Should you avoid plugins on the blog?

This article applies to Wordpress free/ personal/ premium/ business blogs as well as blogs created with CMS.

Wordpress bloggers are fascinated with plugins because these little bits of software can add great functionality to the blog, ranging from improving SEO to installing a beautiful comment box to what not. And in most cases, you don't need to know coding at all.

Wordpress plugins add functionality but might hurt the blog.
Yes, plugins are a wonderful way to add great things to the blog, which you cannot do without knowing a lot of PHP - the computer language used by Wordpress. Moreover, a number of plugins are free. Wordpress offers more plugins and allows you to install third-party plugins as you go for paid plans. On Wordpress-created self-hosted blogs, you can install plugins by dozens.

For self-hosted blogs on Wordpress CMS, the number of plugins available is growing by the day. Its depository already has around 52,000 plugins!

In all, plugins are such an important part of Wordpress ecosystem that without plugins, Wordpress blogs would be all plain and similar looking.

But plugins can harm your blog if...

Let's start with numbers: would you stop at a few or can install a large number without hurting the blog/ website? At any rate, free Wordpress blogs do not have much choice; there are some available and you need to choose from them. In paid plans or self-hosted Wordpress blogs, you can put a large number of plugins.

Techies from Wordpress community tell us that number does not matter as long as they are good plugins. Some say that even  a hundred plugins won't slow down or create any perceptible loss in performance if they are properly coded. But these users are coders themselves and tweak the code in such a way that the plugins work fine, without interfering with other code and delivering results fast.

Coming to quality of plugins, one must be sure on many counts before putting a plugin.
For example, 'Is the plugin really required and will add value to the blog?' It is very important that we look at the need for and value of the plugin on the blog. Most plugins, like widgets, fascinate bloggers but do not add real value to the blog. Some plugins are useful but are either not relevant or do not go well with the subject of the blog.

'Is the plugin trustworthy?' There are millions of app, widget and plugin makers and all of them might not be trustworthy. Some have malicious code included in it.

'Is the code good enough?'  Some plugin makers have good intention but their coding is bad, which makes the site slow down, even crash. Some plugins are created and then forgotten; these might have been good at one time but may not be fully compatible with the updated Wordpress code or new browsers.

It is often said that paid plugins are better than free ones. I won't vouch for that, but yes, if a plugin is selling well, it could be an indicator that people are buying it for its quality. It is good to search Wordpress community for what people are talking about a particular plugin.

Even good plugins can slow down the website

Plugins of some types require additional HTTP requests and database queries, and they load scripts and style code, and that should not slow down the speed much. But if they call a number of resources not located on the site, there could be a problem. Also, if they need to perform complex tasks, load scripts from faulty websites or call heavy resources from busy servers, they might lead to slow loading time and even the site crashing.

The best advice in case you feel a particular plugin is really needed on your blog/ website but know that it involves calling external resources or a bit of complex computing, test the site speed with and without the plugin, and then take a decision.

Still, some plugins may be greatly useful

Having cautioned you about use of plugins on Wordpress blogs, let me hasten to add that some types of plugins are almost a must for any blog. These would include plugins for
  • backing up the blog
  • social sharing
  • SEO
  • security

I won't be able to recommend specific good plugins of these categories, but you could look at the ones recommended by Wordpress itself and those recommended most by Wordpress community members.

India's best art, craft and decor blogs

Art and craft blogs by Indians are hard to come by, nor are there more than a couple cartoon blogs. Many artists or art lovers create a blog but either leave them mid-way or become very irregular. Only a few are worth mentioning and we bring them to you here.

Art, craft, decor blogs: a collage / courtesy: Pixabay

(Blogs are arranged alphabetically.)
artbyaarohiblog - art by arohi
A professionally maintained art blog by Aarohi Singh, a painter who has mastery over many mediums.

arun-bohemianwanderer - Bohemian Wanderer
A cartoon blog by Arun Ramkumar, with over a thousand comic art resources.

cardsandschoolprojects - Cards, Crafts, Kids Projects 
As the name suggests, the blog is devoted to crafts for/ by children. Sonia SV has been maintaining the blog for the last 7 years.

designdecoranddisha - Design Décor and Disha
Disha Mishra Dubey writes on art and craft but her focus in the blog is on home decor with an Indian touch.  

