June 19, 2018

Showcasing a reference book on blogging

The Manual of Blogging

This is the first book that ITB has showcased in the last 8 years, but we could not resist showcasing it because it is perhaps the first and only such work on blogging.
Produced below is the book blurb. 

"Starting as a simple online diary two decades ago, the blog is now a versatile and full-featured website. It now encompasses all social media and is used for information sharing, expressing thoughts, publishing research, doing business and more. And the future of blogging looks even brighter!
The Manual of Blogging covers different aspects of blogging and related social media activities. A compendium with latest information, theoretical concepts and practical advice, the Manual is a must for libraries, media institutions and those interested in blogging, media and social media."
-Manoj Pandey

We have requested the author to send us a copy of the book (not free but at a discounted rate), and once the book is in our hands, we'd like to speak further about the book. On Amazon, we could find just three pages of excerpts which are not good enough to judge the book. 
The book is priced $19 which, when converted into Indian Rupees, comes to Rs. 1200 which is OK for libraries and institutes but looks to be on the higher side for common readers.

June 16, 2018

Category-wise version of the best Indian blogs' directory 2018

The eighth edition of the Directory of Best Indian Blogs was released on 1st June, 2018. We are glad to announce that the category-wise version of the blog directory is now out.

This year, as discussed in the directory release post last year, we have added lifestyle as a new category. A large number of bloggers, mostly women bloggers, have come to this field. Considering that 'lifestyle' is now in vogue in blogging, we had earlier talked about lifestyle blogging in this post:  Lifestyle blogs are highly professional. We would be grateful if lifestyle blogger friends engage in discussion around this theme so that those attracted by this niche have a clear understanding of where they stand.

We have another new category, hyperlocal, that lists blogs that talk about the life and culture of a small geographical area, e.g. a city.

A blog with good resources in different categories is likely to be included in more than one category.

If your blog figures in the Directory and you would like to change the category in which it is included, please write an email, telling why the blog is better placed in a different category.

June 15, 2018

What should your cookie policy say?

After the GDPR regulations came into force on 25th May this year, there is a lot of concern among website owners about using cookies on websites and among users whether to accept cookies or not.
In the present post, we have collected useful information from highly authoritative sites so that you, the blogger, can yourself take informed action on use of cookies and displaying your cookie policy on your blog. 

What is a cookie?

A cookie is a small piece of information that websites leave on the visitor's browser. It helps the website in many ways such as assessing the user behavior so as to give the user a better 'user experience' later on or tracking how he/ she has responded to an advertisement placed on the website.

Typically, cookies are small text files with a small piece of information in characters and digits. They are not malware and do not contain viruses or malicious code.  

A cookie can be session specific or permanent. The permanent cookie resides on the hard disk of the user's computer. On the other hand, the session specific cookie just collects the session data and is deleted at the end of the session. For example, e-commerce websites collect data about login by the user, so that he/ she does not have to enter the data again when he visits other pages of the same website or performs different transactions. This cookie is deleted after the session or a small period of inactivity. Then there are 'third-party cookies' that are not created by the website itself but by other programs or links used in that website. Mostly it includes advertisments.

What Automattic, the company behind Wordpress, has to say about cookies?

Wordpess has posted a very informative article on its cookie policy page. You could visit the given link in case you are interested in details about how cookies function and what type of cookies a Wordpress blog/ website posts on user's browser. 

If you are a business, you can adapt the Wordpress policy for your purpose, editing it the way you like.  Wordpress page on Cookie Policy

On wordpress.com blogs, the cookie policy statement automatically comes at the bottom of the webpage. On free blogs, you cannot modify the notice but on paid ones you can. In addition, on premium accounts, you can also place cookie and privacy policies through plugins.

Cookie notice at the bottom of Wordpress blogs


How does Blogger show up the cookie policy notice on free blogs?

Blogger does not have a standard cookie notice. However, for EU-centric blogs or those opened in the EU zone, it shows a cookie notice as claimed by the platform. 

Cookies by Google AdSense

When you serve advertisements on your blog through Google AdSense or other CPC/ affiliate marketing services, the user data becomes very important for choosing ads and tracking user actions. Therefore these programs use cookies extensively. If you are interested in seeing details of how Google uses cookies and collects other data for serving advertisements, visit this link: Google Privacy and Terms.

