April 17, 2018

Pencil, an excellent software for drawing shapes, website wireframes, flow-charts

We have been introducing good software and online tools to blogger friends, after testing them for various factors. The two most important aspects that we keep in mind before recommending a software is its being (i) free from harmful code and (ii) sturdy and dependable. Our earlier recommendations can be visited through this link: ITB recommended software

In this post, let's talk about a free, opensource sketching tool, Pencil, that can make documents with different shapes. [Before we move further, let us be sure to download it from the official website; on the web old versions with limited features are available.]

Pencil is very simple and highly resourceful for some simple tasks for which we do not need to buy expensive and hard-to-learn software.

The tasks that Pencil can do beautifully and easily include:
  • Drawing flowcharts and similar diagrams. If you have MS Word or any other Office Suite installed on your computer, you can draw such diagrams on them. However, shapes do not always behave normally on Word etc when you try to place many of them in a diagram. Pencil has many more shapes too.
  • Drawing wireframe of a website. All website creators first make a sketch of the webpages (mostly the homepage or the theme/ template) which is called wireframe. This is very handy when you have to discuss the basic layout of the proposed website or blog with colleagues (or if you are a web-designer, to share with the client). If you are a blogger, you can make a quick wireframe  to tell a web designer how different elements on your blog should look like. 
  • Making any drawing that involves play of shapes and a bit of text, e.g. for tutorials and explaining layout of a place.
  • Making shapes for use for more complex works. For example, it is time-consuming to draw shapes in professional image editors such as Photoshop and Gimp. One can make shapes in Pencil and export them for use in those programs.
We compared many other free or online programs of similar nature, but chose this one. It has some special features not available on others.

Main features of Pencil sketching program

  • It is very simple. You just have to drag a shape/ button/ web-object (These are called stencils) from the sidebar to the 'document' pane. A number of templates with objects are also available on the web.
  • Different objects can be aligned against the page or with other elements.
  • Text can be overlaid on any object, and there is also a 'rich text box' which allows text to be formatted in many ways within a box.
  • You can import clipart directly from OpenClipart.
  • You can import any image by copying that image from any image-viewing or image-editing program or a webpage and pasting it on an open document.
  • It can save the drawing/ document in many formats such as PNG, SVG, PDF or as a webpage.
  • It is available for Windows, iOS, Android and Linux OSs.
  • Pages created by Pencil can have hyperlinks, that make it possible to show how an element works within a document.
  • Earlier versions had poorly laid menus. The new versions (The current one is v3.) are feature-rich and each object has a large number of options, some of which can be stored for re-use also.

How to sketch with Pencil?

There is no need for a guide as menus are intuitive and anybody who has worked on an image editing software or even online sketching programs would be able to work efficiently after some experimentation. However, if you are new to such programs, this is a quick starter:
  1. Download from the official website, and install.
  2. Click on 'Create a new document' that appears in the middle of the screen. 
  3. There is a collection of stencils on the left pane [if hidden, click on the button on the left margin]. It has many groups of collections. Click on any one object and drag it to the document. Work further on the document by dragging, reshaping, maneuvering shapes and so on. 
  4. Click on the 'Properties' button on the right margin. It will give numerous options whenever an object is selected. To change dimensions by exact number of pixels, use the options that come on the top bar of the screen.
  5. Complete the work. Save it for future use. 
  6. Export to any format that you want, by using the menu at the top left of the screen. If you want to export a part of the drawing to PNG, select it and right click to export it to an image.

April 14, 2018

Blogging, social media news: blogger suicide, Telegram blocked, Facebook on elections, Twitter wipes terror

Can video filtering lead to suicide by a blogger? Yes it can.

The video blogger who opened fire at YouTube headquarters in California last week, wounding three and then killing herself, had recorded a video before the act. She hated YouTube, Nasim Najafi Aghdam, the Iran-born vlogger averred, because she was discriminated against as her videos were filtered by the video sharing site.

Russian blogger beaten up. For raising issues?

A Russian blogger,  Mikhail Sveto, says he was beaten up and sent back to Moscow on reaching Kemerovo airport. Kemerovo is located in Siberia.
The blogger says, he was dragged to the staff area by some plain-clothesmen calling themselves coal miners but they had full support of airport staff.

