May 24, 2017

Param and Shika share success mantras of travel blogging

Param and Shikha maintain a beautiful travel blog with an unseemly name, The Untourists. I asked them some straight questions about their blogging experience and advice to other bloggers. The answers that come from Paramvir are straight, intimate and useful. 

the Untourist travel blog
Read on, what the untouristy couple, always looking for that unknown untouristy place or look for untouristy things to do in a popular place, have to say on their blogging journey:

1. How did you start the blog? What prompted you do so? What was the inspiration?

We are both film makers and photographers, and love traveling. Over a period of time we had many stories to tell and photos to share. I have never been a fan of giving out your work for free. So we decided to share our stories and pictures on our own platform. Hence was born The Untourists.


2. What do you think as your biggest success in the blogging journey? Can you narrate one or two actions (or circumstances) that quickly pushed your blogging to a great height?

People writing in to seek travel advice. You feel very rewarded when you realize your stories are inspiring people and they want to re-live those journeys.

Unique content really pushes your blog's visibility. We wrote an article on Todgarh, perhaps the only article on a travel to this quaint place, and that itself has got us so much traffic and emails. Focus on creating something unique. One hears this all the time, but it's so true.

3. Any regrets about having chosen blogging?

No. Not at all. On the contrary, I find it somewhat therapeutic.


4. Any experience with travel blogging or a particular blogging platform or webhost or tourist place that you'd quickly share?

Blogging is almost a 360 degree activity. You travel, meet people, write a post, share it with the people you met, and stuff. As for us, we have also put remote and as yet un-marked places on Foursquare and Tripadvisor. That helps build long term relationships and bonds. We have people willing to open doors where it's generally not possible.

I remember once we had gone visiting a small advertising agency for some work. When they found out we blogged here, word spread in the company and soon we were surrounded by a small but passionate group wanting to hear stories and ask questions. Needless to say, it makes you feel you are doing something special.


5. How do you keep balance between travel, profession and home?

It's tough. We would like to travel more often, see more places, do more stuff. But someone needs to pay for that! We are full time film makers and that takes away a lot of time, since work is unpredictable. We are often unable to go on journeys that take time. But we keep trying and seeing if we could fit a 10 day trip here or there. As a result, we end up booking at the last moment which is generally more expensive. But on the happier side, we can avoid travel on long weekends and tourist seasons, and hence avoid the crowds.

 
6. What would you advise new travel bloggers?

Being a blogger means being a thought leader. You must know as much as possible about your domain. Expose yourself to what's current and happening in your field. Read as much as you can. Follow other 'thought leaders' in your domain and keep abreast of trends, changes and new conversations. The most important thing to do is discover your tone of voice. Within your own niche, what is it that differentiates you from other bloggers. It's the way you write, what you write etc. But unless you have a tone of voice, it's very difficult to stand out.

Do spend time on social media, building your audience base. I have noticed, on an average, each post on Instagram gets you at least, at the very least, one new follower. The deeper your social network roots are, the wider your reach.

And do take out time to have fun and do nothing. It's very important for the mind to be free.

7. What should travel bloggers NOT do if they want to succeed in the long run?

Do not dilute your equity. You must create a positioning statement for yourself and stay true to that. In the early stages of blogging you will get a lot of freebie offers and deals, but you must be careful about which ones you choose and how they affect your brand. 


8. Any advice on niches within travel field that you find are evergreen or highly paying or good for budding bloggers?
 

Param, Shikha: the Untourists
Weekend Getaways from cities are always some of the most searched in travel, but they are also a very crowded space to be in.

I guess honeymoon and romantic destinations for couples should be a popular search not very well serviced. People travel a lot to be together, but not many bloggers are covering this particular segment. Offbeat and adventure travel is glamorous, but it's not for everyone. Most people just want to go to a beautiful place to unwind!

9. Any blogging-related actions you think are worthless or a waste of time?

Perhaps adding your link to substandard directories? And content sharing. It makes your blog look silly.

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

Quality of content is the single most important thing. This is the reason people collect magazines like National Geographic. Don't you want people to bookmark your site?

I am not sure about SEO. I haven't done what is called an 'SEO exercise'. I feel modern search engines are good enough to read your blog and index it. I don't want my blog to look like it's written for search engines and not humans.

Engagement with users is important. People like friendly blogs.

Look and feel is important too. So's how well your theme is coded that it loads very quickly. Does your user interface confuse audiences? Are your readers able to search for and discover information quickly? Will your old posts be buried under archives never to be discovered again? These are areas that need to be worked on.

Passion for travel, of course, is important. Else how will you inspire your own readers?

However, one of the most important things is developing your own tone of voice. Finding your own niche. Why would someone want to read your blog? Is your writing witty, soulful, light, heavy, adventure laden, story driven etc. Find your tone of voice and stick to it. Pretty much like how large brands do it. You will find your own unique audience with it.

11. How paying is travel blogging? Anything you'd like to disclose about your blog's earnings?

We haven't made much money through the blog. Perhaps enough to buy a couple of pairs of jeans and that too through Google Ads. We have received offers for guest posts and sponsored posts but as of now we have declined because it hasn't fit into the blog's tone. 


