This week, partly because phin and I contribute to the Blog Tips over at the Alliance, Hans Mast sent a question to me regarding whether or not it's appropriate to send a TrackBack when linking to a comment to a post instead of the post itself.
At first glance, the answer seemed obvious, but it does require some thought, because ... well, things aren't always as simple as they seem.
It seems to me that you need to consider the relationship between the comment and the post to which the comment was submitted. You'd also need to consider if comments are attached to the post (appears on the same page), or if the comments pop-up in a separate window (say, HaloScan comments).
Let's take an example of an on-topic comment that's attached to the post. That's easy, because a link to the comment is a link to the post. That's the normal, expected situation, and a TrackBack would certainly be in order.
Same scenario, but comments pop up? Link to the comments AND to the post, and TrackBack the post. That gives your readers the chance to put the comments in context.
So much for the easy scenarios.
What if it's an off-topic comment? Well, I think it's still apprpriate to use the same rules. But it gets a little fuzzy here.
You see, there's off-topic, and there's off-topic. And then there's spam.
If it's slightly off-topic, I'd treat it like an on-topic post, but suggest throwing in a mention of the original topic (there's the link to the post) and perhaps a comment on it (maybe even "while that topic certainly deserves much thought and discussion, it inspired this by a commenter" or something like that). If you do that, you've given props to the original post and a TrackBack in in order.
If it's way off-topic (almost spam), then I'd do the same as slightly off-topic, but definitely tie in to the original post (changing my earlier "maybe even" to a "definitely").
If it's spam, then it's almost anything goes. Keep in mind that the blogger may delete the spam. But still, if you tie in where you got it. For example, "While reading Alan Smithee's post on Tomato Plants, (link to post, send TrackBack) I found this in the comments (link) ..." would seem to me to be appropriate.
A good rule of thumb? How would I feel if someone linked to one of my comments?
An overriding rule? Check the site's policy. If it has one, don't violate it. If it doesn't, well, you know how I'd handle it. I don't always handle things correctly, but I do try to do the right thing.
What do you think? Would you handle things differently? Did I overlook some important point? Head over to the Alliance and leave your thoughts or questions.