October 31, 2015

Auto-playing video on Facebook and Twitter: love it or hate it?

Facebook introduced it long back and Twitter did it recently: on your homepage on Facebook or Twitter, the video on the screen starts playing by itself, though without sound. You scroll down and the  next video on the screen plays out.

Do users really like video autoplay? 


We surveyed the www to see user reactions, and we find majority of users annoyed by this feature to different degrees. One found it embarrassing when the video played itself before her young daughter, one felt she was being forced to watch ads for no reason. One says, he will stop using the site for forcing the video on him. The responses range from stupid to highly annoying.

But then why are these social networking biggies indulging in this? Because autoplay is loved by advertisers as they can push their messages more forcefully and without giving the viewer a chance to say no. Mind it, video advertising pays more handsomely to these sites than text and image advertising.

Moreover, some viewers do like this feature and some find it tolerable because the video plays quietly. We also found some viewers who started liking this because they discovered some videos of outstanding quality. One thanked Twitter as he could now view action which he might have not seen if he had to click on static thumbnails. 

Autoplay of videos sucks bandwidth and so your internet costs may rise if you do not have an unlimited bandwidth plan. Since it takes more bandwidth, it might slow down your other internet-using apps or downloads.  Slower mobile phones may find this feature slowing down the phone itself, though not much.

Thankfully, you can go to settings in the app and stop autoplay.

October 27, 2015

12 deadly mistakes new bloggers make and repent

This is sequel to our post on 'How to start a blog'. If you have not yet made a blog, do read that and take action, and then come back. In addition, we have posted an article '9 Blogging myths that bloggers must avoid'. We suggest that you read both the articles together so that intentional or inadvertent mistakes do not come in the way of your nurturing the nascent blog into a reputed website. If you already have a blog, you can cover most of the lost ground by following best practices and undoing the mistakes. 


One dozen deadly mistakes that bloggers make when creating a blog and maintaining it.

 

1. Bad URL, bad bog title, bad blog description.

Many bloggers start with giving the blog a domain name that is not related or is difficult to remember. They also give it an irrelevant title and a lengthy (but value-less) description. 

These are not BIG sins but they hurt the blog's search visibility, make it difficult for visitors to recall the blog and also confuse new visitors.

 

2. Copy-pasting text, images and videos.

In an urgency to fill the blog quickly, some bloggers just copy-paste others' material. Some do it purposely as they themselves cannot write well. Some think that pasting an expert's article and doing a bit of editing results in an article as good as the original. Many bloggers feel that copying an image or a video only occasionally is safe and ethical. 

Copy-pasting is like stealing others' property. Search engines would penalize you if you do so, visitors will punish by spreading a bad word about you.

 

3. Posing as expert even though a newbie.

It is somewhat like point 2. 
Keen to establish themselves quickly, new bloggers sometimes pose as big experts. If you are an expert or have experience worth value, people will find it out by reading your content, looking at your painting, listening to your music. But if you do not possess the expertise / talent / experience that you claim, people will shun you.

 

4. Unimaginative post headings, long prose.

It is not a sin or a crime to post bland headlines or to write long prose. But no web-surfer has time and intention to remain on your website / blog if it does not catch his / her attention.  

We are sure, 4 out of 5 visitors to this very page would look at the list titles, skim through a point that they find interesting and move on.

 

5. Posting in spurt, with long gaps.

You create an outstanding blog with a great design, highly relevant domain name, great content and what not. You write a few great articles too. But after that you take a long break, thinking that visitors and money will keep flowing in.

Don't do that if you want that visitors should come to you regularly and look for updates. Without visitors coming to it, the blog would die. Don't let that happen.

 

6. Readability issues.

Blogs are meant to be shared. If they have big text content, they are meant to be read. How does one read the text if you have written it in very small fonts, or there is a variegated background (e.g. leaves or a pattern) behind the text, or the text and its background have unsuitable color combinations and contrast? If you don't take care of these, the visitor will be put off and will leave.

 

7. Clutter.

Many things matter in deciding the appeal of a website, and nothing destroys the appeal more than clutter - too many elements scattered aimlessly. Too many widgets. Too many columns. Too many photos and video thumbnails. Too many blocks of texts. 

A bad web design and a good website design that is spoiled by too many elements, both make the blog unprofessional and clumsy.

