July 27, 2017

social media and blogging updates: control on free speech, DMOZ passes away

In this edition of social media and blogging updates, the highlight is news reports about efforts to control the content on the web.

China blocks WhatsApp to check a dead dissident from turning martyr

When Chinese authorities got information that people were using WhatsApp to share political views after Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo's death in jail, they used their IT machinery to disturb the working of WhatsApp. WhatsApp being an encrypted chat app, they perhaps could not play with the messages, but a large number of users have reported difficulty in accessing the app. 

Facebook and Instagram are already blocked in China. WhatsApp is not yet banned but as is known to be a usual practice, authorities often do not completely block a site or app but make it difficult to use it. It is also reported that photos and videos related to Liu have especially been blocked on the web.

On the Chinese chatting app WeChat, on which China has full control, private messages and other content on the dissident leader have been effectively blocked, say reports originating from China. 

And then China deletes Winnie the Pooh!

As if Chinese social media users were not having enough of 'Chinese Great Firewall', WeChat removed all images of Winnie the Pooh - the portly bear. The reason? The bear looks much like the Chinese premiere Xi Jinping!


Winnie the Pooh and Xi Jinping: too similar?

For this portly bear this is not the first time that it has been pulled down of social media. Four years back, when Winnie and Tigger were shown next to Obama and Xi walking side by side, the pic soon got popular and the Chinese authorities deleted it from all WeChat. 

A country can block websites worldwide

The Canadian Supreme Court has ruled in the case of  Google vs  Equustek that a country has the right to prevent the world's internet users from accessing certain sites. EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), a non profit organization, intervened in the case and argued that such an injunction has wide ramifications and might be in conflict with the laws of other nations.

What it means is that if a company has a website operating in a country and the content in the local site has to be pulled down due to some local reason, the court can direct the company to remove  content from its website in other countries. Worse, it is supposed to be the duty of the company to ensure that the order does not get into conflict with the other country's laws.

You can see more details about the case and its implications on the EFF website.

Monkey's curse!

It is bizarre, more bizarre than a monkey taking his selfie. The cameraman whose equipment the macaque monkey used in an Indonesian forest is in ruins for supposedly hurting animal rights!

British wildlife photographer David Slater took this photograph in 2011 and became famous. After keeping his professional camera in 'ready' position for seven days in the jungles, he had got monkeys play with the camera and click themselves. Naruto, one of them clicked himself perfectly in a smiling pose. By all means it was a prized possession for David and he had a book published with these photos. But thanks to ugly court battles initiated by PETA, he is almost penniless now.

Most stupid or absurd it may look to you but what the so called wildlife rights protectors are claiming and are doggedly pursuing is that because the monkey himself clicked the selfie, he - and not David - has the copyright.


Selfie of Naruto the monkey on social media
Naruto the monkey: on the cover of David's book.
David claims that he was shooting macaque monkeys in Indonesia to highlight their plight, but never knew it would ruin his life.

It started with Wikipedia using the selfie and David asking it to take it down. Wikipedia claimed, the copyright of the selfie belonged to the monkey itself. Courts in the US have been ruling that animals can't have copyright, but that didn't stop PETA petitioning David in 2015 and persisting with their stand.

India gets the most traffic to Facebook, leaving US behind

Last week, we'd reported that Facebook has crossed 2 billion per month active viewership landmark. 

Facebook has now come out with break-up of this figure. India with 241 million pips the US (240 m) as the country with most FB users, with about 11% of traffic coming from it. Over 84% of Indian users access it through mobile phones. 

Among the cities with most FB users, Bangkok comes on top.

DMOZ is dead, long live open web directories!

One of the most trusted web directories, DMOZ, is dead. Yes, it has not been able to cope with the rush of new domain names being added to the web every second. 

It is reported that editors behind the open directory are working to revive it in some other form.

Philippine President admits of manipulating social media during elections last year

We have carried many reports earlier on use of social media by politicians, in many cases in a manipulative manner. 

A recent study has given details of how social media was abused during the elections in Philippines last year (We'd carry that report soon.) and when President Rodrigo Duterte was asked whether had spent over a hundred thousand dollars on trolls to defend him during elections and if he continued to use these tactics, he [perhaps inadvertently] replied saying he no longer did so. 

What an innocent admission from a politician!

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July 25, 2017

gobeyondbounds

GOBeyondBounds
http://www.gobeyondbounds.com

An excellent travel blog

We travel as a family with our daughter and share our travel experiences from all over the world on our blog. We have traveled through 20 countries so far in Europe and Asia.

  - Rashmi, Chalukya

July 15, 2017

Should I crop image before resizing it for blog and social media, or the other way round?