Cookie information on self-hosted and custom-domain blogs 

Blogs created on Wordpress or Joomla or other CMS or custom domain mapped Blogger blogs are usually monetized through advertisements and other ways. In all these cases, there is even a bigger need to have a clear cookie policy displayed on the blog. This can be done through a plugin or by simply taking these actions:
a. Having a notice about cookie (and privacy) policy of the blog. This can be put as an item on the  side bar/ bottom of the blog or a pop-up.
b. Having a page giving details about the actual policies. If your blog does not have advertisments or has those from only compliant networks, or it does not have widgets/ plugins that capture user data, you can keep the page simple.  Otherwise you need to explain things in greated detail, as given in the Wordpress document linked above.

You may like to visit this related post on GDPR regulations issued by the EU last month. The cookie policy page of the Guardian is very elaborate and it can be emulated by professional bloggers, with necessary modifications.


June 5, 2018

Big changes by Blogger

Blogger has announced that it is making some changes to the blogging platform, some big and some small.
  • One of the important ones is that third party widgets are being retires. These will no longer be available because Blogger found them of low value. However, you can use HTML/ Javascript widget to bring in additional features.
  • Another important addition is HTTPS security for custom domains. This was very much required and owners of websites and blogs created on Blogger platform should thank Google for it.
  • One noticeable but minor change will be that blogspot will no longer show country TLDs. At present, example.blogspot.com becomes example.blogspot.ru in Russia and example.blogspot.in in India. Now, all blogspot blogs will have .com TLD.
  • OpenID, which is one of the universal identity labels, is no longer supported by Blogger. It says, all the comments made earlier on Blogger blogs using OpenId are being anonymized.
  • Other features announced by Blogger include better Google+ integration, multi-login facility on the same browser and better video management.

For more details, you can visit the Blogger official blog.

May 31, 2018

Releasing the Best Indian Blogs Directory 2018

The Directory of Best Indian [English] Blogs is coming out tomorrow, the 1st of June. The Directory has 326 blogs. This will be the  eighth edition of the Directory.

If you have been visiting Top Blogs, you'd know that this Directory is compiled manually in nearly four months though the job of finding good Indian blogs is a year-long exercise. We proactively look at thousands of blogs on Indian English blogosphere by browsing the web, searching blogs with different keywords, copying social networking and bookmarking links,  and looking at aggregators and blogrolls. In addition, we get hundreds of submissions on email and through comments on posts. Since the Directory is manually compiled, we visit many hundred-thousands of webpages for checking and rechecking the blogs for different parameters.

We changed our approach in compilation of the Directory this year. Two years back, our database of Indian English blogs had bulged to about 60,000. We deleted a large number of dormant blogs but the list, with more additions in two years, again went up to nearly 40 k blogs. This year, we did a painful operation on the list: in one stroke we removed all the blogs of the following type:
  • that had not been updated even for four months between June 2017 and May 2018;
  • whose regularity and bloggers' identity were extremely difficult to check; and
  • the ones with major flaws relating to content, language and design.
Though initial rejection took a long time, subsequent working became easy.  Next year onward, we'd be able to spend more time in discovery of new blogs.

A third of blogs in the Directory are either new or have come to the directory after a gap.

We have been observing that the proportion of professional blogs among new blogs has gone up significantly. A good number of new bloggers now blog with the aim of making money and their blogs tend to be professionally maintained. On the other hand, a very big number of hobby/ personal bloggers -  even long-established ones - are turning erratic in updating their blogs.

The professional bloggers, however, are missing one point while designing their blogs. The focus among some of them seems to be that their blog must look most modern, i.e. with effects that are not available in others' blog. Most such blogs are created on wordpress CMS; they are appealing and admittedly have a sophisticated design, but have sacrificed navigation and visitor's convenience for the sake of design.

In the Directory, blogs are arranged alphabetically based on the operative part of the URL. The category-wise version of the Directory will be issued in about two weeks.