 

8. Not doing any promotion, especially offline.

We said it somewhere else and allow us to repeat it here: Your blog is like a small shop in a crowded market. Unless you tell people about what you sell, people will not know about the shop or its merchandise. They will pass by it without pausing and making a purchase even if your product is best in the class. You need to put a good sign board, maybe a signage at the turning, perhaps also an advt in the local paper and a pamphlet inside newspapers. 

For the website, especially a new one, if you do not engage with bloggers, flaunt it on social media, submit it to directories, send emails to your friends and make it friendly to search engines, very few people will know about it.

 

9. Begging favors, especially for ad-clicks and comments.

How do you react when you see such notices on blogs, comments or emails?: 'Please click on the ads appearing on the blog. It will help me earn a cent.' OR 'Please comment on my blog and I will reciprocate.'
OR 'Please visit my blog and tell about it to your friends. Thanks!' Such appeals not only annoy, they harm your reputation.

 

10. Dividing time un-intelligently.

If you spend disproportionately big time on one aspect of blogging, you are likely to ignore other important aspects. The result will be that the ignored area will act as a bottleneck in the growth of the blog. 

If you give too much time to many areas but you do not have the capacity to keep doing so, it may lead to burnout. 

We have seen many bloggers concentrating on writing only, or doing SEO all the time while writing poor content, or commenting too much but not writing enough. Many bloggers give up when they find that they cannot cope with the work. 

Both these situations come not because too much work is involved in blogging but because such bloggers do not use time intelligently.

 

11. Too much money-seeking, too early.

A big number of people, especially young adults with engineering / IT background, are drawn to blogging and website-making just to earn money. Their blogs are stuffed with keywords and they apply SEO tricks to earn some fast buck.

We also find some less tech-savvy bloggers indulging in putting many advertisements on the blog without letting the blog to mature and establish itself.

Too much money mindedness can derail you from your path to being a successful blogger.

 

12. Being impatient.

This one is the key to some of the mistakes we have listed above. 

A very big number of bloggers are impatient from the beginning - they want to see their blog get good traffic, good reviews and mentions, good money too soon. 

Some bloggers get impatient when the blog does not give them the anticipated results - they either tend to apply unethical tricks or ignore the blog or open a new blog. 

In either case, lack of patience is one of the biggest enemies of successful blogging. If you want to start a blog that you will like to succeed, write on the wall near your workplace that you will not be impatient with blogging. 

We have written earlier about many of these issues as well as the best practices that you must adopt. You can reach them through this link: all blogging tips on TopBlogs. You will keep getting new tips if you subscribe to ITB posts.

October 24, 2015

Politicians fail in social media management... Zone9 bloggers finally free [social updates this week]

Politicians' use of social media is a pet subject of IndianTopBlogs. In the present post, we show how even digitally well-prepared politicians are poor in social media management.

Arun Jaitley, a leading Indian politician and currently India's Finance Minister, has been using social media rather well. In the last 10 days, he has used it for articulating government stand on three major topics. On 14th October, he criticized the protest and return of awards by many authors against what they saw as government's inaction in checking spread of communal hatred in the country.  On 18th October, he wrote a piece on a significant judgement of the Supreme Court striking down a recently enacted law that gave executive a role in selection of top judges. On 20th, he made a fervent appeal for debate and eschewing violence to settle difference of opinion in the society.

Jaitley is perhaps the best parliamentary debater in India. He has been defending his government's actions as convincingly as he used to tear apart the government's decisions when he was the Leader of Opposition till a year back.

He used Facebook for his first two utterances and an interview for TV and YouTube, for the third. 

Arun Jaitley's website, essentially a blog, used to be his main platform for discussion on serious topics till January 2015, which he has ignored totally in the last 10 months.

Jaitley's Twitter account has links to these bigger articles / interview but some of these links do not open. The ones that open have no proper anchor text or intro.

If the decision to embrace Facebook and Twitter was taken with the understanding that these platforms gave better visibility and fast transmission of message, he might be right in choosing these. But we have reasons to differ. Our take:

The lengthy debates should first have been posted on the blog/ website. Linking these with his Facebook page and Twitter would have achieved no less than what has been achieved. In addition, the blog would have remained relevant and not suddenly become obsolete. What we see instead is a poor social media strategy for a public personality.

It is understood that Jaitley, holding the charge of Information & Broadcasting Minister also, has a complement of staff to look after his social media campaigns. They should have done proper linking and promotion of his speech / articles. At least the cross-links should have been given with better application of mind. The interview should have been cross-promoted with a brief description, anchor links and so on. If they area any good, they should apply sound principles of managing the social media for a political boss. They have failed not only in technical aspects; their advice to jump to social networking sites for a quick broadcast might lead this politician in trouble.


