Review of Blogs, free, by ITB

Indian Top Blogs has started a free service to offer free review of INDIAN blogs this week.

We placed an icon on the right column, created a page giving details of blog review by us, started getting emails but forgot to announce it on the blog! [That's why we say, SEO and monetisation are not our strong points. :) ]

So, friends, get  expert Blog Reviews by Indian Top Blogs free.

We have changed the icon since April 2011.
Just retaining this post. However, the blog review norms have changed a lot. We review any blog, whether Indian or otherwise. You can see here, the latest guidelines for detailed blog review.

3 great blog layout - design ideas

What is the best design for your blog? Should you copy the beautiful design that you came across recently?  Not necessarily.

A design that best suits a blog [or any type of website] depends on many considerations, the most important being the subject of the blog. It is obvious, thus, that blogs on scientific research, food, fashion, news – all will need different design treatment.

 Once you know how colourful or serious your blog should look - based on your subject - you need to see how to arrange the elements. We’ll talk more about the latter aspect in this post, and we limit ourselves here to three top design schemes [or layouts] for blogs.

You will notice that only some themes and templates made available by Wordpress and Blogger and those available on the web do conform to these design schemes. But if you look deeper into their layouts, the good ones will have taken care of the logic behind different arrangements: appearance as a whole, consistency, readability, navigability. Themes and templates, however smart and colourful they may look,  are likely to make your blog confusing and cluttered as you go along, if they do not conform to the basic layout logic.     

A. The standard design

A. standard, popular blog layout
This blog design has a heading bar and below it, a link bar with tabs for different pages / labels/ etc for quick navigation. Keeping this link bar here makes these links clearly visible while not cluttering the rest of the blog space. The space below it is for the main content. The side bar [left or right, as you like] is for external links, ‘recent comments’, ‘popular posts’, followers, and other widgets. The main column is much wider than the side bar and here come the posts. In this layout, you may like to have a colourful border on the sides [and mixing with the heading bar if you so like] a beautiful title image that flows down on one side and so on, but such embellishments are optional. You can have more than two columns if that suits your purpose, but if not handled properly, that will make the blog cluttered. 
The IndianTopBlogs site is an example of this  layout in its simplest form. While the top menu bar helps in navigation into major segments, the bottom area makes resources categorised in different ways.
This layout suits most types of blogs.

B. colorful blog design, with elements standing out
Blog layout with elements popping out

This blog design has a unifying picture or motif or solid colour background that covers the entire blog, and different segments stand out of the background. In Blogger's  dynamic views, this corresponds to 'snapshot' and  'flipcard' views. This blog design will eminently suit you if your content can be divided into a few clear-cut segments. For example, a blog on film industry can have one segment on celebrities, another on music, another on blockbusters, and so on.
There can be many variations of this design, e.g. each segment button can have picture / drawing or a shot of the latest post. 

The composite layout, with elements from both the above styles

C. composite blog layout
You may like to have a blog with a clear-cut heading bar and a link bar for navigation. The main content area can be distinctly divided into links [in a side bar] and posts [in the main column] within a unifying background.
For variety, the side bar can have thumbnails. 'Sidebar' and to some extent 'Time slide' dynamic views of Blogger are examples of two variations of this style.

These blog design schemes suit as well to the blogs designed independently of  Wordpress / Blogger and other such hosting sites. However, necessary modifications would be needed for blogs written in Arabic, Japanese and other scripts not written left-to-right. 

In deciding which side to keep the side-bar, where to keep the main segment button, etc, also please see this post on which areas draw the attention of the blog visitor the most.

5 things non-English bloggers ignore and spoil their blogs

In our  ranking exercise for Indian blogs, we have found that many language bloggers are particularly prone to some basic, common-sense, mistakes that make their blogs difficult to follow.
This article has been updated in November 2015.

Multi-lingual blogs lose visitors

We came across many blogs that had posts in two languages, mostly English and Hindi. Such blogs might be popular among people attached to their mother tongue and comfortable with written English too, but they also irritate many who would prefer to share their thoughts on an English-only or a Hindi-only  blog. 

In multi-lingual blogs, the author's use of a particular language for a post is likely to be taken a show of ‘attitude’. Comment-makers can also get confused about the language they should use. Use of more than one language also makes search, tagging / labeling, captioning, tweaking the web design, and adding new elements difficult.

As long as you are sure that your audience likes multi-lingual format, do continue with it. Multi-lingual blogs look OK if the target is a small, close-knit, community such as college friends, office colleagues and family members. However, it might become a handicap if one intends to widen the audience later.

Local expressions need to be explained

We have seen in Hindi and Tamil blogs that the blogger uses a native expression not understood by a wider audience. Some of these bloggers seem to assume that every visitor understands their slang and local idiom. Many language bloggers also seem to have the delusion that anybody would get the sense of a witty expression used by them in their own language. Some seem to feel that a reference to a scripture or folklore is universally understood.

