The success of distributed commenting systems such as Disqus, Intense Debate, and most famously, FriendFeed have generated a heated debate over if we should let discussions break out all over the place in small pockets or try to gather them all together in context with the source material so that everyone can benefit from a collective debate.

On the one hand, you have those that encourage everyone to “go with the flow” and let discussions take place inline, wherever convenient. Duncan Riley falls in this camp with his post last week about Blogging 2.0.

On the other, you have those that want to pull the discussion back into context. If it’s a blog post, they would like to see these distributed pools of discussion pulled back together under the original blog post. Fred Wilson falls into this camp with his post today, Leaving the Instigator Out.

fredwilson comment

Call me old school but I’m with Fred on this one. I think it’s possible to have both cookies – keep discussions distributed but at least tie them together so you’re not logging to sites across the web trying to chase down the latest discussion. The solution is to revive the long forgotten Trackback.

Trackback was developed by the blogging pioneer Six Apart back when blogs expanded beyond a close circle of friends and there was a need for blogs to notify each other when they were expanding on a conversation and moving it to a new venue. The standard practice was that if you wanted to take someone’s idea and expand on it a bit more than would fit comfortably into a comment box, you would post about it on your own blog and trackback to the original post. This would do two things:

  1. send a ping to the original blogger so that he or she would know that you’re expanding on their idea,
  2. add a link in the comments section so that people reading the original post could follow the discussion over to the new blog post

Trackback was a very simple technology but it provided a thread that linked the two posts and brought the readership of both posts together. If you were moving the conversation from one blog to another, sending a trackback ping was the right thing to do, it was common courtesy, an attribution. That link, that attribution, is what has gotten people up in arms. Without this link, both the original blogger and the reader of the original post are cut off from distributed discussions and that just doesn’t seem right or efficient.