August 28, 2016

Should you put a contact form on your blog?

Contact form on right sidebar of IndianTopBlogs.com
Contact form is a very useful widget on a blog, as it gives a ready place where the visitor can put his remarks without using email etc. and instantly. Messages posted by the visitor are received on the associated email account.

On Blogger, we have a contact form gadget (Go to Layout> Add a Gadget> More Gadgets> Contact Form) that can be put anywhere in the blog. On Wordpress, there is a built-in plugin with this name. If this is disabled, you can go to Plugin menu and add it.

Contact form on Wordpress: customization guide
Interestingly, in the case of Contact Form, Wordpress free blogging platform has more options than Blogger. On WP, you can put the contact form in a specific page or post and customize it in different ways. If you want to customize it on Blogger, you will either have to write the code or copy a code from the web (available free as well as on payment).

We find that the simple contact form works well on both these platforms. It also does not have issues that sometimes crop up when you use free/ paid gadgets or plugins. For example, some bloggers have reported that their contact form appears well on the blog but visitors' messages are not received on email.

We'd be grateful if you please give your views on having a contact form with or without the regular comment box. It will help us guide bloggers with more shades of opinions and experiences on the subject. Use the contact form for that. ;)

August 23, 2016

pagesfromserendipity

Pages From Serendipity

"A lifestyle blog that focuses on parenting and motherhood, specifically, emotional and psychological sides of parenting. Creative ideas to engage children, like stories and play themes, render the blog a special touch. 

"The blog supports social causes with its content on NGOs and societal issues. It's open to promote genuine social awareness campaigns and organizations which need online visibility.

"Food reviews, travel posts, book reviews and health posts make occasional appearances on the blog as well."

Best,
Nandhini

August 18, 2016

Pokemon Go fever, Twitter closing down, Modi likely to overtake Obama on social media: social updates

Our social media updates this time include the rumor of Twitter closing down and Twitter's clarification on it, the mobile game fever called Pokemon Go, and who is likely to be the most popular world leader in 2017.

All growing as of now: PokemonGo, Twitter, Modi

Twitter closing down soon? No way!

 Twitter had to hear last week what people had been complaining about: instead of the bird chirping, it sometimes howls and that hurts. It was not even a howl, it was just a rumor that Twitter was closing down in 2017 and it has ruffled Twitter's feathers enough!

It is reported that the rumor was started by someone peeved with Twitter's failure to stop trolling and abuse on the platform. It was soon lapped up by Twitterati, partly due to genuine concern about Twitter closing down and partly to slam Twitter. The hashtag #SaveTwitter had more than a hundred thousand tweets before Twitter clarified that the rumor had 'no truth whatsoever'.

The spat between Twitter and Buzzfeed over Twitter's poor cyber-security standards did help in spreading the rumor. Ripe with sufferers' interviews, Buzzfeed's 11th August report on Twitter's poor record of checking cyber-bullying and abuse concluded, For nearly its entire existence, Twitter has not just tolerated abuse and hate speech, it’s virtually been optimized to accommodate it. Twitter's former employees are reported to have told Buzzfeed that Twitter followed double standards when it came to stopping abusive attacks. Twitter joined the issue, saying, We feel there are inaccuracies in the details and unfair portrayals but rather than go back and forth with BuzzFeed, we are going to continue our work on making Twitter a safer place. There is a lot of work to do but please know we are committed, focused, and will have updates to share soon.

For the present, Twitter is tweeting, and going by its share quotes, it's tweeting merrily!


Modi on way to become the most followed political leader?

This ET report shows how Modi might soon become the most popular global leader. Right now, he trails Obama on Facebook and Twitter, but as Obama has only a few months left in White House, his following will go down. On the other hand, Modi's would keep rising in the next two years of his premiership. 

It is also interesting to note what helps Modi get so popular on social media. Sometime back, WSJ  enumerated five factors for his 'social media magic':
  • show off, 
  • feature photos of friends and family,
  • demonstrate  your good deeds, 
  • support your sports team, and 
  • be gracious in defeat.

