May 27, 2017

Lifestyle blogs are a highly professional lot, not personal blogs with a dose of fashion

'Lifestyle blogging' defined

Simply said, 'lifestyle' is how people live. Since living has individual, family and social dimensions, lifestyle naturally talks about these. 

Till a few years back, a blog had a definite niche or a mix of related niches, or it was a personal blog in which one could write whatever one wished. People with different interests had different blogs and those not sure of their focus mostly had a mumble jumble type of blog. 

lifestyle-blogging

Then emerged lifestyle blogging, and like all new things, this turned into a fad. You open a beauty blog or a food blog with a few fashion tips or a purely personal blog with a few product reviews and call it lifestyle blog. Lifestyle blog can have these elements but just having them does not make a blog a lifestyle blog.

So what really is a lifestyle blog?

A lifestyle blog is one that deals with a combination of the following subjects, with prominence of 'style', i.e. fashion, personality and urbane matters.
  • Beauty and fashion
  • Self improvement, personality development
  • Urban culture, socializing
  • Relationships
  • Home decor
  • DIY, life hacks, crafts
  • Health, food and nutrition
  • Parenting
  • Personal finance
   

Why is a personal blog with fashion and wellness not a lifestyle blog?

Personal blog is like a diary. You post your experiences, sundry ideas, events and achievements, an occasional poem, a piece of nostalgia and so on. 

Personal blog is often not 'focused'. It is like a river in the wild, which flows at its own pace and rhythm. Even if you write about the above-mentioned topics, you would be choosing them randomly - writing today on fashion, next week on food, a week later on how your yoga classes are going on... 

On the other hand, the lifestyle blog is highly focused on its goal as well as content. It is made with earning in mind; it is like a business. Its content is meant to give the reader information and advice based on one's analysis, experiences and expertise. In the river analogy, the lifestyle blog is like an irrigation canal - with regulated path and amount of water, and with the clear goal to irrigate fields.

In layout and design too, the lifestyle blog is expected to look more professional and organized. All its sections have to be distinct and updated regularly. 

ITB will, after release of the Directory of Best Indian Blogs on 1st June, come out with a detailed post on how to create and maintain a lifestyle blog. Research and consultations with successful bloggers are on.

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