For budding bloggers, I would advise to keep alternate sources of earnings open while you build your audiences. Spend a good deal of time on social media (Twitter, FB, Instagram, whatever you can). Numbers result into worthwhile financial results. Build audiences. See what works for you. try hashtags and images that work. Engage. Be very very visible.

Everyone has a different definition of how much money works for them. But be assured that it is only going to come when you have a large enough readership.


Start here, if you are interested in browsing our series on travel blogging.

May 19, 2017

My God! You are still blogging in 2017!!

Progress of blogging over the years

It is nearly 20 years since the word 'blog' was coined to describe a web page on which regular updates were carried as if it were a 'log' or diary of events rather than a static website.

Blogging grew from strength to strength as it peaked around 2010-12. Some social media observers in during 2002-6 period even thought that blogging would remain the top tech activity for years to come. But then emerged social networking sites. Orkut ruled for a while, to be annihilated by Facebook. Twitter brought 'micro-blogging' to the mainstream. The space for online social interactions was then also occupied by Instagram, Snapchat, and so on - each with its own ways to share and engage. Chatting sites such as WhatsApp used the space for instant messaging and added sharing features that made them very popular.

Where blogging stands today

New free and paid platforms have arisen after Wordpress and Blogger and they fulfill the unmet need of bloggers who want just to write or post audio, photos and videos, without bothering for design. 
If traditional blogging lost a lot to social networking and chatting, it got some from social platforms too. Social biggies such as Facebook and LinkedIn have opened up blogging on their platforms. 

In all, old bloggers are still blogging and many new bloggers are joining the blogosphere; however, the rate of death of blogs seems to be higher than their birth rate.

Who is blogging in 2017? 

Who are the bloggers who are able to sustain their blogs despite onslaught of social networks and chats? And who are the guys who open blogs even when it is often said that people now need only quick and short bits of information?
One. Bloggers of today are thinkers. If you are not a person with thoughts worth sharing, you would not blog as your urge to engage would be met more than enough by social networks. So, in most cases, you won't be blogging in 2017 if you do not have thoughts and experiences that go beyond chats and quick reactions.

Two. Many bloggers of today are businessmen. More and more bloggers of 2017 are sole entrepreneurs. These are people who are focused on using blog as a business. Many are part-timers and some are full-time bloggers for whom blog is for monetizing their talent and time. 
blogging in 2017
A blog is more than just a social media entity in 2017. Photo: Pixabay

Three. Bloggers of 2017 have a purpose. Even if the blog is not meant for making money directly, it must give the blogger something big than just sharing thoughts. That may not be the rule but a big factor, because it is difficult to sustain blogging if it is aimless. The days of diary writing for the sake of it are over and nobody would come to your blog if it does not give them something more. 

Four. New bloggers of 2017 are in a hurry. The trend of opening new blogs and then letting them die is not new. So, a good number of blogs, especially from areas that have got internet connectivity only now and in new  languages, are added every day. Unlike earlier days, the blogger is in a hurry to be popular and make money; so, if he gets success in these, he is prepared to invest time and money and if he fails, he does not hesitate to dump the blog instantly.  

These are some observations on blogging as it stands today. Any further ideas?

May 16, 2017

WannaCry attack: all you need to know, and updates

Even as I was almost finishing my post on social media and tech updates today, the news of worldwide cyber-attack exploded all across. I had not realized over the weekend that it would grow so much so fast. There is no bigger tech news today than this, so devoting this episode on this.

updated on Sunday, May 21

The story in short is this: For five days, the world had been in the grip of an attack on networked computers, which encrypts files and makes them unusable. The victim can make the files usable after paying a ransom to the hackers. 

WHAT THE HELL IS THE WORM?

This is a virus attack, commonly termed as ransomware because it seeks ransom in return for going away. It is named WannaCry (or WannaCrypt).

The attack by WannaCry is supposed to exploit a vulnerability in Windows operating system (OS). President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft says on this blog that Microsoft had issued a security patch against this vulnerability two months back but many users have ignored it. A new patch was issued on May 12.

Some experts have blamed governments for lacking alertness, responsibility and understanding in dealing with tech, which might endanger the entire net. To prove the point, they cite the present attack and the leaks from CIA that WikiLeaks exposed recently. It is reported that as back as 2010, the UK government had wanted to replace old computers in National Health Service (NHS) with new ones but hospitals and government officials sat over it, making the computers sitting ducks for cyber-attackers. 

It is reported that US's intelligence agency NSA had created a code ETERNALBLUE to exploit this particular vulnerability and it was leaked to the public by a group called Shadow Brokers. On Monday, the group said, it would come out with more such exploits. Russian President Putin has come public, saying that WannaCry is creation of American intelligence agencies and would backfire on them. In response, US Homeland Security Advisor has said, it was not the creation of NSA but done by 'potential criminals and foreign nation states' perhaps hinting at North Korea.

