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The Debate Over Comments and Trackbacks

Which came first? The comment or the trackback?

Or should I be more clear in my question? Which should come first? The comments or the trackbacks?

I have long been a fan of separating trackbacks from comments. Comments are the dialog and trackbacks are the outside discussions, incoming links from sites discussing the topic on their own tangent. In some cases, trackbacks are also virtual letters of recommendation, statements others make about your post.

However, the placement of the comments first, then the trackbacks, or visa versa, is one I’ve battled with from day one. Which should come first in the best order of things?

Comments First Makes Sense

Example of a comment in WordPressHaving the comments come right after the post text makes sense. You are reading it and the comments directly connect with the post text. If I want to double check a comment against what the writer wrote, I don’t have to scroll too far to get back to the post content to check it out.

With comments coming first, the conversation flows out of the content. I like that.

However, if I want to comment, I have to scroll past the trackbacks to get to the comment form. Often, I’m replying to the last comment, not just the post, and I have to scroll back up past the trackbacks to reread the comment if I’m distracted while writing my comment. Thus, the conversation is broken between the comment form and the last comment by the trackbacks.

Trackbacks First Makes Sense

example of Trackbacks in WordPressIf the key to the comments is to continue the conversation, then there should be no break between a comment and the comment form. You read a comment and you want to reply immediately, right?

So having the trackbacks first makes sense if it connects the comments and the comment form together for speedy comments. But then it puts a separation between the post and the first comment. Hmmm.

Still, reading through the trackbacks, hopefully the nice things people have had to say about the post, helps the conversation by supporting the post premise. The purpose of trackbacks is not only to show you who is talking about your posts and to connect all these related-subject posts and blogs together, but to also be mini letters of recommendation (or critism) about the post. Trackbacks act like post reviews.

I also like knowing what other people are saying on their blogs about this issue. It saves me from repeating their words if they are saying what I want to say.

Still, scrolling past all the trackbacks to get to the comments is tedious, as is scrolling up and down past the trackbacks and the comments to return to the post to recall a specific point in the post. So trackbacks before comments might work, but it also gets in the way.

What’s the Answer to Trackbacks or Comments First?

So I’m still in a quandary about whether trackbacks or comments should come first. They both make sense, and both don’t work well together.

Some WordPress Themes and blog designs and layouts combine trackbacks and comments together. That’s a good way of doing it if you want no separation between the post and the comment form, but trackbacks still get in the way of the conversation, don’t they? How do you really know which is a trackback and which is a comment unless the designer customized and highlighted them?

There are other ways of highlighting trackbacks. Some feature them as post meta data at the end of the post, with small fonts in a box or some distinguishing feature that makes your eye easily skip over them as a group to get to the comments.

Others have started including them after the comment form since they really aren’t something someone might reply to. Things on a page after the comment form are often missed by the reader, so putting them out of site doesn’t help their importance to the whole conversation.

I’ve seen a few layouts that put comments and trackbacks in columns, with the comments on the left, in line with the comment form below, and the trackbacks on the right like another sidebar. This makes sense, but it also squishes the comments into narrow columns and can make the page more difficult to read unless the columns are clearly separated.

So what is your answer to this puzzling dilemma. Should comments come first or trackbacks? What would be a good alternative to the comments verses trackbacks placement?


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Copyright Lorelle VanFossen, member of the 9Rules Network

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  1. Posted January 10, 2007 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    I like trackbacks first with javascript to “hide” the trackbacks until you click the “show trackbacks” link.

  2. Posted January 10, 2007 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Well, what I did was add a “Jump To Comments” on my side bar in the single post. In retrospect, I should also add the Jump To Comments right next to my Trackbacks as well which come before comments.

    It’s a simple solution and doesn’t require fancy javascripts, and you know what they say about simple solutions.

  3. Posted January 10, 2007 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    It is difficult to decide. I have also seen that sometimes comments refer to trackbacks. In such cases trackbacks become part of conversations. I guess I am still confused 🙂

    Would it make sense to put trackbacks in the sidebar? Comments can then follow the post, and trackbacks are still available.

  4. Posted January 11, 2007 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    I experimented with a few different approaches before settling on trackbacks first followed by comments. For the trackbacks, I only show the title of the referring post and the date at first, with an option to show the excerpt using Javascript. It means the trackbacks appear initially as a single concise block, which your eye can skip over more easily to get to the comments.

    The thing is that comments and trackbacks serve different purposes. With a comment, you’re taking part in an ongoing discussion about the core topic of the post, and there’s much more of an impetus to stay on-topic. With trackbacks, you’re creating a fork of the discussion on your own blog, which targets a different audience and very often completely flies off at a tangent.

  5. Posted August 14, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I guess it depends on the blog content, but I like you blog style Lorelle, and I’d also add the option (if possible) to hide trackbacks.

    I’d put comments first, because my objective is to build a community around the blog, and I value faithful visitors and their opinions more than other bloggers who quote my post, even though I realise this is also important.

    Now, for news blogs and blogs were the objective is more centered on spreading information to new people who might want to go deeper into the content rather than building a community around it, I guess posting trackbacks first is a better option.

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