Using slang has another risk: even if people in your group seem to understand the expression, it might convey different meanings to different people. 
Local touch does give flair and intimacy to what you convey, but you must explain to the reader what a local expression means.  

Roman script does not suit many languages

A good number of English blogs sometimes carry large passages [eg. an Urdu poem] in Roman script. It is a torture to read long passages written in Roman script when the usual script is not Roman, for example in the case of Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Korean languages.
If it is essential to carry a local language passage / quotation / poem in an English blog, do two things: (i) Carry that text in its native script [With Unicode now universal, you can write in all scripts on Google and many other utilities.] (ii) Give a rough translation alongside.

What's my blog's audience: a close group or the universe?

We have no quarrel with very intimate blogs [in fact, blogging started with that], but it does the blog no good if you make some of your posts too personal and some universal. Or when one post gives culinary details of dosai made in a restaurant in Vadugachery and another post arguing why Angelina's refusing to kiss a New York tycoon would lead to bear phase in NYSE. 

The problem of deciding the audience seems more prominent among expatriates. When the blogger shifts to a different country, his world-view shifts and his present experiences come in conflict with his memories of homeland. 

This issue can be resolved easily if the blogger maintains separate sections on the blog targeting different universes. If the audiences are too disparate to be brought on the same platform, one can think of separate blogs for different audiences [e.g. one for professional work, one for literary musings and yet another general-purpose blog. Or one for home  audiences and another targeted at professional work and present foreign buddies.]

Why should language blogs suffer clutter and bad design?

As blogging in languages other than English is dominated by people whose taste for design is often not universal, a lot of experimentation seems to be going on there. Many times, this leads to clutter and unconventional use of color.

There is no problem if a blog represents the colorful local spirit, but if it happens due to show off or mindless copying of what others are doing, it is not OK because it makes the blog look cheap and childish. We feel that if the blogger starts with only a few, essential, widgets and introduces new ones later, the clutter can go to a large extent.

Which part of blog catches readers' attention?

Google's attention map:
orange is the highest attention zone,
followed by yellow and white.

Have you ever thought that visitors to your blog usually do not look at the title area as much as they look at the middle of the page? Or that if a blog's homepage is bigger than around 10" or the size of the screen, visitors might just not take the trouble to scroll the cursor to the lower part?
It is common knowledge that blog surfers do not pay equal attention to all parts of a website. But which region of the screen do they tend to focus on and which region they ignore?

Google's research shows that the prime region on a website or blog is below the navigation bar and where the main content of the site lies. The eye seems to give less attention to the right side-bar and the top bar. The worst portions, according to Google, are the footer and the right side-bar.

You can make use of the attention map given here in designing your website/ blog. Keep the  important content on the 'most-focused' portions of the screen. If you display advertisements and notices, do them in the left side-bar rather than in the right one. Keep the footer portion of your site for hit counters and other less important things.

As regards having the blog's homepage only as tall as the normal computer screen, do visit this post: Is the best content of your blog in these 10 inches?

Happy blogging!

Ignore these 5 blogging basics at your peril

Whether your blog is meant for jotting down your routine incidents or has a bigger canvas, you need to follow a few basic principles. The five bits of advice that we are giving here are the bare basics, and yet most of the bloggers take them for granted. The result: the blog decays over time, the blogger himself/ herself loses interest and the blog goes down further.

 Make these 5 basics your cardinal principles of quality blogging, and see your blog glowing and growing.

1. Content is king. It is a cliché, we know, but also a formula that works hundred percent in the long run. Creating good content needs effort and may not give instant traffic, but in the long term nothing can beat the quality of content. An investment of time and energy in writing a quality post will give you traffic and back links, and also immense satisfaction years later.  [We will come up with a post on what makes great content sometime soon.]

2. Be regular even if not very fast. Compose a post even if you have nothing great to say. Not all posts will be brilliant but the discipline to write a post (say, daily or once a week or on every Sunday morning or on 1st and 15th of each month) must be followed. If you are not happy with a post, you have the liberty to keep it in draft form for the time being.

3. Keep the posts short. General purpose blogs should not have very lengthy posts. If the post length tends to exceed over 25 lines, either break the content into more posts and serialise it or use ‘peek-a-boo’ posts [posts that give only a few introductory sentences and put a ‘read more’ link after that; when a reader clicks on this link, the rest of the post appears there.]

Now, you will find this very post slightly long. Well, with post where the reader is led to read more [in the present case: five points, one after the other], you can allow slightly longer posts. There are other exceptions [e.g. photo-blogs and blogs on scientific research or other specialities] but in such cases too, the decision to keep the post long has to be due to constraint or nature of the matter, not by choice.

4. Break text into short, separate, chunks. This applies to all writing for the web and is particularly important for blog posts. Generally keep only a single idea in one paragraph and keep the paragraph short.
Further highlight the gap between paras. You can do it by keeping a blank line between paragraphs or making the first letter or word bigger. Consider changing text colour or italicising it when quoting somebody else, introducing sub-titles, breaking text with graphics [a more detailed post will follow], etc.