Ethiopian bloggers finally free


A few days back, Ethiopean bloggers who have been in prison since April 2014 on charge of terrorism have been acquitted by a court. The 6 bloggers and 3 journalists, calling themselves Zone9, had been detained last year; 5 were released earlier this year and 3 have been set free now after 539 days of jail. The last one, though acquitted of terrorism charge, still faces the charge of inciting violence. 

The travails of these bloggers started when they began writing critically about human rights abuses, corruption and other governance issues. 

zone9-blog

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organization, has named Ethiopia as one of the most censored countries in the world. The Wikipedia page of Zone9 says, Ethiopian government keeps a leash on web media through the only internet service provider though the country's constitution guarantees freedom of expression. 

Despite all censors, #freezone9bloggers remained the most trending topic in Ethiopia for over a year. The imprisonment of bloggers also became a rallying point for government critics.

October 21, 2015

Blogs valuable as historical archives, says researcher

Not many of us might have seen a research paper on the value of blogs as historical archives, by Dr Deborah Gabriel. So we thought, let's share it with blogger friends this week.

The paper analyses blogs by African Caribbean bloggers living in the UK and finds that blogs pay an important role in capturing key historical moments as they help generate new levels of understanding on the experiences of racial minorities. 

To further quote the paper,


Blogs function as an important medium that enables African Caribbean people to create and interpret events as counter-narratives in opposition to dominant discourses. This is of major significance since power and privilege are unevenly distributed across all cultural and social arenas and as such can only be challenged through ‘democratic practice’... The findings demonstrate that the bloggers featured in this study appropriate blogs as a medium for self-representation, leading to the cultivation of symbolic power through their own constructions of Black identity and social life.

You can read the full article 'Challenging the Whiteness of Britishness...' here.
Extracted with the permission of the original author of the research paper.

October 18, 2015

90% of Amercian young adults use social media, says Pew

Pew Research has come out with an analysis of 27 surveys on #socialmedia usage in the US conducted over the last ten years. 

Some data is just a confirmation of what you knew and some is revealing. Read on...
  • 65% of American adults use social media in 2015 as compared to 7% in 2005.
  • Overall use of social media has leveled off since 2013, but has increased in some groups such as old people who are late adopters of social media. 35% of those above 65 years now use it as compared to 2% ten years back.
  • 90% of young adults [=18 to 29 years of age] use social media. It is the most active age group on social media.
  • Almost same proportion of men and women use social media (68% women, 62% men).
  • More educated and richer the people, more is the chance of usage of social media by them.
  • All major racial and ethnic groups are users to almost same percentage, African-Americans being slightly lower.
  • Rural people use less of social media (58%) as compared to urban (68%) and sub-urban (64%).
At this link, you can browse the Pew report on social media usage in the US.

October 15, 2015

Create your first blog and make it fantastic

On ITB we have generally been addressing bloggers who already have opened a blog. This post is for those who’d like to start a blog for their own self, kids, parents, grand parents, a group, a company or an organization.

WHY SHOULD I BLOG AND WHAT WILL I GAIN FROM BLOGGING?


We have discussed the following topics that come naturally when you think of starting a blog, so we won’t repeat them but have just linked them from here:


BLOGGING FOR BEGINNERS

Let's go straight to blogging. Let's try to answer ‘How can I make my own blog?’

Making a blog is as simple as opening an email account. We recommend to new bloggers to create a free blog on Blogger (=Google) platform, experiment with all the customizations that it allows, work for some time and then take big decisions. 

Once you have succeeded in making a blog for yourself and have made a commitment to yourself that you will give it a minimum amount of time every week / month, sky is the limit. The links on the resource corner on ITB (Please look at the top right corner) will help you understand the basics of all aspects of blogging.

The beauty of this easy, step-by-step, way of graduating into impact-full blogging is that you can become an expert blogger without your initial effort going waste. For example, after some time you can integrate the blog created on Blogger with an independent domain or migrate it to a new platform altogether. You can tweak the design anytime, add html functionality (you can learn a bit of it if you don’t already know), apply new templates, etc etc.

So, friends, go to the slideshow, start a blog on the Blogger platform, come back and browse some of the links in the resource corner. When you have time, do visit the blogging tips link on ITB for hundreds of tips on blogging - some in great detail. Visit the best blogs in your area of interest to learn from them. 