Your feedback on the Directory would be highly appreciated.You could send an email at kp.nd.2008@gmail.com or comment on the Directory page itself. If you consider that some very good blog has been dropped or not included, kindly let us know. 

For those whose blogs find a place in the Directory:
We have been issuing the badge of ITB directory for the past few years. We did not issue it last time because we were told that Google now finds badges as an unnatural link to a website. But when many bloggers wrote to us asking for the badge, we took the risk of annoying Google, but found that Google understands value of a badge when it is placed voluntarily and not for any monetary or SEO consideration. We have a new badge for the 2018 Directory. You may like to put it on your blog if you feel that our selection has been fair and you are proud to be in the Directory. Putting the badge is completely voluntary.
Here is a preview of the badge. Actual badge will be there in the Directory page, on 1st June.

May 26, 2018

GDPR: what actions must a blogger take immediately?

GDPR is making website owners, businesses and social media platforms jittery all over the world. But that is good for the World Wide Web and you, the internet user and the BLOGGER. It is good for businesses themselves. It is a bitter pill that was required since long but has been delivered only now.

A bit of concepts before we go to the practical aspects of this new regulation from blogger's point of view. If you are interested in jumping to the practical bit, click here.

What is GDPR?

GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulation. It has been enforced by the European Union for protection of private data of individuals. It clarifies various aspects of personal data, privacy and consent required from individuals while using their personal data. In simple terms, it is a mechanism to regulate how personal data is collected and handled, so that it is not misused.

The regulation has come into force from 25th May 2018.

You can get a quick glance of GDPR provisions on the European Commission website at the given link. This link is for even greater details on data regulations from the horse's mouth.

Why are such strict data protection rules required? Is personal data that unsafe over internet?

The moment an individual enters any internet based system, his personal information keeps being seen and stored, much of it without his consent. Even with consent, which is sometimes made automatic (e.g. while logging in) and sometimes taken innocuously (e.g as part of surveys), the data once captured can then be stored, analyzed and used for different purposes. It is also sold to others who may use the data for unethical works. Many cases of data being leaked from highly reputed companies have also been reported in the recent past.

There was a crying need to have strict provisions relating to how people's data is dealt with by receivers of that data. It is good that EU, which had been working on it for last two years, has finally brought the regulation in the form GDPR.

Why is there panic and why are the companies outside EU worried?

Panic because the rules have been applied from 25th May, 2018 and many companies have not prepared themselves for it.

Panic also because whosoever serves the EU citizens through its website attracts the provisions. GDPR applies to entities within the EU region as well as to those located elsewhere but giving services to EU citizens. That covers all major global companies and a large majority of individuals having a presence on the internet. In the internet world, there are no national boundaries and thus there is a scramble the world over for compliance. In addition, other countries may follow suit and bring their own similar laws.

GDPR is exhaustive. It starts with collection of data, for which it mandates proactively giving information on use of data and active consent of the individual whose data is being received. Those in the business of collecting, storing and processing data are also required to inform citizens how the data is used in the hand of the data collector. It then applies to the controller and processor of data. The controller is a person, public authority, agency or other body which, alone or jointly with others, determines the purposes and means of processing of personal data, and the processor is a person, public authority, agency or other body which processes personal data on behalf of the controller. That covers all entities who receive, store, process and use data.

The penalties are strict for any data/ privacy breach. The maximum penalty for corporates is mind-boggling: 4% of their global turnover!

On the very first day of coming into force of GDPR, Facebook and Google have been slapped lawsuits of over 3.7 billion Euros each, though both have rolled out quite elaborate policies and clarifications in advance!

A number of big sites are reported to be unavailable in many European countries from the 25th May.

As a blogger, do I need to do anything about GDPR?

Blogger automatically serves information to EU visitors.
As a blogger, you might be collecting data in some deliberate and/ or unknown ways. Cookies, for example, are the small bit of code that websites leave on the user's browser and capture data. Cookies are not malicious code, and they help in some ways such as fast loading of a website the next time. But they do capture data.

Comment forms - either in-build or third-party form - usually ask for personal data. Same with contact forms.

Bloggers usually collect information such as name and email when letting people subscribe to their feed/ updates.

Bloggers often collect data through emailers such as MailChimp.