5. Do not clutter the blog. Choose a design that not only appeals to the eye, it also helps in easy navigation. Avoid a childish pattern of colours, text, graffiti, photos, sketches etc unless you deliberately want it to be that way. Even then, think twice. Being experimental, quirky and playful is not synonymous with looking scatterbrained and confusing.[Which part of blog catches viewers' attention?]

Blog ranking and blogosphere survey – Feb 2011

The Indian Top Blogs ranking of blogs of Feb 2011 is over. As we said before, we kept quality of blogs much higher than their popularity. We have been able to look at about 12,000 Indian blogs and properly examine about 1,000 of them. It was a big task for our 4-member team. Instead of including a few thousand more blogs, we thought to rather stick to our deadline. We admit that it is only a minuscule of the Indian blogosphere but we could not go further. We will add more blogs to the ranking when we do it next.
Interestingly, in trying to rank blogs we ended up doing a sort of survey of blogs. With this sample, we found that most of the bloggers have been very occasional bloggers or they post in spurts only to go on hibernation for long times. One main reason for waning of the initial enthusiasm of these bloggers could be that they found blogging more demanding and time-consuming than they had thought. The return, monetary or in terms of satisfaction, perhaps did not match their expectation. Another important reason for this could be their new-found love with social networking sites such as Facebook, Orkut and Twitter, and new apps on their devices.
Quite a number of bloggers do post frequently, with a remarkable discipline. Some have monetised their blogs by offering photographs, using AdSense, affiliate advertising, etc. and some have blogs as extension to their main sites.
Blogs on information technology, partly automated blogs and blogs run by large groups or corporates are quite regular. A number of blogs with travelogues, routine photography and musings too are very regular. Unlike what came in papers a few days back, we found that most of Indian bloggers we encountered are young – mostly in their 20’s and 30’s.
Except for some, not even highly popular and regular blogs have taken care to design the blogs with care. Some have done a good job in the beginning and never thought of refreshing the dated-looking design.
We had disabled comments for some time and have opened them. We will appreciate your comments and suggestions for good blogs.

How we compiled the first edition of the directory of topmost Indian blogs

We started listing the best blogs in India in 2010. The first listing was just a list of top blogs on India and by Indians, selected based on Google PageRank. In 2011, we brought out the first standard list - produced by manual checking of blogs - and thus arose the Directory of Best Indian Blogs.

The present post gives a glimpse of all that we did while manually compiling the first edition of the best Indian blogs' list.
We have tried to be fair in our ranking, but we are conscious that ranking per se is a subjective activity. 

We are deliberately keeping our identities anonymous. Maybe, if our team of bloggers stays stable for about a year, that will be the time to announce ourselves. 

We started with seeing only those Indian blogs that are either personal or run by small groups or NGOs in a collaborative spirit rather than commercial activity. After some discussion, we excluded blogs that needed registration and collaborative blogs on non-Indian affairs in which some members were Indian.

There were too many blogs on IT, gadgets, hacking etc and we had to discard majority of them in favor of those where the blogger had made special personal contribution rather than aggregating material from other sites. Some IT and news blogs had too much automated content and too little personal effort by our reckoning. 

We failed to find many blogs as professionally managed as in the western countries. 

Some Indian bloggers have blogs in very narrow niches. For this edition, we did not include them.

We have also not included non-English blogs, because we are not proficient in many Indian languages. 

Of the blogs we did not exclude this way, we looked for regularity of posting. Blogs not regularly updated and whose posting was less than once a month consistently were rejected. We had to reject many beautiful, high quality blogs but we could not help that. 

Of the blogs so shortlisted, we looked first at the quality of content. This included the text, its presentation, language, grammar, use of graphics, etc. Then came the design elements including readability and length of posts. 

To reduce subjectivity, all four of our team gave marks to each of the shortlisted blogs [978 in all] on these parameters and came down to about a hundred top blogs. 

We sat together to have a final look at the blogs and reduced the list to 132 best blogs and gave ranks to these blogs based on a fair mix of marks given by individual members on different parameters. We are still not sure whether we should have given a higher or lower ranking than what we have given to some of these - all excellent blogs. 

As it was the first such exercise by us, and because we realize that we must have missed thousands of top quality blogs and made errors of judgement in various parameters as this was the first such exercise we did. As such, our rankings are limited to bringing to the fore very good quality Indian blogs, generally personal blogs in which bloggers have invested good amount of time, energy, thought and imagination.

At the end of this exercise, we find that Indian bloggers with zeal for presenting their worldview in an interesting way do ignore certain essentials of blogging. Based on our collective understanding and experience of blogging as well as what we learnt during this exercise, the Top Blogs will soon come out with posts to help individual bloggers in sprucing up their blogs.