If you still have some doubts, write to us at kp.nd.2008@gmail.com .

Happy blogging!

October 13, 2015

India's best film critic says, discipline is the key to successful blogging


Baradwaj Rangan is a well-known name to people reading about good cinema. He is a recipient of India's national film award for the best film critic. He writes a column on the Hindu paper, and is a  published author.

On his very well maintained blog, he has posted over a thousand film reviews, besides his views on other art forms and things social. His discipline is marvelous; he has been maintaining the blog for a decade without a break and without compromising on quality.

No wonder, the blog has been finding a place in ITB's Directory of Best Indian Blogs and Patinum Blog Rankings every year for the last five years. 

We requested Baradwaj to share his thoughts on blogging with us and he obliged, giving detailed responses to our questions. 




What do you think as your biggest success points in the blogging journey?

Hmmm… It’s probably creating a space that a community gathers around. The readers. They come and go, some stay longer than the others, but there’s always a critical mass that keeps things interesting. I mean you write something, and you want people to react to it. They could be mad at you because you dissed their idol. They could love what you wrote. Whatever. But the point is that they come and read you every time you post something. I think getting this critical mass has been possible solely through my blog, which consists partly of the stuff I write in print, partly the stuff I write exclusively for the blog.

Any regrets about blogging or any blogging-related actions you think are worthless or a waste of time?

Not really. It’s a bit time-consuming, and you have to be a little disciplined about it – but then nothing comes easy. It probably helps that I love to write and don’t consider it a chore/job.

How much importance do you give to these: quality of content, consistency, use of SEO, engagement with others, look & feel, or anything else?

I like typography and design, so I like my blog to *look* a certain way. The Wordpress folds have great templates. But all this is secondary to the content. If you don’t have good content, then you won’t get readers.

Have you monetised the blog? If so, how. Do you wish to share any monetisation tips with bloggers?

Nope. But if you know ways, do let me know.

Considering fast growth of social networking sites and other such media, what in your opinion is the future of blogging?

I think blogging has already mutated into the miniaturised forms we find on Facebook and Twitter. That whole initial rush we saw – where everyone had a blog titled “Musings on…” – that’s gone now. But I think there are still readers out there waiting for good content that’s different from what they get in the mainstream media.

What advice would you like to give to budding or less established bloggers, especially Indian bloggers?

First you have to ask yourself: Why do I want to blog?

Is it going to be a hobby? Or maybe you want to be a writer and are taking baby steps towards that goal through the blog? Or maybe you like to keep a “diary” of your thoughts?

If it’s just a hobby, then no advice is needed. For the diary as well.

But in general:

I think the most important thing is to find a niche, find that ONE thing that you’re good at and that you do differently enough that people say “let me check out what he/she has to say.”

Then, keep writing. Write 500 or 1000 words every day, without fail.

The big problem with writing is that the tool (language) is, in a sense, a somewhat generalised one. We all use language in some shape or form, and we all *write* in some shape or form – we write emails, we write reports, letters. So some people tend to think that writing opinion pieces or reviews or whatever is just a small leap. But it isn’t. It’s a discipline. Just because you hum a song in the bathroom, doesn’t mean you can make it as a concert singer. You need a lot of dedication, practice. You need to find writers who inspire you and read, read, read. You need to then use that inspiration to formulate your own style.

The first few attempts may come off as derivative, but slowly – if you’re any good – you’ll find a voice. And once you have the language, there’s the other thing of trying to use that language to put down precisely the thoughts in your head. So I’m talking content as well as style.

I know this sounds like a lot of work for someone who wants to be a “casual” blogger, but I really do feel that if you want to stand out in something you have to plunge it and not just skim the surface.

As for “Indian bloggers,” try to find something to talk about that’s unique. Let’s take reviewing. The whole word reviews English films. But when it comes to Indian films, it’s a smaller sample. So that might be a good place to start, especially if you can present films from a region of India to an English-speaking and –reading audience.

Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Do what you do best, and you’ll get an audience if you’re good.

October 10, 2015

Facebook's profile video, Twitter's best moments, Blogger with https, and funky domain endings:

Moving profile IDs on Facebook


Use of GIFs as profile image has been in practice for about a year now. Facebook has jumped one step ahead of others by allowing users to have a short video as their profile pic. In addition, one can post a photo to showcase some event, which would expire in a given time. with a video. It looks interesting, as you can see on this post on improving mobile profiles.