  

How the world is coping with Pokemon Go

In a short span of time, Pokemon Go has surpassed Candy Crush and other games in its popularity. This mobile game now has more daily users than many social media platforms, and its popularity is not seeing any sign of waning. 

Released just a month back, the mobile game has become 'viral' beyond the imagination of even its company (Niantic). The game has been able to hook players with its 'augmented reality' features - challenging them to find a virtual Pokemon in the real world near them. Its popularity has led to abuse of its features. Security agencies look at the game as a possible security risk. Governments and people are raising safety and privacy concerns as people move around streets, eyes glued to their mobile phones, and worse.

The game has led people into weird situations such as bumping into a tree, falling off a cliff and losing way.  A player has been charged for jumping over subway tracks in Toronto. A Michigan landlord has sued the Pokeman Company for people trespassing his property - and it will likely become a class suit.  In Florida, a deranged performer is reported to be stalking Pokemon Go players. 

US State Department has cautioned people playing in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam that they might step on landmines and old bombs.

Pentagon has banned Pokemon Go on official phones. Volkswagen has banned it in office premises. Iran has formally banned the game. There is no score of such bans at local levels; there is a report that it has been banned in Bressolles, a village in central France, and in a Malaysian province.

August 11, 2016

What can I do if others steal content from my blog?

The fear of losing one's content bothers many bloggers, going by their queries on Quora and forums. This looks distant until one is attacked but when the attack happens, it can be ruinous. So this post.
copyright-on-websites 

Blogs and other websites are inherently prone to content theft

Once you are on the web and your content is worth stealing (good articles, photos, infographics, quotes, podcasts and videos), there will always be people (thieves) wanting to steal your content and pose it as their own. In some cases, it would be just for bragging about their talent but mostly it is for making money out of it. In some cases, it would be an innocent lift, but in most cases it's deliberate. In some cases, it would be lifting of a small para with some form of attribution; in most cases it would be outright lifting and pocketing credit/ money.

The irony is that whatever original is created by you, the copyright rests with you whether you announce it or not; yet, you cannot stop copying of your content once it is on the w.w.w. beyond a point. Even the biggest film and music producers (with huge resources) have not been able to check piracy of their creations.

That does not mean, you should allow everybody to re-use your content, that too at your cost. There are ways to prevent that and to take action when it hurts.

Is your blog/ website's content really stolen?

Not all copying of content and its re-use is stealing. There are many occasions when the content can be legally and legitimately re-used, sometimes even without attribution and permission. These are called 'fair use' practices. For example, a person reviewing your book is likely to copy-paste in his review a small para or a quotable quote from the book. Someone talking about your product on a review site may like to exactly quote you for the claims you make about the product. Similarly, giving a thumbnail of your art work or book cover, reproducing a stanza from your poem, copy-pasting your floor plan to illustrate how good or bad the flat being sold by you is - all such instances are fair use of your content by others.

The term 'Fair Use' is not easy to define and so even courts rule on copyright infringement matters on case to case basis. However, it is always better to err on the right side on such matters

For a more detailed discussion on fair use, visit this Wiki page and for a legal discussion, this US government resource of fair use.

DMCA. You will hear this expression a lot when discussing copyright matters. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a US law, which is gold standard for copyright on the web, that tells what is allowed and what not when it comes to sharing digital content. If you wish, you can read more about it on this Wiki page.

How much of your content is being stolen and by whom?


You can use a number of tools, some free and some paid, to find out who is scraping your content and where he is using it.

If you search for "plagiarism check" or "check copy paste content online" on Google, you'd find a large number of paid tools that search copy-pasted content for you, but we are in no position to suggest one of them.

Copyscape is one of them. If you go to this site and paste the URL of your blog post, it instantly gives you about ten places where your content is being shared on the web. (On paid version, you can see many more and with many options).

Why not Google your blog? On the search bar, paste a sentence from your blog post and see how many places it figures on the net. Then a few more sentences from different parts of the article and repeat the search. This takes time but is more effective than many other tools!

