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The How and Why of Trackbacks

Science, nature and medical blogs are an increasingly important part of the scientific publishing ecosystem:

If one thinks of the scientific paper as the center of an ecosystem, and the notes, comments and ratings on the paper as an additional, outer layer of the ecosystem, then the blogs and media are the ‘outside world’. By linking directly to the articles, bloggers connect the outside world to the paper ‘outside in’. By leaving trackbacks on the papers, bloggers connect the paper to the outside world ‘inside out’. Thus, the complete ecosystem forms and one can navigate it easily in both directions, gaining a fuller picture of the research as a result.

We introduced Trackback functionality on the TOPAZ platform back in September 2007. As I wrote at that time:

From now on, if you link to a PLoS ONE article in your post, that article will display a link back to your blog post (go to an article and look at the right side-bar, nested between the Discussions and Ratings). Thus, in addition to the conversation already going on in the commentary attached to the article itself, the readers will be able to access the responses from the blogosphere as well. And that should also bring additional traffic to the bloggers.

With the new upgrade, the Trackbacks are now found under the “Related Content” tab. How do you send a trackback to one of the PLoS articles?

The link you use in the text in the body of your post has to be in the exact format of the full URL of the full text of the article (i.e., not the shorter DOI-only compression, or a link to the PDF), so this is how it should look like (replace 0000000 with the actual number of the article):

Then, in most blogging software, you will see a box under or on the side of the text box of your post, named “Send Trackbacks” or “Outgoing Trackbacks”. Into that field you need to type in the trackback URL in this exact format:

Unfortunately, for the time being (and we are working on it), other, shorter forms of the URL will not work. Also unfortunately, blogs hosted on Blogger/Blogspot (and perhaps some other, more unusual platforms) cannot generate trackbacks. What should you do if your blogging software does not support trackbacks? Please use the commenting feature on PLoS ONE articles: just copy and paste the Permalink of your blog post into the comment.

Finally, if your blog post contains your original thoughts beyond just a link to the PLoS article, you should register with and have your posts covering peer-reviewed literature aggregated there. Authors, editors, PLoS staff, bloggers and interested readers check the aggregator and will see your post if it appears there. This also makes your posts eligible for our Blog Of The Month contest.

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