On many blogs, the blogger adds plugins for interactivity, serving ebooks, etc. The opt-in forms for using these facilities capture personal details.

Some blogs ask readers to log in before proceeding further or for premium offers.

Therefore as a blogger you need to be transparent and proactive about how you collect personal information and how you use it, and give that person a choice. An expert has suggested the following and I agree with that: If you do not directly deal with people in the EU, and yet might have people from that region visiting your blog or even clicking on your ads and even buying a thing by clicking on your blog's ads, you need not worry. First, be clean about your doings: never abuse others' data. If you do that, you are already complying with much of all that is required. Second, inform everybody about your privacy and data policies. Third, take consent whenever collecting data.


Actions bloggers should take

  • If you are in the EU, and you are actively collecting user data while selling a product or when someone subscribes to your blog, you must already have registered with the EU Commissioner. 
  • Even if you are not located inside the European Union, into e-commerce or specifically serving European population, follow the general provisions of data protection regulation. They will help you in the long run. You will also be seen as a responsible blogger.
  • Have a cookie policy. Have data-use policy.
These policies are nothing but declarations on how you collect data, what data you collect, how you use, store and share that data. It is better that you jot down all data that you are actively or passively collecting on the blog, and be transparent about it. Put it in a stand-alone page and refer visitors to this page through a popup and also when you ask someone to opt in for subscription in future.
  • Ask visitors (especially first-time visitors) to look at the cookies policy and other policies before proceeding further.
  • If you use an email marketer (AWeber, MailChimp, etc), be sure that they have added the necessary warning to the form. Most big ones have already done that. 
  • Send an email to all existing email subscribers giving them a choice whether they want to retain the subscription, change data or unsubscribe. Major email marketing agencies already have a subscription alert template customized for GDPR.
  • If you use Google AdSense, any affiliate marketing (e.g. Amazon, CJ) code or Google Analytics code on your website, these codes will be collecting user data. You need to be sure that necessary actions are taken by the code-serving agencies. If you find them deficient, contact them and make this declaration also in your own policy document.
  • Do not have auto opt-ins - e.g. for collecting data when a person clicks on your link for ebook and you allow him to download the ebook on his entering his email, without telling him that you are collecting the data and would use it later for sending emails to him.
  • It appears that the users of Blogger, Wordpress, LiveJournal and such other free blogging platforms need not bother if they have not used any third-party facility on the blog. It is assumed that all such big platforms show up the basic consent form and other information when their blogs are visited by people in the European Union. Some platforms do not allow any such activity but paid accounts of Wordpress and all Blogger accounts can apply additional codes (analytics, plugins, widgets, etc) and so should be careful.
  • Bloggers who have monetized the blog in any way need to ensure that they comply adequately with the provisions of GDPR.
  • If you use a plugin for capturing data on people, announce that and seek consent before you capture data through that plugin the next time. 
  • Do not collect data if not required. 
  • Do not have opt-in forms in which there is pre-ticked boxes for consent.
Finally, - unless you are into big business through the blog - don't worry too much because the regulation is mostly meant to check data misuse by big companies. At the same time, be clear and ethical about collecting and using others' personal data. It always helps to be transparent even if the law does not operate in your country.

Disclaimer: This is not a legal and legally-binding opinion but a general advisory on use of data according to GDPR.

May 23, 2018

Road to Taste: a well-maintained travel blog

Road to Taste

The blog is born out of our passion for travel and love for food. We, Saumya and Vishu, love sharing our travel stories with the world and inspire people to travel as much as possible. The experiences garnered by traveling are unmatched.

Recently Saumya went on a dream trip of Palace on Wheels organized by Ministry of Tourism. She was one of the 60 bloggers chosen from around the world and amongst the three from India. Definitely a proud moment for us!

While Saumya loves to capture the world through her lens and is the creative mastermind behind the blog, Vishu takes care of the technicalities and writing. Traveling and exploring places along with enjoying various cuisines is the crux of our work. While traveling takes the major portion of the blog, collaborations with brands and tourism boards also come along the way. We have worked with brands like Google, Accor Group of Hotels, Nikon, UBER, Huawei Honor, Incredible India, UP Tourism, Uttarakhand Tourism, Radisson Hotels and resorts, Milton and Orra Jewellery.