Microsoft says, it has been telling intelligence agencies to fix vulnerabilities rather than making them tools of cyber-warfare. If they are selectively releasing such tools, it is extremely wicked indeed.

But why did Microsoft release a security patch in March against this particular vulnerability? Microsoft has not been supporting ancient versions such as Windows XP for quite some time. But suddenly they came out with a fix in March that plugs this  vulnerability. So, either NSA told MS of the theft before it became public, or someone tipped MS, or MS was part of some operation. The last one looks extremely unlikely. 

Computers running on old versions of core software are most vulnerable to various types of cyber attacks because vulnerabilities were discovered later and new ones arose due to new developments in coding. Even security patches released by the parent companies can insulate the old software against modern malware only to an extent. The issue becomes serious when the parent company stops supporting the old software, e.g. Microsoft has stopped supporting Windows XP, Windows 95 and Windows 98 versions of OS. Specifically for WannaCry, something else seems to have happened. Read on.

Vulnerabilities occur in latest versions of Windows and other operating systems too, and cyber-criminals exploit them. It is not always a design fault but the way the OS handles certain tasks. By writing a malicious code that resembles a genuine one, hackers can fool the OS into harming itself much like viruses and cancer cells in living beings. 

The present virus is supposed to have infected Windows 7, 64bit version much more than any other version, and very few Windows XP computers as earlier thought.

Financial Times has said that Microsoft held back a security patch that might have slowed down the attack. In fact, the paper goes on to tell how MS is charging huge sums from users of old Windows versions for additional security. Not only that, it is not giving all the security free on its latest Windows (Windows 10) but is charging extra bucks for full security!

WannaCry is an unprofessional job by the attackers, experts say. The attackers were also stupid enough not to try multiple web addresses or virtualize them to spread the virus, but they chose an unlikely web address. Interestingly, a tech blogger in the UK (MalwareTech) got curious of the web address and registered it, and it led to stopping of the malware spread. Of course, the earlier spread took time to taper off and new variants took over. It is learned that many groups are working on the vulnerabilities stolen from NSA vaults, so there could be more similar attacks, perhaps after a lull and with a different name.

It is reported that the hackers have also not been able to make big money by way of ransom. By Monday, they seem to have collected around 50K dollars, at the rate of $300 per attack.

GENESIS AND SPREAD

The cyber-attack is supposed to have started with some vulnerable computers in Europe, especially those of National Health Service (NHS) of the UK on Friday and then spread elsewhere. Vital operations in NHS hospitals came to standstill on Friday itself, leaving patients in the lurch. 

But researchers are not yet sure how and to how many computers the first attacks took place. The latest evidence suggests, it was not through emails but by a process that looked for this particular vulnerability. Once the virus attacked a few computers in a big network, it spread through LAN.

From Europe, the virus spread fast to all continents, especially Asia. Besides UK, France and Spain, Russia, India, China, Taiwan  and South-East Asia have faced the ire but except for some public services and companies, the attack on enterprises has been contained. The attack on US has so far been less in intensity as it got time to secure its servers. Africa and Canada are supposed to have been attacked only mildly.

It is reported that WannaCry has attacked over 300,000 computers/ servers in 150 countries.
WannaCry attack: heat map, courtesy Symantec

Such an attack hits services in many ways. One, vital services keep internet disconnected from their computers so as to secure them and stop threat and further damage if already attacked. Two, users stop using the services for fear of infection, thus disrupting life. Three, the real damage to many computers and their data.

TRACKING THE HACKERS

How do the hackers get the ransom money? Well, it can't be through credit cards or bank transfers as the recipient would be immediately nailed. So, they use the virtual digital currency Bitcoin. Yet, it may not be impossible to track them, experts say.

Europol and FBI have started a massive manhunt to nab the criminals. The Bitcoin account is also being tracked. A small hacker group has claimed responsibility for the attack but is being dismissed as bravado.North Korea has been blamed, but how much of it is political propaganda is to be seen.

HOW DO I SECURE MYSELF

  • To secure your networked computer, update its OS immediately.
  • If your computer runs on Windows OS, and you have not updated it recently or you are not in a position to do so, apply this patch from Microsoft site: MS 17-010
  • Avoid digital transactions for some days, so as to allow service providers (e-comm sites, banks, etc) to secure their servers.
  • Do not open an email attachment, especially of the following types: with unusual suffixes in their file names / from unknown sources / tasksche.exe / with a URL about which you do not know.
  • Do not open any email or act on their instructions if they seem to come from Microsoft or some other known big name. Typically, they pose as security experts and tell you that your computer is at risk unless you enable macros, apply a software offered by them or something similar.
  • Avoid using public wi-fi.
  • Back up your critical data in external hard disk or DVDs. 
  • Install a powerful antivirus software on your computer (and smartphone) and keep it on auto-update mode. 
  • This particular malware is unable to attack systems working on Mac and Linux operating systems. But why not use this opportunity to secure Mac and Linux computers, if you are using them?

May 10, 2017

Why spam links on comment box are harmful, and how to disable them on Blogger blogHTML editor

We have dealt with comment spam in detail earlier. 

