Why publicly flogging Badawi, a blogger, may be right!

If you support Raif Badawi's free speech blogging, there is some good news for you. His next flogging has been postponed till his wounds heal after 50 lashes on 9th Jan. His prison term may also be reduced a bit.

Who is Raif Badawi, by the way?

For those not knowing him, he is a youth of about 30, from Saudi Arabia, who started a blog ‘Saudi Arabian Liberals’ as a forum for political and social debate. In 2012, Saudi Arabia’s religious police accused him of ridiculing the monarchy and Islam, arrested and tried him. In 2014, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes and one million Riyal fine. He was also prevented from using media or travel for 20 years.

The flogging has been staggered: he is to get 50 lashes in public every week for 20 weeks. Enduring pain for blogging about free speech! 

On 9th January, Badawi was brought from the prison to a public place and lashed, just after Friday prayers. The flogging did not take place after that as prison doctors found him too unwell to endure that. 
Badawi [courtesy Wikipedia]

The media, pro-democracy organisations, free speech activists and numerous individuals have condemned the Arabian actions against Badawi, and Amnesty has issued a public appeal against the barbaric punishment and is seeking online support for him. There are reports that his prison term and lashings may be reduced, but is that a relief enough? His wife and three kids have fled to Canada to escape persecution.

Well, if you support the Commission for Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vice, and believe that free speech results in spread of vice and must be crushed, you know why caning and jailing the Saudi blogger is so virtuous and so right.

App stories galore! And interesting updates on Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

This time, we bring you some interesting happenings in the app arena. Before that, a small piece of news on Twitter.
Twitter India has made its first country acquisition. The company earlier this week announced an agreement to acquire ZipDial. It will "make Twitter even more accessible to people in India and around the world," the announcement says. Recall ZipDial for their 'missed call' campaigns?
Coming to apps, we'd talk today about new developments aimed at delivering data where it didn't go earlier.
For a few months now, Internet.org has been rolling out app based citizen-centric services including information on health and education, local information and news updates. These services, though internet-driven, are available on mobile phones without need of a data plan. The app is coming out in different countries, starting with some of the poorest nations. As of now, it is available in Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Colombia. The facility is free of cost unlike internet functionalities provided by some telecom companies on feature phones (=not smart phones) but with some cost.
Facebook has announced Facebook reading facility through Internet.org. Hope, this would not only greatly increase Facebook clientate in countries with high mobile penetration but low mobile data usage (such as India) but also give the taste of internet-driven communication platforms first time to those without internet connection. Zuckerberg has not yet divulged his plans for high mobile density countries such as China and India.
Just in case you missed this facility from Twitter. Twitter offers an SMS service, in collaboration with most telecom companies the world over, The service is free to users if the company does not charge for receiving an SMS.
Many of us have tried to install Whatsapp on our desktops / laptops but have felt frustrated with Bluestacks or Whassapp. Now Whataspp has an official solution to it. You need to go to 'WhatsApp Web' on the web browser and scan the QR code on this website with your mobile phone. That logs you in and links the web version with the phone. [As of now, the web client is not available on iOS and on browsers other than Chrome.]

8 qualities you must look for when choosing a web host

This post has been updated as of October 2018.

All blogs - for that matter, all websites - need to be hosted on the web so that they can be accessed by people looking for that blog. When you create a blog on a free platform, the platform (e.g. Wordpress.com or Blogger or Tumblr) hosts it for you. But when you create a 'self-hosted' blog by using a website builder or blogging software (e.g. Wordpress or Joomla), you have to put it on a web host and pay to the hosting company for this purpose.

When the blog is hosted free, it has all types of limitations: how much you can post, how much bandwidth you get, what content you can post and what not, etc. But when you host it by paying to the web hosting company, you get what you pay for. So, these companies come with numerous plans - starting from a very inexpensive one but with not much space etc... to the most expensive one with which you can run an ecommerce site or a portal.

As a blogger, you must assess how much resources and services you want and then decide the web host and plan. This post would help you check the resources and service levels of the web hosts to make a good decision. You should not ignore this one-time exercise because a bad web host can ruin your blog's traffic and earning potential while a good one can enhance them manifold.
A large number of website hosts have come up in the recent years, some big and some small; some global and some local; some plain vanilla and some giving you so many frills. However, you need to check whether the host is giving you the following:

1. High uptime

The host must be running at all times, and its  servers MUST NOT be down except for a very short period in a year or so for maintenance. In general, the service must be on at least 98% of the time.Many hosts claim to give you 99% uptime; check user reviews to ensure what they claim is true.