- Vishu and Saumya

May 15, 2018

Social media and blogging updates: offers by Facebook and Google, SEO

Facebook F8 Conference: increments, no blasts

In the latest annual conference, Facebook has announced some new features that will be available later this year on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Whatsapp. A peep into what is in store:
  • A feature to clear history from Facebook account, about information received from various websites and apps.
  • Camera to get new capabilities on Facebook, which includes turning pics into 3D.  
  • A dating feature on Facebook app, that would make it possible to date as on Tinder.
  • AR (augmented reality) effects on Instagram and Messenger.
  • AI enhancements and improved bot capabilities on Messenger 2.0.
  • Translation of messages on Messenger.
  • Video chatting feature on Instagram.
  • Group calling on Whatsapp, perhaps both - audio and video calling.

Google showcases its AI prowess, improvements across apps

Google also had its annual I/O Conference, focusing on new developments and software improvements. These include:
  • A more capable and human-like Google Assistant, accompanied by Duplex - which could call on your behalf!
  • New version of Android, Android P.
  • New features on Google News, Google Photos, Gmail and Google Maps.

Non-profit organizations now like to directly connect with the public, less through the media

A University of Kansas study finds that international non-profit organizations have shifted their use of channels of online communication and target audience over a decade.

While in 2007, for online communication with people, these organizations used their websites, followed by blogs, podcasts, videocasts and wikis, they now use their own site followed by social media. Within social media, Facebook comes first, followed by Twitter, blogs and Instagram.

The shift in the publics that they target is more pronounced. Earlier, the focus was on promoting the organization's image, fund-raising and the media, and now the focus is on reaching the general public, potential donors, existing donors and the media in that order. Reaching the media gets a low priority now.

The study covered 150 non-profit professionals in top international NGO organizations based in the US. 

More on the study can be seen here.

Twitter wants you to change password, but why?

Twitter has issued a cautionary advice on its blog, asking account holders to change their password because it has found a bug that logs passwords in the system before it is masked. 

Twitter says, it has not found anybody having misused the logs. Once it discovered the bug, it proactively deleted all such internal logs is plugging the loophole. It says, Out of an abundance of caution, we ask that you consider changing your password on all services where you’ve used this password.

Another proof that our data with tech biggie is not guaranteed to be in safe hands.

The blog post can be visited here.

Cambridge Analytica closes down

The controversial firm that is supposed to have used Facebook data for influencing voters in many countries, has closed down. Knowledgeable people are not sure whether it would not arise in a new avatar.

A takeaway from Hootsuite study: socialization helps SEO

A recent study has validated the impression that engaging, sharing on social media really helps in better search rankings, and it happens directly - not just because more links get distributed through social accounts.

The researchers have also some advice for publishers and marketers. They say, quality of content and backlinks matters as much as their numbers. And paid promotion really helps SEO.
Yes, social can help with SEO. But that shouldn’t give you a free pass to over-post and spam people’s feeds. If you do that, you risk annoying followers. And then they might ignore your posts, or worse, stop following you entirely.
Quality of posts—not quantity—is key. Yes, regular posting is important, but if you’re not offering your audience value there’s no point.
Remember, it might only take one new backlink to significantly improve the search rank of a URL (depending on how competitive the keyword is and how authoritative the site is that links to your own). If you impress the right person enough to share your content on their website, you’ll see a boost in search rank and search visibility.
Social marketers should also take note of the implications of paid promotion on SEO. Indeed, our findings show that paid promotion has nearly double the SEO benefit of organic promotion.
SEO should be thoughtfully integrated into your broader social marketing strategy, but it should not be the driving force. If you focus on creating and sharing quality content, you’ll be in good shape. Quality is, after all, the number one ranking factor in Google.

May 7, 2018

Disavowing backlinks: should you do that?

What is 'disavow'ing links?

Disavowing a link in terms of SEO is to tell search engines, 'Please do not use this backlink (a link on some other site that has a link to my site) for assessing the quality of my website.'

Why disavow backlinks?

