March 18, 2018

Social media and blogging updates: Blogger jailed, Tumblr blogcked, Facebook linked to hate ...

Blogger gets jail for offering sex

A 19-year old Chinese blogger, Ye Mouyi, has landed in jail for prostitution after posting an offer for sex on her account in WeChat instant messaging platform.

She gave her hotel room details, posted a bikini-clad photo and invited people to 'get me sex for free'. She left the hotel after the post but by that time over 3000 people had rung up or visited the hotel, going by media reports.

Mouyi later posted that it was a joke, but that was too late. What the post got her (instead of sex!) was arrest, imprisonment for 15 days, fine and suspension of her social account.

Indonesia blocks Tublr blogs

Indonesia has blocked the blogging site Tumblr for hosting pornographic content. 

According to the government, it had asked Tumblr last month to remove such content within 48 hours, to which the blogging platform did not respond. At least 360 accounts were found to have porn.

Indonesia has been advising chat and media sharing platforms to pull down porn and extremist content, for the last two years, and has taken action against many of them. 

In 2008, the Islamic country enacted a tough law against porn and the government is constantly under pressure from political parties to act against web porn.

LittleThings closes down.

LittleThings's goodbye post on its website.

LittleThings, a lovable digital publisher, has closed shop. An alogrithm change by Facebook is behind its traffic decimating in a short time.

LittleThings took birth when blogger Maia McCann wrote a post on kitten and it went viral. What began as a blog in 2014, LittleThings had in 2018 over 12 million followers, and most of its 'feel good' videos got thousands of views.

Ironically, it was looking for investment when Facebook threw a bombshell over its plans.

Facebook accused of spreading hatred in Myanmar

Facebook has a high place in Myamar's society; a great deal of private and public information sharing happens on this social platform. For years, it was supposed to have helped the society in communication.

However, the UN fact finding mission looking into large-scale killings of Rohingya Muslims has found that this medium was also exploited by ultra-right Budhists in spreading hate, which resulted in large-scale massacres and over 650,000 Rohingyas taking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. 

Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar is quoted to have said, I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended.

Facebook has earlier claimed, it takes hate content in the platform very seriously and has been working hard to deal with it in Myanmar.

March 13, 2018

Semantic search: what it means for your blog's SEO?

What is Semantic search?

This expression ‘semantic’ is often heard when people discuss SEO. It is said that modern search engines are capable of semantic search.

To de-jargonize 'semantic', let's see the simple dictionary meaning of this word. This word means ‘relating to meanings of words and phrases’. So, big search engines like Google and Bing do not look at a word or phrase blindly but try to find what it is referring to, what it's true meaning could be. That's it.

Though semantic web was conceived around 2003, it was not until 2013 that the concept was used effectively by search engines. In that year, Google came with its Hummingbird algorithm update and changed the way web search was carried out by the search biggies. Till then, search engines depended heavily on keywords that the searcher typed on his browser, and matched them with pages that had those keywords. This led to SEO guys stuffing keywords into webpages and getting on top of search pages. Search engines now try to find the true intent of the searcher and serve him relevant results, not depending on exact matching of keywords.

That leads us to two places where the real intent of search expressions need to be derived by search engines:
1. Search queries made by people on their browsers, and
2. Indexes of webpages, maintained by search engines.

Search engines must understand query, find best answers.


Search Queries

To deliver the most relevant results to the searcher, the search engine must first understand what he is looking for. For this, the search engine uses many signals, including
  • Recent search history of the searcher,
  • Possible meaning of the search phrase going by the main keyword and qualifying or additional expressions,
  • What others have been searching for, using the same or similar search queries,
  • Location of the searcher, 
  • Etc. etc.

Search engines use machine learning to better guess the search intention. Machine learning means, the software learning and improving its own capabilities based on its 'experience' while doing that job.