For some reason, all social websites want us to post images of a particular size, which is not common between any two of them. I don't know if they want to test our knowledge or get fun out of our discomfort. Anyway, let's leave it to them. 

The fact, seriously, is that you need to resize photos taken from digital camera or mobile phone, so as to suit them to different social media accounts or other websites. Sometimes you need photos in a particular dimension or size for other purposes.

A few quick theoretical points before we discuss how to do things the right way.

Talking of photo dimensions and image size


Though photos and drawings are always rectangular, the relative measurements of width and height can lead to a variety of shapes, like a very tall but narrow one, a very wide one, a square, and so on. (By the way, with some exceptions, even round or oval pictures have corresponding rectangular dimensions.)

Talking of size, photos can be very large or small - the sizes are usually measured in cm x cm / inch x inch / pixel x pixel multiplications. Pixels,  which are the smallest pieces of pictures, something like tiny dots, are often used to describe a photo's size: A picture of 1000 px height and 1000 px width will be composed of 1000 x 1000= 1 million pixels and thus will be of 1mp or 1 megapixel size. A 5mp camera picture will have around 2580x2048 pixels if it the camera takes pictures in 5:4 (or 5 wide by 4 tall) ratio.

What is image cropping and how it differs from resizing 


When you cut portions of an image, it is called cropping. On the other hand, you can resize the image into a bigger or smaller size - that is resizing.

When you crop an image, its quality remains the same. Cropping is done to make the picture more compact, better framed and smaller. When you resize a photo, its quality suffers because the software either adds more pixels to it or removes pixels from it here and there.

correct-picture-editing

Look at the image above and examine photos 1,2 and 3 inside it.

The first one is the original photo of sunset over sea. The photographer perhaps wanted to show the play of colors in a sky captured wide. The layered clouds and vastness of sky give a feel of calm though it is full of 'warm' colors, isn't it? 

In the second pic, I have cropped the sides of the picture. Suddenly the sun is in focus, and you get the feel of a hot sun which has colored the clouds orange. You can crop pictures to remove extra background so that the main object comes in focus.

In the third one, I have resized the original picture. It has the same elements as the first one, but it is now too small to show details of clouds. If I made it smaller, you'd miss the layering of clouds. If the sea had playful waves, they would be completely lost.

Now have a look at pics 5 to 8. The challenge is to fit the picture on top to the rectangle below. If I crop  the pic from all sides, leaving the face so that it fits into the rectangle (pic 6), it removes all the surroundings. The picture could have been shot inside a room or anywhere else. The face has also not come full.

Ok, lets squeeze the pic into the given space by resizing it. Since the ratio of width x height of the rectangle is not the same as of the original pic, the face has got distorted (pic 7).

What I did to achieve pic 8 is that I first removed some surroundings by cropping it from two sides. (There is nothing to remove from top and I do not want to remove the scarf around the child's neck as it frames her face so well.) When I was sure that the pic is in the same ratio as the orange rectangle, but slightly bigger, I resized it to perfectly match the rectangle.

So, my advice for reducing the size of picture is:
  1. Crop the pic as much as you can to bring it to the same ratio as the required size. Remove only the things that do not add good value to the picture.
  2. Resize it without changing the ratios. 

Look at pic 4. Suppose you have to crop the given picture to fit into the smallest rectangle. By looking at this pic, you know that it has more width than height when compared to the target size. So the best way to fit it into the smallest rectangle is to first crop it to the middle rectangle's size and then resize it. 

Now let's see how the sequence changes when we need to enlarge a picture. If you are to fit the picture in pic 4 into the biggest rectangle, you will again need to bring it to the same ratio. So, you have two options: (i) Crop it to first make it to middle rectangle size and then resize it to the big rectangle size or (ii) resize it to cover the biggest rectangle and then crop the extra width. In the first option, once you have cropped the pic, you don't have a choice to adjust it later. In the second option, you will have a big pic, which you can adjust left or right before cropping the width.

Let me close the discussion with what we learned and something extra:
  • Resize pictures in the same ratio as the original picture, unless you deliberately want some distortion. 
  • If you want to check ratios of pictures but pixels confuse you, pick up a scale and place it on the computer screen and measure sizes. The scale measurement of screen has no other value, but it will give you the ratios quickly.  
  • Too much resizing reduces the quality of picture. If you need to resize too much, do it in steps, about 20% at a time. 
  • Generally speaking, crop and then resize when reducing size; resize and then crop when increasing size. 
  • Most free software and apps are good enough for cropping and resizing but every time you edit and save the picture, its quality is likely to go down. Only the professional software (Photoshop, free Gimp) can do lossless editing.  
Like to see our earlier posts relating to image quality, putting images on blogs, social media image sizes, infographics, starting a video blog, etc? Image articles on ITB

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July 11, 2017

Best food bloggers from India bring you the best of subcon cuisine

ITB brings out the best Indian blogs' directory in June every year. This year's Directory has 50 superb Indian food blogs in one place

I have drilled down the list to select four topmost food blogs that have enormous resources and a vast variety of cuisines. In addition, they excel in showing you how a dish is prepared. And their journey is fruit (or food, is it?) of their immense passion for cooking and great food sense.