Search engines use many factors for assessing the reputation and relevance of websites (that includes blogs). One of them, a very important one, is backlinks. The argument here is that if a website A is giving a link to website B, A is in some way endorsing website B. It would also mean that A considers B relevant for the anchor text used by it (website A) to give link to B. Since the number of backlinks seems to be a ranking parameter, it is possible to fool search engines to believe that a website getting many (though useless) links is a good website. 

However, many black-hat SEO guys, spammers and even competitors use this very tool of backlinking to harm others' websites and serve their own purpose. They have useless or harmful websites in their store which they use for linking to genuine websites. Such links hurt the reputation of the target website. These links are unnatural and Google etc do not like such links for more reasons than one.

Sometimes bad backlinks arise due to wrong or unethical actions of an SEO guy hired by website owners. In trying to temporarily boost website statistics, they may get irrelevant links by using PBN or paid links or such other means. These become a liability in the long run.

Google's Penguin algorithm updates have particularly focused on the quality of links and it is widely reported that many good websites have suffered badly on account of poor quality links. 

Though search engines lay emphasis on quality of backlinks, the sheer number of backlinks appears to still count, because black-hat SEO practitioners manage to pass through Penguin (and perhaps similar tools used by other major search engines).

How does disavow help in removing bad links?

The most effective action for removing the harmful backlinks would be to get the bad website owners to remove such links. But it is difficult, and they seldom agree because they have put the bad link with a criminal purpose. In some cases, the spammers even ask for money in return for removing those links. Through 'disavow', Google and Bing give webmasters (or website owners) the option to tell them that you would like such a link not to be considered while deciding the reputation of your website. The link remains there but does not hurt your website's reputation in the eyes of Google/ Bing.

Is it safe to disavow links?

Google and Bing have a disavow tool but SEO experts suggest that you use it very carefully so that you do not end up removing good links or branding some natural but low quality links (e.g. from new but genuine websites referring to your website in a natural and good way) as bad links.

Google also advises using this option only if you find a large number of spammy backlinks, as it would ignore a few bad links referring to your site. Perhaps a large number of such links give Google an impression that you yourself have managed those links so as to artificially boost the number of websites linking to you.

So, disavow does not serve much purpose if you do not see unnatural links coming to your website in large number or if your website is visible on search pages as much as it should. However, if you suspect that your website/ blog is suffering because of bad backlinks (for example, it has good content but does not come up high on search pages), you can use the disavow tool and watch the performance of the site for some months.

How to disavow backlinks in a safe way on Google or Bing?

Both these major search engines have tools under their Webmaster Tools (Google now calls its Webmaster Tools website as Search Console). They have option to disavow links one by one or posting a file that contains a list of URLs to disavow.  There is no limit on the number of URLs you disavow. Interestingly, if you upload a new file with disavow links, the earlier file ceases to be considered for disavowing; so, if you want to add links to an already submitted file, add old links again to the new file.

The following two resources are quite good on the subject:

1. Google's own resource on how to disavow backlinks and what precautions to take.
2. An old but very useful guide by Moz on how to disavow links without pain useful tools, and what not to do.

April 30, 2018

2018 Best Indian Blogs' Directory coming out on June 1

This post specially addresses Indian bloggers.

We at ITB are greatly excited now that we have shortlisted about two thousand out of numerous blogs that we've scanned since February for including them in the Directory of Best Indian Blogs.

We started bringing out the Directory in 2011 and the current one, to come out on 1st June 2018, will be its eighth edition. Though we now have more articles on blogging and social media - which are without national boundaries - we continue to take the Indian Directory work with utmost seriousness and are proud of our unbiased manual selection of blogs.

During the shortlisting, we have found some of our general observations on Indian blogging in English further validated.