To visualize how a modern search engine works to find the intent of the searcher, let us take a simple example:

If I write ‘net’ on the Google search bar and press 'enter', Google will try to find what type of ‘net’ I am looking for.  

I actually typed ‘net’ on Google and found that it threw results relating to NET [the National Eligibility Test (NET) in which many people in my locality right now are interested and must have searched for]; then came websites of some prominent bands offering net banking; then the Wikipedia page on Net; then .Net, Netflix, etc.

If I type 'How can I crack net?', it gives results only relating to NET.

Did you notice that it did not give any result on different types of nets such as fishnet or mosquito net. Then I typed ‘net catch’ and, as expected, got all results on fishing nets. Google's machines know that when someone types 'catch' and 'net' together in the search box, he is wanting to know about nets used for catching fish etc. while when he types 'crack', he is looking for ways to pass the NET exam.  

If I keep going to the fish net websites, in a few days my top search results for 'net' are likely to relate to fish net sites. And yet, because globally and in my location, people would search for NET or internet related websites, it is also likely that websites on fishing net might show up only later.


Search Indexes

The second place in the search process where 'real' meaning is important is the indexes maintained by search engines.

Search engines do not run from your browser to the entire w.w.w. to locate the thing you are searching. Rather, they have huge indexes in which webpages are tagged according to likely search queries.

So, when I searched for 'net' on Google, it thought that I was perhaps looking for NET (which thousand others have been searching in my locality) or net banking or .NET or NetFlix, and then served to me the best possible results from its indexes for NET, net banking, etc., especially those suiting to my location.

When I looked at the results that Google sent me, I found that while some had 'net' included in title or description, some results did not have 'net' anywhere, even in the body of the webpage. Even more was this case with 'net catch', whose many results did not have either the word 'catch' or 'net' in the title and description.

How did Google think that a particular page without even one occurrence of the search keyword was in fact related to that keyword?

The key considerations in including webpages in search indexes again need semantics or reading the true meanings of the search expressions. 

When the search engine bots crawl the web, they tag the pages with keywords, but not in a simplistic way. They look for associations between different expressions, information and links to make a sense of what the webpage is talking about.

The modern search engines have invested a lot not only in machine learning and artificial intelligence, they have been researching how different associations between different expressions and realities work. 

For example, if I heavily optimized a webpage on Idi Amin, the notorious Ugandan ruler, for 'president' ten years back, that page would have come as one of the top search results for this word when searched by someone sitting in New York, but no longer. Today's search engines would perhaps not tag that webpage with 'president'; even if they index it for the keyword 'president', they won't serve it in search pages except when someone in Uganda searches for that word with search terms such as 'the worst president' or 'all presidents of Uganda'.

SEO takeaways for bloggers

Semantic search has made life tough as well as easier for bloggers. Tough, because you cannot just stuff keywords to get on top of search engines and cannot apply unethical tricks. Easier, because if you post good content on the blog (and apply a bit of ethical and commonsense SEO), the blog is likely to appear high on search pages. Of course, other factors are also very important, e.g. the niche, your location etc.

Some good practices to search-optimize the blog from semantic perspective are:
  • Use different expressions, phrases and synonyms to talk about the thing for which you want the blog to be optimized.
  • Try to give answers  to questions that people ask about your subject.
  • Explain concepts.
  • Write detailed articles, at least once in a while, on main topics relating to your subject.
  • Don't optimize the blog just for very broad keywords such as 'Indian food' or 'Chinese customs', and also for very narrow ones. Think of a range of broad, narrow and medium sized expressions that people would use in natural language while talking about that subject.

March 10, 2018

Compilation of 'Directory of Best Indian Blogs' 2018 begins!

This post might interest only Indian bloggers.

Dear blogger friends from India,

The compilation of the Directory of Best Indian Blogs has begun. The Directory will be published on 1st June, 2018.

The terms for inclusion in the Directory remain the same as in the past. You might like to look at the FAQs on the compilation of blog directories by us.

