Catfight Continued

Over at Jacques Distler’s blog, someone has posted what strikes me as an eminently sensible system for solving the Trackback problem with the ArXiv. I attempted to post a comment to that effect over there, and got the following message:

Your comment submission failed for the following reasons:

You are not allowed to post comments.

This is almost certainly a bug (maybe a browser conflict), not a deliberate act of malice, but it’s kind of amusing. I’ll reproduce the comment below the fold, and maybe somebody who is allowed to post comments can post it for me…

There are ways to reduce trackback clutter that don’t depend on an arbitrary “active researcher” standard. Below is one idea. It would be more work initially to introduce than the current list of approved blogs, but it seems more adaptable and robust against arbitrariness than the current approach.

(details elided)

This seems like a much better solution to the potential problems presented by TrackBacks than the current “active researcher” thing, which makes the current problem essentially inevitable. Somebody was going to make a stink about it sooner or later, in more or less exactly the manner that Peter Woit did.

Ultimately, though, I think you need to think carefully about what the point of the whole thing is at all. If the goal is merely to allow a small number of “active researchers” to comment on each other’s papers, your purpose might be better served by providing a “URL” field in which the authors of a paper can choose to place links to blogs whose comments they approve of. If the goal is to broaden the conversation, then you probably want something like the blog registration system outlined above.

Whatever decision you make (I’m not a big ArXiv user, so I really don’t care that much), the policy should have the absolute minimum possible number of components, and the criteria for Trackback approval should be very clearly and publically stated– preferably in a prominent link from the front page, and in the trackback area itself. And the criteria should be spelled out in very concrete detail– if you insist on some sort of “active researcher” designation, there needs to be a clear and unambiguous statement of how that status is conferred, preferably with a specific number of publications needed to qualify, or something like that.

What you’ve got now is a disaster. You’d be better off shutting Trackbacks down completely than continuing with the current policy.