indiandiy - The Indian DIY & Woodworker
You don't find many DIY and wood work blogs by Indians. Out of those shortlisted by us, we didn't find anyone matching this blog by Indranil. 

jayesh-sivan - Jayesh Sivan - Illustrations
Illustrator and designer Jayesh Sivan, the man behind the blog, has the talent to make live stories out of his illustrations.

komalinunna - Entertaining from an Ethnic Indian Kitchen
Food blog in this collection? Yes, Komali Nunna's blog has good sprinkling of tablescaping, flower arrangement and garden layouts. 

plumage - Plumage
Uma Nair, an art critique and curator, maintains this blog on TOI platform. She has been writing on art for the last 29 years!

ranjanascraftblog - Ranjana's Craft Blog
You talk about an Indian craft, especially from ladies' perspective, and it is here! Ranjana Shankar writes on a range of subjects that include clay art, crochet, jewellery, painting and quilt making. 

sahisridhar - Rythmica
Sahithya Sridhar's blog talks about many lifestyle topics, and is especially rich in DIY ideas and art. 

thekeybunch - The Key Bunch
A professionally managed decor blog by Sharon, it has very refreshing ideas about sprucing up homes. 

There are some other good blogs on art and decor but we are missing action in them of late, so have not included them in this list. 

If you come across some fantastic blog on art, do let us know - we'd like to add our little muscle to promote them.

Social media news: Facebook Watch, most liked tweet and blue whale game's suicidal spread

The curse of blue whale

The computer game Blue Whale has caused havoc across many countries by prompting youth to commit suicide. Started in Russia in 2013, the game caught fancy in 2016 when it was reported that this addictive game guides the gamers into finally committing suicide. Philipp Budeikin, who claims to have invented the game blue whale, has been arrested and he has pleaded guilty of prompting 16 girls to commit suicide in the first instance.
The game is not viral but has has been attracting people, mostly young ones and teens, and there are reports of boys and girls jumping from balconies or cliffs in the final stage of the 50-day game.

Facebook introduces 'watch' for shows

Facebook has introduced a new feature on mobile, desktop and app that allows people to see live or recorded shows. 'Watch' as it is called, is right now available to a select audience and will be rolled out soon worldwide.

As per Facebook release, Watch will allow people to customise their watchlist. At the same time, it will also make it easy for people to make their own shows. 
Facebook's watch feature for video shows.
Facebook's Watch: showpiece or real shows?

How are these 'shows' different from routine videos? This is what Facebook has to say: Shows are made up of episodes – live or recorded – that follow a consistent theme or storyline. Shows are a great format if you want to share a video series, like a weekly cooking show, a daily vlog, or a set of videos with recurring characters or themes.

The most viral tweet so far, and well deserved!

In the violence that erupted on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia, US, white supremacists and anti-racial groups clashed. Then a car crashed into anti-racial protesters and killed one man. 

All types of messages started flooding the social media after the event. While President Trump could not gather sane, subtle, words to denounce the violence, ex-President Barack Obama made three tweets quoting Nelson Mandela. And the first one of them has made history: It is till now the most liked tweet, with nearly 4.5 million likes!

While still on the clash story, let me share the report that after the incident, US social media took down hate groups and websites but they have adopted the Russian social network, VK to share and spread far-right content.

Does Google disfavor blogger blogs?

On a Facebook Group on blogging, someone created doubt recently whether Google gives low value to blogs hosted on its own Blogger platform just to prove a point before enforcement authorities that it does not favor people using its services.

It looks logical, going by numerous court cases and questioning from national IT authorities such companies have to face globally, relating to anti-trust, monopolistic or restrictive practices. Or is it illogical?

Specifically, we saw the following arguments during discussion on that group:
  • Google deprecates Blogger blogs when it comes to its search preferences.
  • Blogger blogs that retain .blogspot ending are thought of as not too authoritative sites.
  • Google favors Wordpress blogs over Blogger blogs, for some curious reason.
  • In any case, search engines think low of blogs unless the blogs are maintained as regular websites.
I, or my colleagues here at ITB, have no clue about Google deprecating .blogspot blogs. And we believe, it won't do so. In fact, we have sometimes felt that good articles on Google Plus get higher prominence on Google search pages than what they would perhaps got if they were on other platforms.