Mikhail is a member of an opposition group and has been raising issues critical to the government in recent times.  

More and more countries wanting to block Telegram?

Now three is news that Iran has blocked Telegram nation-wide on 9th April. By the way, Telegram is so popular in Iran that half the population is supposed to use it.

The reason: Iran wants to promote home-grown apps to break Telegram's monopoly. Telegram was supposed to be making money out of Iranian people without investing anything in the country. For sure, opposition is seeing it as a ploy to control dissidence.

Only last year, Iran banned Telegram and Instagram briefly and detained some users on national security concerns.

It is also reported that Russia is contemplating to block Telegram altogether as the app has refused to share encryption with the authorities. Telegram claims end to end encryption of messages, and this is frowned upon by investigating and cybersecurity agencies because they are unable to transcribe messages even after snooping hard into a chat.

Facebook to support independent research on its role in elections

Facebook has announced that it would set up an independent election research commission to support research on the effect of social media on elections and democracy.

On its blog, Facebook has said, it will not exert any oversight on the research but will provide its resources for such studies. It explains:  ...we're working with foundations across the US to set up a committee of academic experts who will come up with research topics and select -- through a peer review process -- independent researchers to study them. We'll give those researchers access to our resources so they can draw unbiased conclusions about Facebook's role in elections, including how we're handling the risks on our platform and what steps we need to take before future elections.

In continuation of earlier reports about Facebook being criticized the world over for leak of data of millions of users from the platform, its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has vowed to end interference in elections by use of Facebook data.He deposed before US house committees earlier this week.

Recall Orkut? Say hello!

Orkut used to be a very popular social network in some parts of the globe, before Facebook wiped it off.

Now its founder, Orkut Buyukkokten, says, it has tested a new social networking platform, Hello, in Brazil and has put its app on Google Play Store also. It is now promoting it in India where Orkut was very popular 5 years back. He plans to take it subsequently to US, France and Germany.

Orkut says, while present day social networks have become more of broadcast media, Hello is focusing on community-building based on interests.

Florida police officer gets red slip for social media slip 

A police offer has been shown the door after he posted a racially charged selfie on Snapchat.  The selfie has been doodled with curly black hair, a pistol, syringe and beard , with an embedded caption, 'Celebrate black history month' purportedly to mock a particular race. 

The firing came after an internal investigation found the Florida police officer unfit for unbiased policing.

Twitter wipes terror content but rues regulatory pressure

Twitter has reported that it has removed over 274,000 accounts globally, for promoting terrorism, in the second half of 2017.

From 2015, it has suspended 1.2 million accounts with 'terrorist content'.

Twitter says, the trend of such content being posted on Twitter is positive. We continue to see the positive, significant impact of years of hard work making our site an undesirable place for those seeking to promote terrorism, resulting in this type of activity increasingly shifting away from Twitter, it says on the Twitter blog

At the same time, Twitter says, there is rise in regulatory pressure [from governments] and 'legal threat to freedom of expression'.

April 10, 2018

8 highest paying blogging niches at this time in 2018

Making money from blogs depends upon a number of factors. But the niche [or area/ subject of blogging] comes on top and unless the niche is a 'paying' niche, all efforts might go waste.

Consider the following:

  • People search for products and services all the time on the web. Some products are in high demand and people click on their advertisements and also buy them online if the product comes in front when the buyer has the urge to buy. If there are discount and additional benefits available, the propensity to buy increases that much.
  • Even when people search for information and advice only (no buying intent), there are higher chances of their looking for things that are trendy. And then, if a blog has information or advice on that subject and links for further reading, the chances are much higher than for the blogs that do not deal with the trendy subject.
  • The paying niches change over time. Yesterday's high-paying niches have become less-paying because either too many people already are selling services in those niches or buyers' choices have changed.
  • One niche that pays well in one location might not do so in another.
  • In some niches, searchers are not good buyers while in others searches are mostly made with the intent to buy.
  • Repeating again: making money depends on many factors. These include quality of posts, expertise, SEO and promotion, engaging with others, regularity.


