Better Trackback?

There is talk of pushing for Trackback to become a standard. A few of the problems with Trackback are immediately apparent: horrible internationization support, bad auto-discovery, proclivity for spamming, no verification, historical baggae of category junk, bad spec. Fix all these and you get… pingback. Pingback is big enough now to make a blip in Google’s markup survey, and is supported by a wide range of platforms. The question is whether people are going to want to support an existing and robust standard or want to put their name on something new, the global “not invented here” syndrome where everyone wants their 15 standards of fame. (As someone who has been involved in several standards myself, I admit the draw is strong.) What Pingback does need is a better advocacy site, like atom has.

Announcing bbPress

The software that was running the WordPress support forums was getting long in the tooth and was not handling the load of increased exposure terribly well. A PHP upgrade rendered it nearly unusable. Anyway, long story short, I wrote some forum software. It’s called bbPress and is similar to WordPress in a lot of ways, including being Free-as-in-Software. The things that WP does well—unicode, timezones, XHTML, speed–it does well too. You can read all about it on the new bbPress site and grok its philosophy, comment on the blog, join the mailing list, checkout the code, submit bugs, patches, et cetera. I have been putting this off for almost a year now, so it’s very fufilling to get this project rolling. It went so fast that I’m kicking myself that I didn’t do it sooner.

The goal of bbPress is to bring some weblog and WordPress sensibilities to forum software. It’s never going to have a tenth of the features of phpBB or vBulletin, but that’s a feature itself. My experience with those packages is they’re like a herd of elephants who evolved on a strange island in bizzare ways, and they tend to foster a type of community that is antithetical to I’m trying to accomplish. We’ve learned a lot in the past few years about how the interactive web works, why do most forums look and act the same they did in 2000? Why is it still so hard to integrate user systems or mesh designs? Why can’t I ping a thread like I can a weblog post? Why can’t I filter by XFN values?

bbPress is not and will not be right for everyone. There are open source traditional forum packages, like PunBB, that get a lot of things right and push the envelope in interesting ways, so that’s covered. bbPress is not going to have avatars, or put post counts next to your name, or give every user 80 options about how they want their dates formatted, and for some people (maybe most people) that just won’t work. However even if is the only site that ever runs this software, it’ll be totally worth it just to get the forum technology growing again and create a richer support experience for the WP community.


MSN Search Standards

Sam Waudby writes in that the new MSN is (almost) standards compliant. That is really nice. There is one or two silly things, but I think it’s significant that 99.9% of the page including the advertising is XHTML 1.0 Strict. I’m going to point to that the next time someone whines about an ad system messing up their validation. “If Microsoft can do it…” Leads Blog Communication

This is the coolest thing I’ve seen all year. Check out the HTML of this article I linked a few days ago. Notice anything at the top?

<link rel="pingback" href="" />

Houston, we have Pingback support! Let’s dig deeper:

<rdf:RDF xmlns:rdf=""
dc:title="Microsoft flip-flop may signal blog clog"
dc:identifier="" />

Ugly as sin, but that’s trackback. It gets better…

A little URI hacking takes us to this page which lists all trackbacks and pingbacks the article recieved. How cool is that?

It’s my understanding that even though they’ve had the trackback autodiscovery code for a while they’ve been recieving mostly pingbacks, which makes sense given that it’s more fully and elegantly automatic. It would be cool if they could add support for the nascent rel="trackback" discovery method and save themselves the trouble of the RDF hack. Hopefully spammers won’t exploit their trackback server too soon and they can support legacy systems that don’t implement Pingback yet.

The implications of this are fairly large. is obviously bootstrapping code that will involve their readers with the blog conversation surrounding their articles. How long for other sites to catch up? Will they plug into Technorati or Pubsub next? As far as I know this is the first major media organization to implement Trackback and Pingback. The team at should be commended for their effort and leadership in this area.


Search Engine Markshowdown

I decided to run the web page analyzer (excellent tool) against the front pages of a few of the latest and greatest search engines and also do a little analysis of my own. Here are some of the results in one of the only tables you’ll ever see on this site:

  Feedster Technorati Google Yahoo Search
HTML 6.11 3.72 1.18 7.82
Ext. CSS 11.47 11.63 0 1.45
Other 9.10 6.70 15.10 1.72
Total 26.70 22.05 16.27 11.00
Compressed No No Yes No

Numbers are kilobytes, and may not add up exactly due to rounding. CSS is external, linked files. “Other” includes images and javascript.

Yahoo was the surprise winner here. Their HTML was alright but I think could be reduced quite a bit without losing anything. You’ll note they have the heaviest HTML of the bunch, heavier than other sites showing quite a bit more on their front page. They should probably talk to Doug. Overall though I think Yahoo has consistently been doing great nearly-standards-compliant work in their new designs. Yahoo could save about 67% of their HTML size with compression. Interestingly, Yahoo was the only site to specify ISO-8859-1 encoding, all the others claimed UTF-8.

Google was optimized to the hilt, but it’s kind of silly that they put so much effort into their markup but couldn’t go the last inch and make it valid HTML 4. They could probably make it a bit smaller with some more intelligent CSS usage. At least they don’t have font tags anymore. I think under normal circumstances they would have won but they have an olympic logo right now that’s pretty heavy. Google was the only site that used gzip compression for their HTML, but even uncompressed they only weighed in at about 2.4 kilobytes, still the lightest of the group.

Technorati clearly had the smartest markup of the group, and was the only one that validated. (An impressive feat for any website in this day and age.) Their markup is clean as a whistle with excellent structure and logic, and their numbers aren’t bad when you consider that they have a lot of stuff on their front page. This isn’t too surprising since Tantek did it. Their CSS, however, is pretty heavy. It’s strange because it’s very optimized in some ways but bloated in others, I think they could cut a few K from it pretty easily. One smart thing they did is have the CSS named with the date, so it’s name versioned and they can update it monthly without caching issues. All that said, they’re so far ahead of everything else they don’t need to worry about much. Technorati could save about 53% of their XHTML size with compression.

Feedster has its heart in the right place, but the implementation falls far short. For example it has a XHTML 1.1 doctype but then has the needless XML declaration at the top throwing IE into quirks mode. They use CSS in places, but then they have a table with 75 non-breaking spaces in it for positioning. There’s a ton needless markup, including a full kilobyte of HTML comments. On the bright side, they have the most room to improve. Feedster could save about 61% of their XHTML size with compression.