Raks Kitchen looks slightly cluttered in Rajeswari's effort to apply as much navigation as possible to her huge resources. Some ads also mess up the overall looks. But click on a segment and you find the richness and variety of content. 

Saffron Trail has a very refined look and the recipes are as clearly described. Being a doctor and nutritionist, Nandita doesn't forget to add health aspects of ingredients and recipes.


best Indian food blogs

Sharmi's Passions is also a huge storehouse of cuisines, supported with detailed recipes. Sharmilee also loves food photography and it shows in the blog.

As the name suggests, Vegan Richa is Richa's blog on pure vegan food. You must visit to get convinced that there could be such a variety of tasty food without dairy, fish, seafood and meat. 


topmost food bloggers

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July 8, 2017

Does your blog come on top of search pages, does it?

All bloggers want traffic, and for that search engines are godsend. Who does not want to come on the first page of Google?

Wondered how many top search results show blogs? I did a bit of random research for you, to give you a glimpse of that. I am not a researcher, nor has my site ITB resources to get a research done. I, however, bought some gigs on Fiverr for variety in searches and some experimentation. My small but guided experience will definitely give you a few hints on how to search optimize your blog, especially if you have not hired an SEO expert.

When I went for a very broad search term (e.g travel, health, recipes, America, sports, blogging), hardly any blog came in the top 10 results on Google. Mind it, I used the private mode on the browser and wiped memory of the websites/ blogs I had earlier visited from the browser cache. But since all big search engines have their servers in major world locations, they'll likely give at least some results of your country however much you cloak your location.

Interesting it was to see that of all kaywords, 'pregnancy' was quite less commercialized and the results on Bing, Yahoo and Google were very similar. For a few other keywords, the similarity in non-commercial results was striking. The inference that we bloggers can draw from this is that if a page has quality content relevant to the keyword, it will come high on all search engines.

OK. The next step. I went for two-word search expressions (=keywords) but still very broad. Also one-word keywords but not too broad (e.g. yoga, fasting, American fashion, continental recipes, Indian news, banking career, portrait photography, women shoes, bed sheets, iPhone). Some blogs start coming here. Interestingly, that depends also on the browser in addition to your browsing history, location etc. even if you are in incognito/ private mode.

I've also found that Google Plus posts come high in search pages if the title and content are relevant. 

It is sometimes said that being in the Yahoo index helps SEO. I found that Google did not give such sites extra points. (Btw, because Yahoo did not throw up any results for blogs in the top ten results, I did not look further if blogs posted to Yahoo index - which is a paid service - fare better than others.)


I had not realized before this, that the world is so commercialized! For popular products, search engines give e-commerce sites on top (often localized), and then news sites and Wikipedia articles if there is some non-commercial angle to the search query. So, a search for 'bed sheets' and 'women shoes' results not only in dozens of commercial web pages in the first few pages, the suggestions too are of commercial nature.

That gives another takeaway: If your blog is not an established blog and deals only with information (not products and services with direct commercial value: recipes, make-up reviews, etc), its chance of coming in top search pages for keywords relating to popular products is very bleak.

An indirect inference from the above observation is that normal (not well search optimized) blogs dealing with popular products are not likely to get good click-through rate (CTR) because the most relevant search traffic is focused on commercial and big websites.

OK, let's see what comes on top when we search for long-tail keywords. 

Remember, Google and Yahoo suggestions at the bottom of their search pages are actually used, popular, keywords. We need to optimize our blogs for these keywords. These are mostly with 3 or more words and give complete intent of searcher. 

I also compared my results with those found through Google's highly popular Keyword Planner tool. There were wide variations. I have a feeling that Google calculates the traffic in the Keyword Planner tool keeping advertisers in mind, not publishers (i.e. website owners, bloggers). Of course, its data on competition etc directly keeps advertisers' need in view, that's obvious. 