In this post, we'd discuss why links appearing on comments are not good for the blog, and specifically how to disable them on Blogger blogs.

Why links on your blog's comment box may be bad

When commenters put a few links, it could be their eagerness and good intentions to bring to your notice some useful and relevant content. But when a comment has irrelevant content or content that has been made artificially look relevant to search engines, it sure is spam. The comment has been made to pull traffic to the commenter's site and to add 'link juice' (=value that a website gets when it is linked from a good website) to a sham website. These serve the spammer's purpose well while reducing the value of your website/ blog. 

As if that were not enough, spammers sometimes add links in comments. An even worse case is when the spammer puts a number of links and links to bad sites. Definitely these links are of low value and hurt your website's reputation in the eyes of search engines.

What do you do when you get spammy comments with links?

We have discussed these options on other posts; just to recall: 
. One, not to accept comments on posts at all, and instead have a widget for contact form. 
. Two, use captcha to avoid content spam. 
. Three, do comment moderation. 
. Four, accept comments from verified users only (through Discus, Facebook, WB/ Google authentication, OpenID, etc). 
. Five, tweak settings to automatically control comments e.g. comments on old posts/ comments with many links/ comments on some posts only (available on Wordpress and Blogger). 
. Six, have comments only from native users (only from Wordpress bloggers, G+ commenting).

Disabling links from appearing on comments

It is a good idea to have comment box on the blog but disable links.

In the case of free Wordpress blogs, there is limitation on changing code (and unless you are a coder, you would not like to change the code on Wordpress even if you had the premium account), but you can modify the code at will on Blogger blogs, and it is easy. So, I am giving a simple way to disable links on comments. (On the web, coders have pasted many codes, but I find the following the easiest and best. I have copied this code from Mohammad Wali's blog. Thanks Wali!):
On the dashboard, select the blog and then 'Theme'. There is a link for 'Backup/Restore'. This allows you to back up the theme and restore it if during editing the theme, something wrong happens by mistake.

After backing up the theme, come back and click on 'Edit HTML'. 

blogging
HTML editor on Blogger

Put your cursor anywhere in the editing area and press Control+F keys. It will open a small search box inside the HTLM editor. Write </head> here and press Enter key to search for this expression in the HTML code.  

Just before </Head>, make a line by pressing Enter key and paste the code given below. Look at the image above for clarity.

<script type="text/javascript" src="http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.10.2/jquery.min.js" />

Now, bring back the search box with Control+F keys and type in it, </body>.Just before that, make a blank line and post the code given below.
<script type="text/javascript">
$("#comments p a").each(function () {
$(this).replaceWith($(this).text());
});
</script>
 


On the HTML editor, click on 'Save theme'. This will remove links from all the comments that you receive on the blog.

Here you can visit ITB's detailed post on comment spam.

Any experiences of comment spam, guys? Any new solutions?

May 6, 2017

Indian Blogs: Slipping or growing in their number and influence?

We are bringing out the seventh edition of Directory of Best Indian Blogs on 1st June.

directory-of-best-indian-blogs
We have completed three rounds of manually checking and filtering blogs for the Directory. Every year during this process, we clean our database by removing dud blogs and yet it has bloated (again) to more than 50k because we used to keep blogs that had low regularity but were still somewhat active. This time, we have checked all such sleepish blogs and removed them for ever.

A handful of good blogs could not be considered as the bloggers have purposely made it difficult to know their dates of posting. Some have applied designs that convert the blog into a static website though they might be adding new posts there. 

Similarly, we had to reject blogs when the bloggers didn't divulge who they are, and it is impossible to know whether they are an individual, a group, a firm or an NGO and what is their purpose behind the blog. Google itself says, identity of the website owners is one of the key factors for a site's reputation on the web.

Indian-blogs-popular-make-moneyThis time, we searched Twitter for new blogs and collected over 2k URLs from there. This all has taken a lot of our time but the labor has proved fruitful.

Let's share what all we found during this process. 