2. Top security

The web host must have strong firewalls and protection against viruses, other malware, hacking and spam. It must back up data every day or every few hours. It must also give you alerts in case of any suspicious action in your account.

3. Sturdiness and speed

The host must have enough server and processing capacities, and bandwidth, so that the site does not crash or hang with heavy traffic. It must provide you enough speed, and even if your blog shares the host's bandwidth with other websites/ blogs, the speed given to you must be reasonable.

Web hosts have different plans for shared hosting (cheapest), virtual hosting and dedicated hosting (costliest) depending upon whether your blog/ website would be hosted on a server along with others or will have a separate hosting space. The more resources you demand, the costlier the packages are. In general, it is desirable to go for a package that gives you about 30-50% more than what you require right now.

4. Bundled software and ease of customization

Ideally, if you are a small blogger, you should look also for good, user friendly blogging software bundled with web hosting. This software should be such that you are able to make quite a few changes to your blog.

Some hosts provide a full website builder software, which a blogger may or may not need. In the case of most bloggers, it would be the ease of doing hosting rather than having to learn languages. So, if you have a free blog on Blogger or Wordpress, and you want to host it somewhere else, look for easy steps to transfer the existing blog

The website builder software lets you start the blog from scratch. It will, in most cases, come with hundreds of templates and some bundled stuff (banners, buttons, images, etc).

If you are hosting a website or blog with complex features (e.g. for e-commerce or with big databases), or you will have such features in future, explore these facilities in the packages offered by the web host.

5. Scalability

The host must give you the facility to expand in terms of space, processing, bandwidth. Most big hosts offer these; however, some might arm-twist you into buying a more expensive plan to get even slightly better services.

6. Claims and offers

Also look at individual host's claims on its own website. Some big hosts may be giving excellent service in one country but poor in other places. Look carefully at the demo and feature-list given on the website. Claims, guarantees and features are valuable pieces of information as these bind the company into delivering good services, but these may be exaggerated. Check reviews, from near-by users if possible.

7. Customer service and customer satisfaction
Please search the web for reviews on different hosts. Be careful about the genuineness of reviews. If you come across reports about nasty surprises, cheating, giving poor bandwidth and poor support, downgrade that web host.

The web host must offer all-time support through email, phone and online chat. Customer support also includes initial hand-holding and trouble-shooting. If  the web host’s website has video tutorials, that’s one step that the host has taken towards meeting customer needs.

8. Base price and freebies

Look for a web host that offers money back guarantee; however, this might be limited to certain months and may have strings attached.

Check carefully for details when a host offers bundled services or discounts. Freebies and frills look fine, but are they being served just to jack up the base price? Some hosts will offer you free email accounts, domain name registration and advertising credits. Do you really need them? And to what extent?

Keep the above in mind in choosing your blog host. In addition, go to reputed tech sites to get their views on different web hosts. Take a very well-informed decision, because this single decision may make the difference between a happy web hosting or a frustrating experience.

Look at this review of major web hosts to see how really do the biggest web hosting companies fare.

Some of our related posts on the subject are:

Giving your blog an independent domain name
Blog hosting on an independent server
Having a blog beyond Blogger and Wordpress

Cyber Caliphate of ISIS attacks US Military Command accounts

The Cyber Caliphate, an ISIS associate, has hacked  the Twitter and YouTube accounts of US Military Command.

The hackers created a ‘paste’ on PasteBin [screenshot below] claiming that they are in control of some confidential files. They also issued threats of families of armed forces. ISIS messages gave links to confidential files that they claimed to have taken out from Centcom systems, and also gave lists of family members of US soldiers and US geo-strategic scenarios. In one war scenario, India was shown to be the base for US operations in Middle East and China. 


@Centcom account is now back!
It is not sure whether ISIS claims are true; such data might have been available on the web. It is also being suggested that the hackers some invasive techniques to get the data from exchanges taking place on the internet. Centcom claims that only its social accounts have been compromised and no classified information is leaked.

Twitter removed the compromised profile image, cover image and tweets. Now the authorised account @centcomand is running fine. The Centcom YouTube  account was disabled for a while and is also active again.