For example,

  • Many bloggers who want to earn big online, and in a hurry, tend to try their hand on many activities and blogging happens to be one of them. Out of them, a big number does not want to spend a penny on blogging and do a poor job themselves. In that respect, Indian blogosphere continues to be full of blogs meant for earning but maintained unprofessionally. 
  • Yet, Indian blogging is getting more mature and professional. Many people now blog as a part-time or whole-time enterprise and they are highly professional about it.
  • In taking up blogging as a business, savvy bloggers do not limit themselves to traditional form of blogs but use new social sharing platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest, even Facebook. 
  • Blogging as a social activity is still there and in absolute terms it must be as much as it was before. However, if online activity has risen manifold in the last 5-7 years, most of it is happening on social networking and app-based chatting platforms.
  • The amateurish tendency to open many blogs (but not devote enough time to any) has lessened.  
As you know, we are in the last leg of compilation of the Directory. However, if you have some outstanding blog in view, don't hesitate to recommend that by emailing its URL to kp.nd.2008@gmail.com.

Looking forward to sharing the 2018 edition of the Directory of Best Indian Blogs with you on 1st June.

Happy blogging!

April 25, 2018

4 blogging actions you must take urgently or repent later!

1. Give your blog or website an HTTPS cover.

Starting July 2018, Google will deprecate websites that do not have HTTPS security layer. If you do not have HTTPS implemented on your website, Google Chrome will give a message to the visitors that the site is 'not secure'. Other search engines and people will also feel that the website might not be secure enough.

If you have a free blog, check whether your blog's URL starts with HTTP or HTTPS. If the latter, you are already behind the SSL security layer. Wordpress.com and Blogger blogs already have this security cover.

Luckily, getting the HTTPS certificate for base level security is so simple and free. For more on this subject, you can visit these resources:


 2. Back up your data immediately; back it up regularly in future.

Though web hosts are getting more secure and sturdy, more and more reports are seen about data from websites being hacked, instances of sudden bad performance by websites, blackouts, data loss and other nasty things happening to small website owners and bloggers. Natural calamities such as heavy cyclones also have destroyed host servers in the recent past.

Some hosts are reported to be goading users of inexpensive plans to upgrade and if that is not done, giving poorer service. 

You yourself can sometimes take an action by mistake that may turn your website/ blog unusable, or corrupt or delete its data.

Don't think that your data is safe if your blog is on a free platform such as Wordpress or Blogger. No, it is not. In addition to other risks, there is also risk of their suspending your account if they don't find your content appropriate.

So, if you have not been backing up your data so far, start backing up your website/ blog's data right now.

3. Be discreet from now on. Delete all 'bad' content.

In the face of enormous pressure from government investigating agencies, web hosts and social media biggies often have to share customer data with them. Many governments have enacted laws that can be used by authorities to harass bloggers on slight provocation.   

Bloggers are also liable to defamation and charge of content theft. In many countries, religion is taken too seriously and anybody writing or drawing anything looking to belittle any religious saying or icon can face severe reprisals in the hands of religious zealots and fundamentalists.

Therefore, please remove content from your blog that would-
  • be taken as violating your country's laws;
  • provoke your government to invite action against you;
  • be taken as socially inappropriate or hurting religious sentiments;
  • invite legal action for defamation;
  • invite notices and legal action for using others' content.
Remember that you are also liable for comments posted on your blog by others! So, remove any abusive comments and comments that have bad links.

If you have linked to bad websites, remove those links or disavow those links.
    4. Stop using any tricks, whether for SEO or otherwise.

    Search engines as well as humans don't like to be fooled. Google has publicly said many times that it penalizes action that is meant to artificially boost a website's reputation such as paying to get backlinks.

    Many SEO 'experts' advise bloggers in general and specifically their clients to use tricks to get to the top of search pages. Some bloggers use other tricks such as inflating traffic figures to show one's influence, taking actions that would harm their competitors' blogs/ websites, starting controversies so as to receive huge traffic, etc.

    If you want to blog with a long-term goal, please avoid all tricks. In today's web world, tricks generally do not work; and if they work sometimes, they do not bring long-term success. If you already are using tricks to fool people or search engines, it is time to stop doing so, so that you do not repent later.

    Happy blogging!

    April 21, 2018


    Travel Hippies

    The blog helps solo travellers explore the offbeat places with detailed low-budget guides. It also features free travel and volunteering opportunities across the globe and some quirky travel hacks for  solo female travellers. 
    After my leaving a full-time job, the road-less yet purposeful travel has been my life and this is what reflects in my blog posts.
    -Purvi Kamaliya 

    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'.