Trackbacks vs. Retweets

by Luke Wroblewski November 19, 2009

Over the past year or so, I've noticed an interesting trend here on Functioning Form that I believe is happening on many other blog and content sites across the Web. Trackbacks are steadily being overtaken by retweets. Let me explain what that means.

If I publish an article on my blog that people find interesting, some portion of them may want to share it with others publicly or privately. Sharing privately is usually done through email or instant messaging. Public sharing can be done explicitly through social networks (Facbeook) and social news sites (Digg) or a bit more implicitly by saving something of interest to you on a public site (Delicious) where it can also benefit others. Public sharing also happens on personal publishing channels.

When someone with a personal publishing channel (like a blog or online magazine) writes a post that references an article I wrote, I get a trackback. A trackback is simply a notification that someone is linking to your article online. But creating content that generates a trackback takes time. If someone wanted to share my article with the readers of their blog, they had to fire up a blog editor, create a new entry, title it, write the entry, edit/proofread it, tag and categorize it, and finally publish it to their site. That's a lot of effort to simply point people to something you find interesting.

If instead someone uses a micro-blogging service like Twitter (and 50 million people do) as their personal publishing channel, the level of effort required to share something goes way down. There's no need to enter the admin panel to create a new entry, there's only 140 characters worth of text to write and edit (which is most often just copied from the original source), and a retweet function has now been added that reduces the level of effort to a single click.

trackbacks vs. retweets

So it's no wonder, that content is increasingly shared in this lightweight and fast way.