On such checking, you will spot thieves and also get results that come because your content is being legitimately shared through automated feed apps/ widgets. We Googled a long paragraph from one of our recent posts and found it on over a thousand websites and blogs. Interestingly, in the search results, many entries gave the publication date before we published the post! The earlier date is because in some blog aggregators, the page remains the same (and its date of the page's creation is picked by search engines) while links keep updating. 

The next step would be to make a table of all suspicious scrapers and keep checking them over a period and for different posts.

Is a fight with content thieves worth it?

If majority of cases of re-use of your content relate to genuine use (even slight abuse) of your content, forget it. Be alarmed if you find your content landing on suspicious sites or you are being wrongly quoted or you feel that the reuse is harming you by diverting your traffic or ranking higher on search engines than your original work or people are buying the duplicate work or search traffic is going down because you are being penalized for duplicate content, or in some other way.

If you do find some bad cases of stealing of your content, should you fight back? Assess beforehand, whether your effort will be worth it. Unless you feel you'd gain much by getting the content removed from their site or getting them penalized or winning a legal suit or forcing them to pay for its use, leave it at that.

Take on the content thief if stakes are high


If you are convinced that plagiarism is hurting you and you must take corrective action, you can proceed as follows:

1. Keep proof ready. Take full screen shots of pages with stolen content. Note down URLs of all such pages on these sites. Find their contact details through contact pages etc. If not, go to Whois sites to find who is the owner of the blog.

If you have put a copyright notice on the webpages (discussed in the section on preventive actions below), it helps in identifying the theft.

2. Contact them. It is always better to start with a friendly caution. Write what you have noticed and give a hint that it could be by mistake but it's not fair. Request to bring down and give the option that if they want to legally share your content, they may attribute/ give proper credit. If the intent of the scraper seems to hurt your interest, be straight and make the communication in the form of a 'cease and desist' warning.

3. If the response is not up to the mark, firmly tell him to take the steps in a time-bound manner and warn him of steps you might take. Make it your 'take down' notice.You can even send it through an attorney.

4. If he doesn't listen or shouts back, you can complaint about him to search engines and his web-host. This often works well. Google/ Blogger/ AdSense, Wordpress, Linkedin, Bing and Yahoo have forms on their sites for reporting content theft.

Here, one word of caution. In your zeal to punish the [perceived] guilty, you should not go overboard. There have been cases when acting upon complaints, the ISPs or hosts have removed content or blocked sites beyond what was intended, leading to complications. So, go to this level only if required, and state facts as they are - without exaggeration of theft.

5. Finally, if it is required (and that should happen only in extreme cases when your loss is too big), send the thief a legal notice and follow it with a legal action.

Preventive actions against content theft from blogs, websites and other webspaces

Since it is tough to protect your content against copyright violations and misuse on the web, why not take some easy steps that act at least as a scarecrow in the wheat field. For example,

i. Put a copyright notice on the blog/ website. You can use Creative Commons license and a DMCA.com badge. Both are free. The latter has payment options too. DMCA even helps you send 'take down' notices to the guilty.

ii. Do not put your digital art or high-resolution  photographs directly on the website/ blog. Watermark the high-res image or give a thumbnail only.

iii. Instead of posting videos directly on the blog, put them on YouTube and give a link on the blog. YouTube is very strict with copyright infringement by any of its users, and so if the thief re-uses your videos on his YouTube against your wishes, he is sure to be penalized.

iv. Set up a Google alert on some of your high quality content, so that you are notified whenever your content is shared on the web, and then check  whether it is theft. 
 
v. Allow only short RSS feed so that automated curating/ aggregating sites too have only a small part of the blog post and not the whole. 
If you want to give full post in RSS feed, add a line giving link to your original post. You can do this easily on Blogger through Settings>Other>Site Feed. Wordpress bloggers can use a plugin available on its site.