  • Newspapers are disowning blogs. Some big newspapers and TV channels already had restrictive blogging platforms, but Hindustan Times - a big Indian English newspaper, which had a good collection of well-written blogs - has given it up. It still has a blog section hidden in a corner of the website, with no content as of now. Times of India, the biggest English newspaper in India, which tries monetizing every bit of its web property, has put a pop-under ad behind blogs. Many of its earlier blogs have died and its present blogs are nothing but re-posting of newspaper columns, but still worth reading because of high quality of content.
  • As usual, many popular and reputed blogs have ceased to exist or become irregular. This mostly includes blogs that shared thoughts/ experiences  rather than selling anything, but some blogs on food and travel too have died. On the other hand, a few good ones that had gone to sleep have woken up. Overall, the blogosphere has lost a number of good blogs.
  • If bloggers think that only paid for / self-hosted blogs look professional or only they make money, the Directory will have some blogs that still are part of .blogspot or .wordpress domains and are successful in terms of popularity, reputation, even money-making. But, such blogs are very few.
  • Making blogs for making money has caught up in India. Earlier seen in IT and food niches, it has become even more pronounced in travel niche. We came across a few hundred travel blogs by Indians, some of which are making good money. Interestingly, some bloggers have jumped to this activity leaving behind good jobs. A few bloggers (whom we contacted during writing a series on travel blogging recently) confided that they had adopted travel blogging as their full time job and are happy with it.  
  • Other themes that seem to be catching attention of bloggers in India are: photography, beauty, lifestyle (a mixed niche that generally includes grooming, fashion, decor, family, socialization and fitness) and book reviews. While insurance, health, relationship, career and real estate are also popular niches worldwide, these have not caught up in India. 
  • Indians are great cricket and music/ film fans, and yoga has originated in India and has become popular too, but there are not many blogs on these areas, not to speak of good blogs.
  • The blogging for money type of blogs are becoming more polished and often with high level of social media integration. Linking with Twitter and Instagram is pronounced while earlier Facebook used to be the first/ only choice.
  • Since more blogs are being opened for making money, bloggers' influence on branding seems to be growing, albeit in only a few niches such as travel.
  • The trend of opening many blogs seems to have declined. Moreover, though lesser number of blogs are now opening (thanks largely to social networking platforms), the percentage of blogs that sustain seems to be increasing. 
  • We have also been noticing of late is that a good number of serious bloggers keep blogging, though with low regularity. For example, a finance expert who is busy in his profession keeps writing once a month or so; a CEO takes out time to talk about Indian society's ills 2-3 times in a quarter; a retired government servants keeps discussing  governance issues on her blog.  
That's all for now. June 1, remember? That's the day when we'd publish the Directory. Till then, namaste.

May 1, 2017

iamnothome

I am not home
http://iamnothome.net/


'I am not home' is an attempt of a chronic Indian traveler to document his travels through 75 countries (and hopefully, the whole world eventually). I share my personal experiences, travel photographs, and sometimes even travel poetry, through each of these countries.

- Abhi Surendran

April 23, 2017

Social media updates: blogger killed, new tech from F8 conference

I thought, in this edition I'd share with you only some  exciting news coming from the Facebook's F8 Developer Conference. But then came the news of a blogger's murder for challenging authority. So, let me start with that, as ITB's tribute to such fearless bloggers.

A blogger pays with life for criticizing authority


In Male, the capital of Maldives - a tiny nation in the Indian Ocean - a blogger was stabbed to death on April 23. Yameen Rasheed was found dead with multiple stab wounds in his apartment staircase.

Yameen had complained to the police several times about death threats he had been receiving for months.

Yameen was a well-known voice in favor of liberal thoughts and freedom of expression. He ran a personal blog, Uglyy, since 2005. In 2013, he started a new blog The Daily Panic, which he called 'Maldives' only news website'. He used it to satirise the frequently unsatirisable politics of Maldives.

daily panic blog

The political opposition in Maldives has blamed the government for the killing and associated it with the government's systematic crackdown on all dissenting voices. United Nations has issued a call for an immediate investigation into the killing of Yameen.

Back to business. The annual Facebook Developer Conference, nicknamed F8, has just ended with a lot of exciting tech and social media predictions.
F8 showcased over a dozen products, concepts and offers to developers and entrepreneurs including a 360-degree video camera and other camera features, new features on FB Messenger, video streaming on FB Live, and a bot platform. I'd talk of just three that are particularly interesting:

Virtual reality social chat app, Facebook Spaces


If you are one who happens to chat with his friends on Facebook Messenger, you might soon have the option to chat ‘in virtual reality’ in which your and friends' avatars are placed inside a 3D video and become part of it, like being part of an immersive video game. Unlike video games, you can chat real time and your respond to the others’ reactions is instant, not programmed. Of course, to be able to do so, you’d need the Oculus Rift virtual reality gear. Right now, it is not too exciting and has problems,  and you need to spend good money on the VR (Oculus Rift) gear. 

Facebook Spaces
FB Spaces: chatting in virtual world

The augmented reality push

Augmented reality has been high on the tech biggies’ minds for sometime. Facebook gave its hint earlier, but now it has shared the AR platform with developers wanting to create AR based apps, games and so on. 

Starting with possible augmented reality shooting and sharing, it would move to games, 3D objects, etc.

So, if augmented reality takes centre-stage in people's minds and is adopted widely, the tiny camera on your mobile phone would become one of the most important part of your electronic gadgetry, that's what Facebook feels.

For the uninitiated, augmented reality is the science of putting virtual objects in real life (i.e. reality) for a surreal experience. For example, being able to create a virtual piece of art on your real wall or [in FB's own imagination] having a coffee mug next to yours so that you feel you are not having your breakfast alone.

Typing with brain, hearing with skin!


A bit of futuristic tech this. It was also shown in the Conference how it will be possible in a couple of years to type at the speed of 100 words per minute strait with brain's commands and without use of fingers.   

In the same vein, It should be possible, using the advances in using the power of brain to interpret sensory experiences, to use touch sensations to 'hear' things.  Cochlear transplants have already shown that this is doable in near future.