8 subjects that are great for making money

The following 8 subjects are among the most searched, and there are many brands ready to pay to bloggers in different ways (affiliation, direct promotion, reviews, PPC ads, blog tours, etc). Moreover, the niches given in the list are almost universal, i.e. these niches are presently working in most geographical areas. However, remember that you need to work very hard, at the beginning, to create a base for yourself because there are thousands of big firms and bloggers already there.

1. Making money
Interestingly, 'making money' itself is quite a paying niche. You can, depending upon your expertise and experience, focus on solutions you can offer the best.

The focus-area need not be limited to online money-making.

Some niches have great monetization potential.

2. Travel [with or without photography]
This niche is unbeatable for those interested in travel. There are hundreds of travel bloggers who make handsome money and enjoy their life at the same time. 

Hotels, travel agencies, tourism departments of governments, owners of luxury ships and yachts, airlines - there are many in the business who are willing to pay to travel bloggers in many ways.

If you have interest in taking photos, that helps in many other ways. In addition to putting fascinating shots on your own travel blog,  you can sell the photos to reputed magazines, advertising agencies and others interested in good quality photos. You can also post photos on photo-sharing sites and earn extra bucks.

3. Health and wellness [Includes alternative medicine and weight loss]
People who suffer from ailments these days try to diagnose it on the web even before they go to the doctor. Once they are prescribed a medicine, they look for its details on the web. When the disease becomes chronic, they try to find alternative answers.

There are many lifestyle related issues such as blood pressure, diabetes and weight gain, which affect the majority of global population. Increase in longevity has also led to many diseases such as heart diseases, bone and muscle decay and various types of cancer. Since there are no easy solutions for these, people search for easy and effective ways to deal with them.

People's interest in overall health and wellness has also increased over years, and a large number of people of all ages look to the web to find tips.

Bloggers in this niche cannot compete with big diagnostic or pharmaceutical websites. However, bloggers can choose a narrow topic and carry detailed information and genuine tips on the blog. Local information, alternative systems of medicine (e.g. yoga, homoeopathy, Unani system, Chinese system, Ayurveda, naturopathy, acupuncture) and very narrow niches (e.g. male pattern baldness, menstrual bleeding, migraine, pranayams for high blood pressure) can get the blogger the required attention from people. However, not all such niches might get attention of paying brands.
4. Technology [especially with trouble-shooting and tips]
Technology is a very crowded field, and yet there is scope for very focused writing, news and advice in many areas. These include, a narrow coding topic (e.g series on a new web language), tips of professional use of commonly available software (e.g. MS Excel for financial calculations), and troubleshooting in different tech areas.

5. Beauty and fashion
This too is an evergreen niche. Bloggers in established markets draw attention of buyers as well as brands, and those in new markets have a new opportunity unfolding.

Beauty and fashion often go together, and now bloggers are adding other lifestyle areas to make a well-sounded 'lifestyle' blog.

6. Product and service reviews
This niche is evergreen though there is enormous competition from established comparison sites. Yet, if you keep giving good reviews of products and services in which there is less competition, and you have enough patience, this niche can pay you well.

7. Parenting and child health
Parenting blogs pull new moms to them, and there are millions of them out there all the time! 

Moms (and pops) are perpetually worried about the health of their newborn, toddler, school-going kid, and it does not stop till children are quite grown up. First time parents are especially drawn towards parenting blogs, and would do anything that looks logical and doable for well-being of their kid.

8. Food, cooking
Cooking is also an evergreen subject that fascinates all, especially women. 

Learners look for authentic cuisine, especially ethnic ones. Then there are those looking for special dishes for a party, participating in cooking competitions, checking ingredients and tricks, searching food for kids/ patients/ pregnant mothers/ etc, chefs themselves, ... The list goes on. 

There are many brands that want to associate with a cooking/ food blogger: sellers of ingredients, restaurants and hotels, bars, kitchen equipment and white goods sellers, airlines. 

Once established, food bloggers can write on magazines, appear on cooking shows, restaurant endorsement events and so on. Many food bloggers also write books out of their blog posts.

Related posts:
Making money from beauty, fashion blog
Monetizing food blog
Travel blogging without pain