10 sure ways to grabs readers’ attention to your written word

A number of studies have shown that web readers seldom read the text word by word. They scan it for relevance and look intensely for the matter they’re looking for.  Most readers, thus, have their brains trying to get the maximum value without big effort that goes in serious reading.

That means, you must write text in a way that catches readers’ attention in the first go. Headlines and visual content are two major ways to catch attention, but this post focuses only on a third important aspect - catching attention to the written content.

1. Put sub-headings, and bolden the text, enlarge it or give it another colour.

2. Highlight words and phrases: use different formats such as bold, underline, italics, another font, large font, colour, putting within quotes, putting in a box, etc

3. Use simple and small sentences, and simple words. Simple language leads to greater reader comfort.

4. Keep paras short; in a para, give only one thought. Short, focussed paras lead to clarity.

A collage of ITB posts to show
use of highlighters

5. Give summary if dealing with a complex topic or long discussion.

6. Use bullets and numbered lists rather than describing many things in a running passage.

7. Don’t display full post if too long. If very long, use ‘jump break’ to expand it.

8. Use graphs and infographics to reinforce the main idea(s).

9. On visuals, put captions that relate to the nearby text, generally in a different font or at least italicized to differentiate it from the main text.

10. Don’t display too many things around the text. Avoid visual distraction, especially animations, slideshows and unrelated photos.

While applying these highlighting props, take care of the following:

  • Don’t write for computer but for human beings. 
  • Make formatting embellishments after you have finalised the text. 
  • Don’t overdo. Don’t unnecessarily hyperlink words and phrases. Be consistent.

Top seven IT and social media trends likely in 2015

The year 2015 is likely to see consolidation of technologies that have evolved in recent years. No great invention is in sight as of now. We give here our take on what is likely to happen in 2015 vis-à-vis 2014, in social media as well as other uses of information and communication technology (ICT).
  • Mobile penetration the world over is rising fast, owing to ease of use, availability of device all the time, low costs etc etc. So, people are likely to have social media interactions more on mobile phones and less on laptops and PCs, to the extent that towards the end of 2015 or latest by 2016, for many social networking interactions, mobile devices will have overtaken laptops and PCs.
  • As wearables lead to greater convergence of technologies and platforms, their use might increase. Some hardware innovations are very much needed if their use is to grow over the threshold. Right now, we do not see much great happening in the next 12 months.
  • Money transfer and e-commerce through mobile apps are likely to grow up fast, especially in China, India and other ‘developing’ countries. Commerce through social media accounts (S-commerce) may start big this year.
  • Video is doing to text and images what digital cameras and later mobile cameras did to text: offering a more realistic medium to share info and express emotions. So, video sharing over social networks (Facebook, Google Plus), as attachments (as on Twitter andd WhatsApp), and image and video sites (YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest) will increase greatly. YouTube is likely to face quite a competition this year. 
  • On social media, there would be more urge for anonymity, which would lead to more misuse of social networks and in turn more controls. 
  • Social advertising would gain respect to the extent that it starts challenging mainstream advertising, at least in some areas. 2015 will see digital media being recognised as one of the primary platforms for advertisements and brand-building.
  • Social media search would gain much more prominence, in terms of number of searches and influence. So, expect sites with more social networking as well as straight social media messages coming on top of search pages. 

Women's safety in Delhi through Himmat, and @Mamata Banerjee discovers Twitter

Today, we’d talk about two minor, yet interesting – not significant – developments in India, around social media.

First, the Delhi Police has experimented with an Android app for safety of women. Claiming to be the best in class, the app Himmat gets activated when the woman under duress shakes the phone or presses its  power button. It sends an alert, with information about the location and video, to Delhi Police control room, and also sends SOS messages to people that the woman has identified while registering the app. 

mamata-TMC-twitterSecond, West Bengal's Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee joins the bandwagon of political Twitterati. She opened her account (@mamataofficial) on 1st January and has over eight thousand followers within a week. Interestingly, her party, the All India Trinamul Congress, has been able to reach this figure after nearly 17 thousand tweets over five years of tweeting. 

Compared to veteran Indian politician tweeters such as @NarendraModi and @ShashiTharoor, she is nowhere but we are sure, she would reach a hundred thousand figure in two-three month time. Do also expect some irreverent tweets posted at the spur of the moment by this unpredictable politician.