It would be interesting to see if support from Facebook helps technology grow fast in this direction.

April 21, 2017

7 tips on how to organize resources for your travel blog and keep them safe

Organizing the stuff that is required for and generated during travels and blogging is very important but often ignored. When we don't organize ourselves properly, especially when we amass huge resources (e.g. thousands of travel photos or hundreds of blog ideas), it leads to clutter and we tend to lose precious time in searching for the required thing and sometimes don't find it at all!

We give here some simple tips on organizing oneself as a travel blogger. 

1. Of course, nothing helps you remain in full control of yourself like a pocket diary

You can use it for jotting down quick information before you transfer it to your electronic device, taking notes and gathering ideas. Keep a few pencils and a sharpener in your handbag in addition to a ball-point pen. Pencils are the best and fountain/ gel pens the worst in rainy or very hot/ cold weather.

2. Organize your electronic resources thoughtfully.

I'll show you one way of doing it but you can have your own system. Again, you will need to customize it depending on whether you have one computing device that you carry everywhere (e.g. laptop or a power-packed tab) or you have one to be kept at home/ hotel and another that has enough computing power and you carry it everywhere.

Let's talk of your main computer (PC/ laptop). Create a folder in your work area (Windows: Documents or My Documents) and not on desktop or common area (e.g. C drive). You will keep all your resources here, so give it a memorable name (e.g. TRAVEL-BLOGGING). Think of organizing this folder like a library where each book has its own designated place. 

travel blogging resource management

Look at the image here. This arrangement is one of the best because it is not too complicated and yet takes care of all aspects of 'inventory management' relating to travel blogging. Look at the top: The main folder has a number of sub-folders inside it, one each for travel destinations, travel events and major topics. Over time, these could be 50, 100, 500,... Each of these sub-folders (e.g. LONDON/ OFF-BEAT/ PHOTOGRAPHY-TIPS) has sub-sub-folders for (i) your own photos, videos and audio/ podcasts; and (ii) research material (This sub-folder has resources you  gather for research, get from the spot and copy from the web). You will place all material created by you (other than own photos and videos) associated with the topic (e.g. LONDON) directly in this sub-folder. These include draft posts, ideas, own research.

Some bloggers prefer to keep all their photos and videos together and have folders for other things. Some have a carefree approach; they dump all their photos from one visit in a folder, keep all other material in one dump and periodically clean their storage of old material. I find that the approach to have folders for major themes is the best, as it builds archives and manages them well.

The main folder (e.g. TRAVEL-BLOGGING) has just three other folders and a document file. One folder is for keeping all software tools. Keep a copy of useful software programs so that you re-install them if the running one gets corrupted. Also keep shortcuts to running programs. The tools for a travel blogger can be paid ones (e.g. Photoshop for major photo editing work) and/or free ones (e.g. Gimp for major image editing work, IrfanView+thumbnails for photo viewing and quick edits). You can also have links to online tools here.

The second folder keeps all external resources and acts as your library. It could include learning resources, brochures, newspaper clips and so on. Remember, you will keep resources specific to a place or event or topic in the related sub-folder.

The third folder will be a common kitchen for all blogging work, not specific to a particular event or place. These would include a spread-sheet for SEO work, a sheet for social media work and so on.

3. How about an electronic scrapbook?

It is a good idea to have a document (e.g. MSWord doc) which you keep for jotting down whatever comes to your mind. It can have a sudden idea that you got while working on another post, a telephone number, some reminder etc. You could be copying things here from your old pocket diary before you discard that. 

Precede each entry with date.

Where to keep this doc? That depends on your device and working habits. I would suggest a few places: (i) On the desktop/ opening screen of your PC/laptop tab; (ii) Inside the main folder (e.g. TRAVEL-BLOGGING folder in the image given above) - in this case, it will be part of your travel kitty but you will need to click at two places to reach it. 

If you have a single scrapbook and that is located on the device that is not with you all the time, you will have to write quick ideas or info either in the pocket diary and then transfer that to this scrapbook when you have time. On the other hand, you can have a scrapbook on your tab or smartphone. But you will have to learn how to sync the two, so that the main one remains updated all the time. If syncing is an issue, you can decide not to work on the main scrapbook but on the portable one only and replace the main one periodically with the updated one.

If you are not averse to experimenting with electronic tools for organizing your thoughts, scheduling, etc, you can try Trello and Evernote. However, many bloggers quit them after some time.

4. Put a short-cut rather than folder itself on the desktop. 

The opening screen (=desktop) on your PC or laptop is not the right place to store a big folder. It leads to many problems including the risk of losing it and slowing down the computer. 

What you should do is to keep the folder at a place that is accessible only to you (e.g. on Windows, Documents or My Documents, depending upon the Windows version). Right click on its icon and you have the option to create a short-cut. Copy this short-cut to the desktop and there you are. In one click on the short-cut, you'll reach the folder but the folder will be safe even if you accidentally lose the shortcut. 

5. Follow a standard naming pattern. You can choose to carry on with common-sense naming of folders and files and leave photos with the native naming system of your camera. But over a period of time, they will create something like a slum city in which there are no street or building names or numbers.