I took a number of long-tail keywords with no direct buying intent (not like 'pet food in California' or 'How to buy wedding dress'). What I found again proves the commercial angle in search results:   
when we look for 'how to...', search engines throw all types of sites including videos which do not always answer the question. Among the relevant pages that answer the question, there is hardly a blog page. Sometimes Quora or Yahoo Answers or Wikihow come up but probably when search engines have no commercial site in their index that relates to those queries. So, the manual tweaking of index that search engines do supposedly 'to give you a better user experience' is humbug. Business angle is supreme for them!

When I asked academic questions shorn of any commercial intent (e.g. 'When did the British rule India', 'How do trees bear fruit', 'French space program'), authoritative sites and Q-A sites (mostly Quora) came up but hardly any blog. Blogs did come in lower search pages, but only when they were very focused (e.g. 'to seed or not seed citrus'). I extended the search further and checked for suggested keywords which were very focused. Blogs (independent blogs as well as free blogs with blogspot and wordpress suffixes) started coming in top pages. I got some of these blogs thoroughly checked by a Fiverr guy and he reported that these blogs had good material on topics around the search term and over a long period. A few very new blogs and a few with only 1-2 posts on the topic also came but I could not analyze them any further.

What that means is: If your (little) blog wants to come on top of search engines for saleable things, it has to compete with biggies. On the other hand, it can come up high for information keywords but there will not be many people searching for these terms and even less buyers. In either case, to come on the first page, blogger must regularly write posts around a topic for a long time.

I then looked at local-interest and local looking searches with low commercial angle. When searchers look for 'wildlife around Oregon' or 'Thai massage parlors', they are wanting to know things in those locations but when they look for 'Chinese paintings', they might be looking for this in their neighborhood or its features irrespective of location. I found search engines good at knowing the intent and serving relevant results. Sometimes blogs show up high on such searches, perhaps based on focus on the content. I'd advise information-purveying bloggers even if they are into broad niches, to include some posts on very focused topics, including that with local flavor, to get some targeted traffic. In fact, travel bloggers do it quite often. 

I also looked for expressions 'blog', 'blogging', 'blogger', 'blogspot' and 'wordpress' along with the main search words. Not many people will search with such keywords, but my idea was to check whether blogs come there just on the strength of their content. Results were relevant and many blogs (along with big websites, news on blogs, and commercial sites) came up in top 50 results, but competition for smaller blogs seemed to be quite high as not many common type of blogs come high up. For buying-intent keywords (yoga pants, iPhone, flatbed scanner), blogs have no chance [more so, those on free platfroms] but for other information in which sellers may be less interested, blogs with big resources had high SERP presence. My takeaway from it would be to post regularly and develop huge resources over time.

Quora has high reputation, especially on Google. When searches start with interrogative pronouns (what, why, when etc) or end in question mark, Quora answers come up high. Bloggers can make use of this by regularly posting good content on Quora and linking relevant blog posts from Quora posts. 

Let me sort of conclude. If you have opened the blog with a view to earn from it through search and AdSense, you need to optimize it well. Next, you must have two types of content: one, that is full of information and two, that links information with products. Some posts should be focused on narrow topics and these should serve great value to the few looking for that exact information. Post good content regularly. Also use the power of Quora and search suggestions thrown by Google/ Yahoo.

Warning! If you have grown big enough to take on big websites, these observations are of no value. ;)

July 4, 2017

Social media, tech updates: Big German fine, NotPetya attack, blogger jailed

Mother Mushroom - the blogger - arrested, and this time for full ten years!


Recall our mention of Mother Mushroom, a blogger in Vietnam having been arrested, some six months back? Well, she was released, made to pledge that she won't blog anymore and denied passport. She started blogging again and faced the consequences: The government has made sure that the outspoken free-speech blogger is jailed - and she is imprisoned for ten years!

VR180 videos on YouTube


This is a new virtual reality video format that has been released by YouTube and is likely to be widely adopted by other tech firms. 

YouTube has started publishing VR180 videos. It is just the beginning, but if you have a VR gear, you can enjoy them.  

As against the usual VR format, which is to be recorded in 360 degrees, VR180 records half the circle. Full VR needs very costly equipment to record, and high bandwidth to stream, and the VR180 format is lighter and can be more easily created and viewed. And, as Google explains, it makes immense sense because normally we see only about 180 degrees and not 360 degrees unless we are on a swivel chair and rotating ourselves all the while.


(You will be able to see the VR effect on this video only with a VR gear)

German fine on errant social media 


This is an update on an earlier story in which we discussed how governments the world over want to discipline social media so that it does not hurt the society by spreading crime, hatred, violence, terror.
While Germany has taken a major lead, there are fresh reports that Britain and France also want to bring strict laws against extremist content on social media soon.