On your part, you the blogger should not infringe others' rights. Like to see our earlier post on attribution and related matters?

August 5, 2016

Medium gets great traffic; should I shift my blog there?

medium-blogging-tips
Medium gives clutter-free reading experience!
Nobody doubts the value of Medium as a content site but the opinion is divided on taking is as a blogging platform. If its fans drool over its fantastic social/ community-driven virality, self-hosted bloggers frown at its lack of blog-like features such as custom design and monetization.

Medium is an easy platform for writing on the web


If you are new to Medium, let's quickly introduce it. It is a social site on which you can publish a post after a quick sign-up through Google, Facebook etc. Go to medium.com, signup and you are ready for writing your first post (called 'story'). You can comment on any story and follow others. You can search Medium for stories on different aspects by 'search' or 'tags'.

If you want to be regular on Medium, keep posting  stories and also start a 'publication' which is like a blog on Medium platform. It contains your own stories, and if you want you can include stories written by others. 

Medium focuses on writing, content. The stories on Medium come out clean, without clutter. No ads, no annoying popups, no widgets; just reading, commenting and sharing. Some find the reading experience on Medium better than even well-curated newspaper sites because the content is often as good and there are no annoying ads and popups.

The fact that visitors to Medium are good readers stories is borne out from the fact that stories that have 7 minutes of content get the maximum reads and shares. That translates into about 1800 words! Definitely, you will not get the number of shares that you might get on WhatsApp and Twitter but those who come to your Medium account will be those who read and appreciate good content. 

If your content is liked by people, the story gets listed in their storylines / publications, and your original story gets good traffic in no time. In that respect, Medium behaves like bookmarking sites (e.g. Digg) and community blogs. 

How does Medium compare with Blogger, Wordpress, Tumblr etc? 


Well, Medium is for self-expression and sharing. Blog is all this and also one's own space on the web. Blog allows you to spruce it up and play with it the way you like, even make money from it.

On your blog, you can run widgets (=gadgets) that give functionalities such as a contact form, showing local weather, converting currency, putting a blogroll, showing up your best posts and so on. You can do SEO and promotion. At advance level, you can have landing pages, forms, affiliations, PPC ads and display ads.

But if you are a blogger with your own blog (not on Medium), the possibilities of tweaking design etc can also act as your liabilities because they divert your mind from content. 

To repeat, on Medium you get good quantity and quality of traffic but you can't be creative with design aspects. You cannot monetize your content the way you can on your blog.

Who said you can't make money out of a Medium blog? 


Sorry, we said this just a sentence earlier; but what we said was that you can't do so in a direct way

We have hundreds of examples of popular Medium bloggers having made huge money. 

Money need not come directly through ads, isn't it? In fact, most regular bloggers who make good money confide that it needs support of other streams to earn good from blogging. (A post on paying streams for bloggers if you like.)

Some Medium bloggers have got book orders as their excellent writing was discovered by discerning publishers. Some, who gave a link to their main blog on their stories, have reported getting very good traffic to the blog. Some have smartly given a link to their landing pages so interested readers reach the right place to buy their product. 

In fact, Medium allows you to re-purpose your blog content beautifully. Go to the story editor, import from the main blog and publish the story on Medium. It allows you to edit the post before publishing and also automatically gives a prominent link to the original blog post.

A great medium so ignorantly abandoned!


Interestingly, Medium has been ignored by politicians who otherwise are so hungry to spread their word far and wide. Perhaps writing good content is not the forte of many of them. But they can get the content ghost-written, what they already do on their blogs and websites. We feel that Medium is an excellent place for spreading mature political thought. 

Big social thinkers, NGOs and academicians have also ignored this platform, perhaps because it does not give them the identity that an independent website or a closed forum/ community does.

After analyzing pros and cons of Medium, we feel that all those seeking to be read by serious people should have a presence on Medium

Bloggers need not abandon their main blog. They should rather find ways to supplement their main blog through Medium. Re-publishing and cross-linking are two easy ways to leverage the potential of both the platforms.