Over the last fifteen years, the way that physicists communicate research results has been revolutionized by arxiv.org, the preprint server devised by Paul Ginsparg (formerly xxx.lanl.gov). Any time you write a paper, you send it to the arxiv, where its existence is beamed to the world the next day, and it is stored there in perpetuity. Along with the SPIRES service at SLAC, which keeps track of which papers have cited which other papers, physicists have a free, flexible, and easy-to-use web of literature that is instantly accessible to anyone. Most people these days post to the arxiv before they even send their paper to a journal, and some have stopped submitting to journals altogether. (I wish they all would, it would cut down on that annoying refereeing we all have to do.) And nobody actually reads the journals — they serve exclusively as ways to verify that your work has passed peer review.
So it’s exciting to see the introduction of trackbacks to the abstracts at arxiv.org. As blog readers know, an individual blog post can inform other blog posts that it is talking about them by leaving a “trackback” or “pingback” — basically, a way of saying “Hey, I’m talking about that stuff you said.” This helps people negotiate their way through the tangles of the blogosphere along threads of common interest. Now your blog post can send trackbacks to the abstracts of papers at the arxiv! Here’s a test: I will link to my most recent paper. If it works as advertised, the trackback will appear automatically, due to the magic of WordPress.
Now, if you write a paper and people comment on it on their blogs, that fact will be recorded right there at the abstract on arxiv.org. Drawing us one step closer to the use of blogs as research tools.