Right now, these functions are available to Facebook users only in California and the UK, and only on iPhone.

Twitter's best moments


Twitter has started showing selected tweets in a newsreel sort of show called 'Moments'.

In Twitter's own words, Moments helps you find the best of Twitter as easily as tapping an icon – regardless of who you follow. Just visit the new tab called Moments, where you will discover stories unfolding on Twitter.

As of now, this is available on major mobile platforms in the US, and will be rolled out worldwide in the coming days.

Blogger protected with https


Google has announced that its blogging platform Blogger will now give the blogs https protection. 

What it means is that your blog ending in .blogspot.com will have prefix https:// rather than the usual http:// Https increases the security of websites in many ways. This facility is currently available only if you go to Settings and choose HTTPS Availability. Moreover, if you have Blogger blog with a custom domain, this feature will not work. 

Google also says, some features of the blog might not work properly if you migrate to https. Update of April 2016: This very month, Google is going to provide https security to ALL .blogspot blogs. There will be no such setting option anymore.

New domain extensions


Till now, your options to have your site with apt and interesting suffixes was limited. You could have ITB.com or ITB.net or ITB.org or ITB.info. Some more extensions were added in the last few years, including country extensions (e.g. ITB.uk, ITB.in). 

Now, you can have domain names with more more suffixes such as .ninja, .photography, .expert, .guru and .news.

October 7, 2015

Zuckerberg says, net neutrality and internet.org must co-exist. You agree?

The debate on net neutrality is not going to settle either way, with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg pushing forward his Internet.org with all his might. His meeting with Modi is supposed to have given him a big boost as he might get to popularise and legitimise Internet.org in India where the PM wants fast internet coverage of the population.

[If you have forgotten the contours of net neutrality, do visit this post and come back.]

On a post on his Facebook page, Zuck has taken his "internet for the two-third humanity without it" argument to a new level. He says, he is fully committed to net neutrality... he is committed that there should be no domination of internet / web by a few... but it is better to have some internet than no internet, and the net neutrality brigade does not allow that... and any attempt to deny internet-driven information and services to billions who cannot afford internet is not fair... and Internet.org is a global movement towards giving such information and services to the poor for their empowerment. 

Zuck says, net neutrality and efforts like Internet.org can and must co-exist, for the benefit of internet as well as the deprived humanity.

THE NET NEUTRALITY SUPPORTERS...

#NetNeutrality is a buzzword on the net, thanks to some telecom operators providing free internet that was tagged with services by some vendors /  organisations. Providing such services (called zero-rating) is supposed to be discriminatory and against competition. Facebook's Internet.org is a huge initiatives spread over many countries, and is seen to be using the plank of 'free net to the needy' for expanding its own base and a possible hegemony over the net.

Facebook now wants to use drones and even a satellite to provide free internet to the have-not population.

...AND THE HAVE-NOTS

As per an authoritative report on internet penetration, only 40% people in the developing world have access to internet, and in Africa, only 20% people have this luxury.

It goes without saying that these underprivileged people need connectivity as early as possible or they will become poorer as they will miss all the empowerment (and opportunities) that internet connectivity gives to the connected ones.

CAN THERE BE A WIN-WIN SITUATION?
 
So, to borrow the phrase of Zuckerberg without supporting him, net neutrality and efforts to provide free internet to the needy must go together. On the other hand, though there is no research available to prove whether free net users will favour the services they get free as compared to services provided by others, that is a big possibility.

Some ways the issue could be tackled:
  • Facebook, Google and other tech giants support national efforts towards internet penetration among the poor, without asking for favours in return;
  • Zero rated services are allowed, but with various types of caps on such services; 
  • Classification of zero rated and other free services, according to their benefit to the underprivileged society and compromise of the principle of net neutrality;
  • High level of supervision of zero rated services by national regulatory authorities;
  • Open-ended and short-term decisions/ guidelines on the issue, which are under constant review;
  • Proper disclosures and disclaimers to be displayed on zero rated services to educate users;
  • More research on the implications of zero rated services on user preferences, etc.

October 5, 2015

santoshnc

Santa's Reindeer  

"This is a blog showcasing some of my best photographs along with stories / descriptions of how, why, where, when that particular photograph or series of photographs was taken. 



This blog has been named as one of the Top 15 Socially Active Photography Blogs In India by Baggout."

-Santosh