarding open track backs, but I looked around TTLB and the blogosphere a little and didn't find anything conclusive, or any information at all. Since I wasn't sure whether a filter had been implemented or if something else might be going on I decided to ask around privately.

Here's the e-mail I sent out yesterday to folks at about 15 or so OTB blogs:


I have a question for Open Track Back participants, which I'm addressing to a few of you whose email addresses I could find. Does it appear to anyone else that TTLB is filtering certain links, though not all, by members of the trackback alliances, since about Saturday?

Check out the hot posts updates on the main page:

No updates there since a post of mine, as it happens. Prior to that there were updates every few hours.

Check out any of the "hot Topics" pages listed here:

Very few alliance members in the "Today" columns, compared to last week, and the posts that are there have much fewer links than what our posts were putting up in those columns last week. I posted a couple of articles yesterday that were linked by many of you, and there was nary a blip on the TTLB radar. I've appreciated all of your trackbacks last week because they helped bring in hundreds of new readers.

Am I the only one detecting a trend? If so, what are our options? Is it possible that TTLB has installed a script that targets the Open Track Back blogrolls in some way?

I should also add that I posted a cut and paste of a few days worth of TTLB's recent "Top Posts," which I thought further illustrated the trend.

So, the purpose of my initial e-mail was to start a private conversation about what might be going on at TTLB and what adjustments might be made before going off half-cocked, not to "fire folks up about the grand injustice of it all." If some folks got fired up, that was sui generis.

Holly Aho at Soldier's Angel has a good take:

And while I'm at it - I want to call a few bloggers on the carpet. Torches were being lit and pitchforks grabbed without ever having tried to discuss the issue. Calls to protest were urged without any suggestions on how to perhaps do this differently. Protesting without suggestions for improvement or change - sounds familiar I'm sad to say. All I'm seeing are posts condemning this new possible change or posts saying who cares. How about a thoughtful post on why this might be a reasonable step to take and how it might be improved upon.

I'm 100% in favor of this approach. Ignoring inline trackbacks doesn't entirely solve the problem, however the problem might be defined. Since I use Haloscan I link to trackbacks manually, so it seems the links I post are still counted. There are other workarounds that would be simple to undertake that would defeat any filter that might be implemented, but I don't want to describe them here, I want to to participate in a conversation and hopefully reach a consensus that assumes and ensures mutual good will among the various parties involved. If open trackbacks are determined not to be kosher for the Ecosystem, I won't be doing any workarounds. But I wonder if subject-specific track back parties, blogbursts, blogswarms, carnivals, etc. won't also be hindered because of the new open track back filter. Wouldn't an honor system be a better way to go?

Here's problem with your current solution: you're throwing some baby out with that bathwater. All of the links below are specifically about your post at TTLB. They took a fair amount of time to locate and organize. Every link I've made here will be counted by TTLB, but when I track back, which will take some time, any inline links to my round up won't be counted. Would these really be junk links?



Linking to posts on this subject by

Decision '08:
N.Z. Bear Announces New Policy: No Open Trackbacks for Ecosystem

Don Surber:
Of Course There's an Open Post
Et Tu, NZ Bear?

Adam's Blog:
We The Bloggers: A Petition to Truth Laid Bear
Bloggers to TTLB: You're Not Google

The Florida Masochist:
NZ Bear, TTLB, Open Trackback festivals, the future of TFM and who's the leaker?

Alabama Improper:
Truth Laid Bear And Open Trackbacks! HA!
Link Whoring Entry

TMH's Bacon Bits:
Open Trackback Parties, TTLB, and Orwell

Iowa Voice:
No More "Open Trackbacks"?

Random Mentality:
Trackback Issues

No Slack For Trackback Open Trackback Party

Stop the ACLU:
NZ Bear Killing the Trackback Parties

The Crazy Rants of Samantha Burns:
Open Trackback Alliance (OTA) and TTLB

Atlas Shrugs:
Honest Ranking in the EcoSystem

Joe's Cafe:
A Post about Posting

area fifty-one:
Open Trackback Parties Continue...

Outside the Beltway:
Ecosystem Blocking Open Trackbacks

Change Afoot in the TTLB

The Truth Laid Bear:
Link Sluts