It is better to start using a more scientific naming system from the beginning. A good one, which is not complicated and yet serves the purpose,  can be like this: 2017-3-philippines-boracay (year, month, main place or event and a running number/ keyword/ tag.

As you would notice, this naming system keeps resources in a chronological manner - a thing of special importance to travel blogger. Keyword/ tag is very important because you can dig out such a file easily using the 'search' facility of the computer.

6. Use your browser as an aid to blogging.

On your main web browser, bookmark the sites you need to visit regularly. These should include links to your blogging platform, affiliates/ AdSense/ Google Analytics etc if you have installed them, Google language tool in case your blog is not in English, a good web dictionary and thesaurus (we recommend WordWeb), a forum or community that you often visit, and of course online utilities and tools.

All big browsers of today come with many plugins and extensions that can easily make many of your tasks easy. Similarly, all major mobile OSs come with very useful apps for travelers and bloggers. 

For example, if you are not good in typing, there are tools for taking dictation; if you want to voice over a video and your voice or pronunciation is not perfect, you can try a text-to-speech tool; you can easily convert files online, do a quick-edit on your photo, create a collage of photos, get a draft translation, find meanings of words in the foreign country that you are currently visiting...

7. Sync and back up your resources.

Back up your blog periodically. Blogger and WordPress have inbuilt provisions for backing up the blog. If your blog is independently hosted, contact the web-host to learn how to back up the blog.

Also back up other resources. Over years, you will have numerous photos, videos, recordings, documents, maps, illustrations, projects on Photoshop, etc. These can be easily backed up, and as a blogger you should not ignore this vital action that you need to do only periodically, say once a month. We'd recommend that you back up the resources in more than one place out of those suggested below.  

If you have arranged your resources as we have illustrated above and you take care to copy paste items stored on the phone or camera to the main storage, backing up needs just a few clicks.

Think of backing-up the resources in these places:

a. On cloud. Google gives you G Drive; Yahoo and Bing allow massive free storage on their servers. There are many other free or paid storage options.

b. On your main computer. Install 7-Zip (a free zipping software). Right click on the main folder. Choose 7-Zip and then archiving options. Give a password to the archives and store the secure archives somewhere else on the computer. 

c. On a high-capacity pendrive or external hard disk. It is better to zip the folder with a password, as said above, before storing on these portable media. Alternatively, you can password protect the entire drive/ disk.

Some computer users 'sync' resources between two locations. We do not recommend that if you are not a careful type. In syncing, the same entity (e.g. a MSWord file) is backed up in two places (e.g. on main computer and pendrive) and when you sync them, the new one replaces the old one. However, if you want to keep the earlier version also or you work simultaneously on the versions in different locations, syncing may at times give you pain.

Hope these help. Best wishes!

Other articles in the travel blogging series:

1. Travel Blogging: How to succeed without pain, and have fun
2. Travel Blogging: Don't ever ignore supporting activities
3. Tips, inspirations from successful bloggers

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April 14, 2017

Tips and inspirations from successful travel bloggers

As promised, we bring you first-person insights from successful travel bloggers. This is the third post in the series on travel blogging.

What successful travel bloggers have in common


Let's give you the summary first. But be conscious of the fact that everybody's experiences are different from others'. Also remember that we are talking of a 'generation' of bloggers who did not have others to guide them or many pathfinders whom they could follow.

  • Most of them would die rather than quit travel.
  • Most are also avid photographers. May not be 'professional' photo journalist sort but they love clicking photos all the time.
  • A good number started travel blogging in a jerk.
  • Many of them have left their 'normal' jobs to turn full-time travelers and bloggers.
  • A few earn awesome amounts, many earn rather good sums and most of them (just to remind, we're talking of successful ones only) have learnt to live a spartan life. Perhaps the last type enjoy life to the hilt.
  • A few have grown into businessmen/ women. They still love travel, but now the focus is on earning.
  
    Travel blog by Matt

    Now, let's share some insights.

    Let's start with this guy, Matt, a big travel blogger. On his blog, Expert Vagabond, he says, If I had to guess, I’d say less than 100 people make decent money directly from their travel blogs, and then goes on to advise that we should build audience first and then think of money. The hard truth is you’ll only earn income with your blog once you have a decent audience. Readers first, money later.

    You can read this post on how Matt makes money from his travel blog.
     

    Derek of Wandering Earl goes a step further when it comes to 'reader first' dictum. He gives the credit for success of his blog to building a community around the blog, Of course, without the blog, there would be no community. But without the community – and this part is far more important in my eyes – there’s a good chance I would not still be traveling and as a result, there wouldn’t be any blog. 

    Derek has started a tour company. He feels, travel plus blogging is a viable avocation option: I want to use my own experiences to prove that long-term travel does not have to be a crazy fantasy. It can, and should be, a realistic lifestyle option instead. 

    The Blonde Abroad, by Kiersten, offers a number of services that include arranging press trips, content creation, social media consultation and blog mentoring.