If Wordpress blogs seem to get a higher SERP position than a Blogger blog with similar standing and content, that could be due to inbuilt SEO tweaks that the Wordpress blog might have. It is often reported that many free/ paid Wordpress themes have good SEO practices built in. Some SEO plugins available to Wordpress blogs might also be behind these pages getting higher search positions.

So, what Google can do on its Blogger platform is to make the themes/ templates SEO friendly in most ethical sense: make the blogs discoverable.

Blogger blogs are free, good.

Coming to blogs per se, blogs with .blogspot or .wordpress ending will definitely be taken less seriously because 
(i) the blogger has not invested money for maintaining the blog, and so does not display as much commitment towards the blog as one who pays for that; 
(ii) blogs with such endings share resources with millions of other blogs and may not be as efficient as independently hosted ones (in terms of speed, other technical qualities); 
(iii) such blogs are not efficient (and not search-robot friendly) because of too much coding that the free blogging platforms have to include so as to make the CMS with thousands of options suiting all types of users; and 
(iv) intrinsically pages as part of big domain (e.g. is part of a big domain, are seen to have less authority than independent domains.

But we don't agree that blogs get a greater visibility when maintained as regular websites. Regular updation, widgets and latest posts coming on top are qualities of blogs that make them far more search-friendly than regular, static, websites. If you find that a website with similar content comes on top of a SERP listing while the blog comes down, there could be other reasons such as age, content quality, quality of coding and site structure and effective search engine optimization.

In all, bloggers on Blogger platform need not shift to other platform just because of this apprehension. Some more quality consciousness, discipline in updation and a bit of SEO would more than compensate for whatever you had been missing.

3 types of comments can hurt your blog, and what should you do?

By default, blogs have the facility to invite comments. Some blog, especially those maintained by newspapers or big media houses, avoid comments. Some bloggers by design want no reactions to what they write. But their number is small. Most blogs allow comments.

Comments, indeed, are an integral part of blogging. In earlier days, when social networking sites were either not there or were not too popular, comments led to good social dialogue. However, now the role of comments on blogs has diminished. Yet, some blogs receive huge number of valuable comments. Personal blogs usually get comments of  'I comment on your blog, so you comment on mine' type, but don't we human beings love appreciation? So, such comments too have utility in boosting our morale or maintaining a minimum level of interaction on a particular subject.

When comments hurt the blog

In the following situations, comment do no good but hurt the blog, mostly in terms of reputation of the blog or blogger.

1. When comments have been made with the intent to hurt. 
These are the most damaging. They are made by trolls and online abusers, by people who hate you and want to fill your comment box with harmful content, by your competitors, by hackers out to spoil your party...These comments damage your reputation and blog's SEO, demoralize you, provoke you into stating things that you should not, and even steal your blog's private information with the intention to hack your blog and blackmail you.

2. When comments have been made with the intent of selfish gain. 
These are comments that look either absurd or innocent, but have been made by spammers to gain backlinks to their own sites. You can recognize them with non-human type names (e.g. 'great-insurance'), linked websites and content (that mostly talks of their business) and sometimes a link inside the comment. In many cases, such comments are generated automatically, using bots. These people are not particularly interested in harming you but gaining traffic points from your blog so that their sites get higher on search engines. However, they end up hurting your SEO and reputation and clog your comment stream. If you do not remove them, genuine commenters would not take you seriously.

3. When comments are made with no bad intent but still are bad.
There are comments that happen to hurt because of extreme opinions, undue criticism, inappropriate wordings and so on. The commenter - due to his cultural background, poor language skills, lack of etiquette, bad temper or just the tendency to over-react - hurts your blog.

Comment moderation helps in keeping all such comments in check. 

Before you can moderate comments, you need to stop them from directly appearing on the blog. For that, you need to change comment settings (Blogger and Wordpress have it inbuilt). Then you need to check the usefulness of each comment and approve comments that you want to appear on the blog.

On ITB, we often do experiments on ourselves. So, we stopped taking comments, changed over to Google Plus comments, and had a comment box in the sidebar. For a short while we also had Disqus-based  comment facility on ITB. Finally (as of now), we are back with regular comments, but with comment moderation before we allow them to appear on ITB. 
Say NO to bad comments!

