Online Community Tool Integration: Weblogs and Trackbacks

In the comments of a recent post on online community tool integration, the insightful Scott Moore said this

“I'd also like to see trackbacking on a local level *between* discussions/blog posts connecting separate discussions.�?

This was music to my ears as the most recent upgrade to my workspace accomplished just this- Trackback across discussions and weblogs in a single online community space. This entry describes how this works and why it could be an emerging feature of online communities.

Trackback in the Weblog World

I believe that the linking we’re seeing in the weblog world can be applied to online communities and offer new ways for online communities to communicate.

A specific example of this is Trackback (plain english explanation), which is a system that webloggers use to link weblogs discussing a related subject. Trackback allows readers to navigate across a “discussion�? occurring across a number of blogs. We'll see below how Trackback can be used to link a weblog to an online discussion inside an online community.

Online Communities with Weblogs

Consider an online community, which is usually based on a single tool for discussions, like a message board. While these have been very successful historically, there are new opportunities to add tools and processes that enhance the community.

Consider how a weblog (or weblogs) could be used in a traditional, discussion-based community. A weblog would allow the community leader(s) to chronicle the discussions and related news in real time. The weblogs add a personal point of view that highlights specific discussions, making the community navigable via weblog.

While the weblog itself may be nice, it is how the weblog and weblog tools are integrated into the community that produces the value.

Discussions, Weblogs and Trackback

I envision a community where multiple discussions are occurring at once. As these discussions transpire, the community weblogger may choose to write about the discussion and link to it in the weblog. This way, members reading the weblog can go directly to the discussion via a link.

The link in the weblog is great, but it is one-directional, from the weblog to the discussion. The problem is that readers of the discussion may have no way to know about the weblog entry.

To maximize this system, the weblog must be able to Trackback to the discussion. This means that as the link is created in the weblog, a link must simultaneously appear in the discussion automatically – linking the two resources on both sides, bi-directionally. This way, the discussion reader can easily discover the weblog entry and vice-versa.

Here’s what this looks like in my workspace…

A discussion occurs; in this case it’s a fictional discussion about lawn care. The community weblogger sees the discussion and blogs it in the community weblog and links to the discussion. Notice the readable link to a community discussion:

blogpost copy.gif

As the blogger links to the discussion, the system recognizes the link and automatically adds a link to the discussion. Notice the "Also Referenced Here:" link at the bottom of the post:

discussionlink copy.gif

Thanks to the link appearing in the discussion (a trackback) the system easily integrates the weblog into the discussion system, allowing members to navigate across the two resources easily.