    Kiersten turned blogging into a paying business after leaving her job as a corporate finance professional with high salary and living on a shoe-string budget for many years.

    Shivya Nath too left her professional job in favor of full-time travel blogging, but was more systematic in approach. 


    On making money through travel blogging, Shivya says, she started with freelance jobs but now focuses on long-term relationship with brands. At the same time, she advises to never compromise on the quality of content or your own integrity. When I run sponsored posts on my blog, I pen all content myself, and ensure I'm writing about a topic I would genuinely care to write about even if a paying brand wasn't involved.

    You can visit her blog The Shooting Star here, and her full interview with ITB here.

    If you wanted to meet one who is a travel blogger by her own right but blogging is not her full-time job, meet Sushmita of My Unfinished Life


    An infrastructure consultant by primary profession, Sushmita is in love with travel. With blog as her anchor, she does freelance work and sponsored posts on travel. Her advice to budding bloggers: 'Never run out of patience!'

    Mark Wiens has an unusual niche for his 'travel' blog. He has created huge resources, focusing just on food and made it almost into an art form: food in different parts of the world. He URL too is unusual: migrationology!


    He jumped to blogging from English teaching and has traveled half the world. 

    Flight related travel blog

    Meet Lucky, of One Mile at a Time. His blog originated from his fascination for airports and he still focuses mostly on the transportation aspect of travel.

    Most of his posts are tips on flights and how to maximize savings using right airline offers, loyalty miles and card points.

    Luxury travel blogging is a great niche with high earning potential, that's obvious. What is not that obvious is, for earning a place in this exclusive club you need to be very choosy. 


    Take Ana of Mrs O Around the World. She chooses her brands carefully and says, she writes based on her personal experiences only and discloses compensation she receives for that. She also does not accept offers for press trips: ... I believe that being a blogger is a very different thing from being a journalist and my blog is about my personal travel experiences, traveling the way that I always do (and that is not in groups). (ITB take on this: We had, in our first post in the series, advised thinking like a journalist. If you read that along with Ana's advice given above, it comes to this: Think like a journalist when it comes to being curious and inquisitive but don't act like a journalist who loves to be part of every press party. In fact, serious journalists don't like an organized  'press trip' except when it takes them to a place or event which they'd otherwise miss.)

    Kach and Jonathan, the owners of Two Monkeys Travel Group focus on adventure and luxury travel. Interestingly both are not too enamored of writing  and prefer to pay bloggers for writing their stuff. 


    Our initial motivation was just to get discounts on Hotels and tours but the more I learned about this field, the more I realized that it’s not just about getting Free Stuff. It’s actually a respectable career that requires hard work and determination, says Kach. Quite satisfied with their venture which now is a 'Travel Group', she shares, The real hard work is behind us and we can enjoy the fruits of our labour. We’re working normal hours now, instead of 16 hours per day. We have a team of amazing people who love what they’re doing and are growing with us.

    The Solo Traveler took birth when Janice's husband passed away. She was already a good traveler but the loneliness made her write about her experiences. When she met Tracey, a food and wine professional, in a food event, she invited her to write on her blog and thus the blog added a section on food and wine. Now the blog is full of solo travel advice and deals, besides of course her personal experiences. 


    Solo Traveler has been able to build a buzzing community on Facebook.

    Hema and Suma, two sisters who run Tales of Travelling Sisters, advise travel bloggers to invest in good camera and even take a short photography course. Promotion and Patience are the other two Ps they give high value to. 



    We would just say never give up hope! With so many travel bloggers already running successful websites, one might feel out of depth in the initial stages. Keep traveling and share your stories, we are sure you will find your success with time... Do not ignore the ongoing travel trends or what the readers want you to present them through your blog. 

    Craig and Linda run Indie Travel Podcast a blog in podcast format. 'Addicted' to travel, they initially had a tough time saving for travels. But after years of hard work, they say, we see no end in sight, and have been judged by the Lonely Planet as the best global travel podcast.

    By the way, not all posts on the blog are podcasts; there are many text-and-photo posts on the blog on their experiences and travel tips.

    For his blog Travel with Bender, Josh has chosen family travel as his theme. It comes naturally to him as he's made his wife and two kids sort of partners in his travel cum blogging pursuits.

    The Untourists guys, Param and Shikha, are a hugely creative couple, and the travel blog is just one of their places to express themselves. True to their blog's URL, they are always looking for that unknown untouristy place or look for untouristy things to do in a popular place... like to experience, observe, and explore life through our lens, though cultures unknown to us and through authentic foods that we can’t resist, once served, even for a picture! 

    They tell us, weekend getaways, romantic and honeymoon destinations and beautiful locations can be good niches to look at.

    Let's learn from the experiences and advice of these (and other) fantastic bloggers. More on travel blogging next time. Happy blogging!

    We'd carry some full interviews given by travel bloggers later in our 'blog showcase' section.

    You can visit other posts in this series here:
    1. Travel Blogging: How to succeed without pain, and have fun
    2. Travel Blogging: Don't ever ignore supporting activities

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