If you have opened your blog recently, please follow this advice from the beginning: have full control over comments and not think that initially you need to have as many comments as possible and would start moderating them once the blog is popular. In any case, in this era of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, you cannot expect many comments on the blog, isn't it?

Relevant links from ITB on the topic:

How to avoid spammers putting links on comments
Pros and cons of different types of blog commenting
Discussion on whether comments have relevance on blogs in 2017
An old post on comment spam

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India's best current affairs and political discussion blogs

India has a fine tradition of discussing things out, though in recent times a trend to thrash out conflicting views with brute force is seen in society as well as among the intelligentsia.

On the social media, the majority of people behave like crowd. In most cases, they are either followers or haters. The polarisation might help people who are on the ascendence in power, but the win on social networks does not mean much; it is like how much crowd you have gathered for your political rally by way of 'mobilisation'. 

In the blogosphere, where you stay only when you are serious at least more than a benchmark, people write seriously and readers take them seriously. On some blogs, there is good amount of healthy, thoughtful, interaction.

You can see a list of blogs that discuss current affairs passionately and figure in this year's Directory of Best Indian Blogs. It so happens that many of them (marked #) are by columnists of one the most read newspapers of India, the ToI. Three blogs of this list (marked *) also figure in our Platinum list, or the creme of Indian English blogosphere.

chennaifocus - Chennai Focus news
calamurgargi - A POV
anindianmuslim - An Indian Muslim
citycitybangbang - City City Bang Bang#
cursor - Cursor*#

erratica - Erratica*#
extraordinaryissue - Extraordinary Issue#
globalmadarasi - Global Madrasi
globespotting - Globespotting#
gurcharandas - Gurcharan Das
indianomics - Indianomics 

justicekatju - Satyam Bruyat - Justice Katju
masquerader - Masquerader#
politically-incorrect - Politically Incorrect#
right-and-wrong - Right & Wrong#
ttrammohan - The Big Picture
thegoldstandardsite - The Gold Standard*

ITB has not chosen these blogs by the political or social line they take or the merit of their arguments, but for overall high quality that includes quality of language, consistency and regularity, and massive resource base created over time. 

Food bloggers, apply Google'ss new feature 'badges' to get more traffic

You can add new markup to your site or blog so that they are better discovered on Google visual search

With the latest offer, Google has given a facility to showcase recipes on Google app on Android and mobile web by using a 'badge' feature. The badge on the image of your recipe prompts the searcher to visit your blog. That's it!

What it means is (I'm using Google's own example) that if someone does an image search for cupcakes on Google on his mobile phone, he will get a badge on the bottom left corner of thumbnails which tells about the image's category and options available from there. So, if one sees a type of cupcake with a badge 'recipe' on it and clicks on it, he will be taken to the recipe to make that cake. This added good user experience is likely to drive traffic to the website or blog from which the image is sourced.

As a blogger or website owner, what you have to do is to apply recipe markup to your pages so that your  images get the badge and direct visitors to your site.

Link here to know how to put the recipe badge on web pages.  

Btw, Bing has this feature for desktop searches since 2015.

What really is called a blog in 2017? And, btw, what is the latest definition of blogging?

The smallest definition of Blog in today's context would be: Blog is a website with regularly updated pages.

That sums up the essence of blogging, other things are secondary.

In 2017, the 'web diary' definition looks too restrictive, because blogs now include numerous types of websites. A blog being a website and its regular updation are the only attributes that remain its core identifiers.

Let me hurry to say that while all blogs need to have regular updation, not all websites with regular updation fit into the category of 'blog'. Not yet.

You might say, this small, simplistic, definition would include all types of social networks and web-chat apps. That's really the point, and we'd see enough reason for including all such sites as blogs when we talk of 'blogging' below. 

So, what is blogging, circa 2017?

Blogging is the task of maintaining a blog.

If that is too short, let's use this: Blogging is to publish posts on a regularly updating website.

That would include almost the entire social media, no?

Yes, we are moving towards that definition of blogging. In fact, today, if you maintain a Facebook timeline (not even an FB page or FB note), you are called a blogger. If you regularly post on a community website, you are a blogger. If you are active on social network sites and this activity makes news, the newspapers of tomorrow would give it the headline, "Blogger in California suburb..."

I'd stop this short discussion here. You could consult Blogging Manual 2017 for more details if you feel like dissecting the topic as an academic. 
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