Germany has finally come down heavily on social platform by bringing a law that stipulates heavy fines if platforms such as Facebook do not remove obviously illegal content within 24 hours. In case of content that is not so obvious, they have 7 days to decide.

The fine goes up to $57 million!
 
The law passed a week back comes into force in October.

Concerns about misuse of such a law remain.

Facebook crosses 2 billion monthly user mark


Facebook last week announced that it has achieved the formidable figure of 2 billion active users a month.

Competitors are far behind. The nearest social media platform, Instagram, is reported to have a third of this number and Twitter a sixth. Google Plus is nowhere in the reckoning.

A new ransomware, and deadlier: are we going to hear this often?


As the world was yet recovering from WannaCry attack, it was jolted by attack of yet another ransomware, NotPetya (or GoldenEye). Like the earlier one, the aim of the hackers does not seem making money by ransom but creating disruption or, worse, testing these malware for future attacks. This one, like WannaCry, also seems to be an offshoot of EternalBlue. (You can see here our detailed post on ransomware and WannaCry.)

If NotPetya is state action, it will burn the globe in cyberwarfare!
Ukraine and Russia have been badly hit, but Europe, US and India are also not spared.

It is reported that this is a 'wiper' software, meant to destroy files on the system. In fact, the hackers are not interested in getting payment in return for restoring files as they have closed the email they want the victim to contact.

If CNET is to be believed, this could be a state-sponsored attack to badly hurt Ukraine, and other 60 countries have suffered collateral damage. CNET says, 
But now experts believe nation-state attackers are using ransomware as a screen, tempting victims to blame faceless hackers instead of the countries allegedly behind the attacks. The real goal was to get at and destroy data.

The revelation is a surprising new aspect of an escalating cyberwar between countries that has already compromised infrastructure, elections and businesses. North Korea leaked Sony emails in a display of power, hackers shut down Ukraine's power grids during a conflict with Russia and the US is still reeling from Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Ukraine has blamed Russian state actors for the attack, which has badly hurt its power, transport and banking systems. Ukraine says, it has proof from cyber security experts that this is handiwork of the same group that stalled its power systems two years back.

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July 1, 2017

India's topmost blogs in English. Quality prevails!

We present you this eclectic list of outstanding blogs from India.

We call it our platinum list. Why, you might ask. So let's repeat what we said last time: Platinum is one of the 'noble' metals. It is more stable, corrosion resistant and ductile than gold and silver, the other noble metals. It is rare and expensive too. So are our platinum blogs: stable, full of valuable resources, and not cheap in looks and monetization. Of course, we cannot compare a blog on economics or book reviews with that on fashion or food, but within their genres each is a topper.

Making a small list out of many good items is not easy, and it becomes highly subjective. In our case, we go back and forth numerous times, looking for good and bad points and upgrading or reluctantly downgrading a blog. As this list cannot have all blogs from a few major categories, we drop some excellent blogs due to high intra-category competition.
Finally we have a list distilled for overall high quality in terms of richness of resources, quality of content, regularity, and a minimum level of design finery and engagement. 

Here is the list, the Platinum List of Indian Blogs in English: 

abhijitbhaduri - Abhijit Bhaduri
apotpourriofvestiges - A Potpourri of Vestiges
arun-bohemianwanderer - Bohemian Wanderer
baradwajrangan - Baradwaj Rangan
bbeautilicious - Be Beautilicious
Citycitybangbang - City City Bang Bang
cursor - Cursor
erratica - Erratica 
ddsreviews - b00k r3vi3ws 
gargi - A POV
highheelconfidential - High Heel Confidential
homecynhome - Home Cyn Home
indiasendangered - India's Endangered
jaiarjun - Jabberwock
joshidaniel - Joshi Daniel Photography
kbalakumar - Crank's Corner
lassiwithlavina - Lassi with Lavina
lemonicks - Lemonics
moneyexcel - MoneyExcel
movieretrospect - Passion for Movies
nishitak - Nishita's Rants and Raves
privytrifles - Reviews & Musings….
rachnaparmar - Rachna Says
rakskitchen - Rak's kitchen
saffrontrail - Saffron Trail
savedelete - Save Delete
sharmispassions - Sharmis Passions
shoutmeloud - ShoutMeLoud
sid-thewanderer - The Wanderer
sqlauthority - Journey to SQL Authority with Pinal Dave
Swaminomics - Swaminomics
thedelhiwalla - The Delhi Walla
thegoldstandardsite - The Gold Standard
theindianbeauty - the Indian Beauty blog
the-shooting-star - The Shooting Star
veganricha - Vegan Richa
walkthewilderness - Walk the Wilderness