Have a great Indian blog? Claim its place in Directory as a matter of right!

Due to constraint of resources we have been able to compile directories of only Indian blogs as of now.

We would welcome suggestions from you all on good blogs, till April end. Please send blog suggestions to Comments on posts are sometimes lost sight of, so do not use that for suggesting blogs. 

If you have a great Indian blog, please claim its inclusion in the Directory, as a matter of your right! 

March 5, 2018

8 photo blog mistakes you must avoid

This follows my earlier post on photo-blog designs.

In this post, let's talk of the important aspects of photo-blogging that bloggers often ignore. These include inaction or wrong actions relating to design as well as content.

1. Putting many high resolution images on the blog

You should not put more than one or two high quality photographs on the blog. One or two you may, because you might like to expose your talent to prospective buyers and other visitors. 

High quality photos mostly have a high pixel value, which may lead to slow loading of the page. In addition, stealing of photographs is rampant on the web. Stealing hurts in many ways and the worst  non-commercial damage that someone can do is to edit the photo and misuse it especially if it has a person (especially children and beautiful faces). It is more difficult to morph low quality photos.

2. No 'alt' attribute, caption or title on photo

Photos cannot be read by search engines, at least as of now. So, they cannot index the photo unless it has some keyword associated with it. 

Putting an alt attribute in the HTML tag of the photo is the best way to tell search robots what the photo is about. Alt attribute also is read out when a visually challenged person uses screen reader. So, photos that lack this small but important piece of tag lose attention.

Please visit this post if you do not have any idea about alt attribute.

Photos must be chosen with care for blog
All photos may not suit all photo blogs.

3. Not giving details about individual photos

Photos not only capture things, they capture action and moods. They also capture unusual occurrences that look out of this world. Most photos speak for themselves. However, photos are mute as far as telling time, event and place unless they are of a famous event, place or person. 

Not giving the right caption and details hurts search engine visibility, it also does not create the right impact on the viewer's mind, which in turn reduces its chance of being appreciated and purchased.

4. Recommending bad products

To earn money through affiliation and product reviews, photographers often recommend cameras and accessories. That is fully legitimate, but some photographers are seen recommending obsolete and defective products without disclosing their problems and also without disclosing that they have received payment for the review/ recommendation. 

This is an unethical conduct and can spoil reputation of the photo blogger very badly.

5. Not clearly displaying terms, price

When the photo blog is maintained with the intent to make money by selling photographs, the terms including copyright details and price must be given through a common page and must also be tagged with individual photos. Many photo bloggers forget to do that. 

If a buyer in hurry likes your photo but does not find the terms, he is likely to go to another website/ blog to look for photos.  

6. Navigational problems

Many photo blogs suffer from navigational issues. There is no proper menu bar to list categories; it is difficult to browse all types of photos or a particular category of photos quickly because archives are messy and can be seen only sequentially one after the other; it takes many clicks to find photographs other than those on the home page; and so on.

On the other hand, some photo blogs expose all photos in one go. This too can be confusing, especially when the visitor is viewing the blog on a smartphone or tab.

7. Wrong design choice

Many photo-bloggers do not apply mind on design, which leads to the blog looking cluttered or mixed-up, confusing, too gaudy, too experimental, even amateurish. 

Sometimes a designs totally unsuited to photo blogs is applied. Sometimes an unsuitable background image or color is used. Sometimes the thumbs are too small. Sometimes photos of different dimensions are used without caring whether they match with other photos.

8. Slow blog

A website can be slow for various reasons, including too much matter (especially images and video) on a page, hosting issues, bandwidth issues, and technically bad site-structure. In case of photo blogs, there is a risk of the blog going slow due to large number of photos getting loaded on the browser in one go (see point 1 above).

Slow loading blog is bad SEO. It also makes visitors leave the blog and go to other places.

Why let your blog suffer when these problems can be solved with just a bit of application of mind?