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'.

    April 10, 2018

    8 highest paying blogging niches at this time in 2018

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

    Consider the following:

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


    8 subjects that are great for making money

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

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

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

    Some niches have great monetization potential.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    April 8, 2018

    Dipika's fine blog on parenting, fiction and else

    "The blog started with the idea of sharing my candid thoughts with readers: social causes, personal needs, useful information and ideas. From parenting to fiction - you get all here."
    - Dipika

    April 4, 2018

    Hashtag stuffing and misuse: Bad for you!

    Hashtag (#) is used in the web world for labeling an expression as important and for associating with a social media trend.

    Twitter gave this little character an important place in social interactions, and it soon became sort of generic across the social media. 

    Twitter remains the biggest user of hashtags. It uses hashtags for curating all tweets associated with a hashtag and also estimating number of tweets being published on a topic over a period of time.
    More characters, more hashtag abuse

    Hashtag, especially on Twitter, is very useful in gathering support for a cause or against a social or political happening (#SaveGirlChild, #GunControlNow), showing one's approval or disapproval for some action by a leader/ political party or supporting someone in a big way (#ModiFor2019,  #PutinsPuppets), public commenting on excellent or disastrous performance by a player, singer, performer (#Barcelona), tagging all information relating to an event (#hurricaneIrma) or just associating one's tweets with its topic (#blogging, #SEO, #parenting).

    There are numerous instances of hashtag being abused. Though Twitter itself has advised not to have more than 2 hashtags in a tweet, people have been using more than that number and putting irrelevant expressions. Sometimes, they hijack the main discussion. With their unwanted intrusion, they kill the importance of generic hashtags. 

    An example of how misuse of hashtags hurts good discussion on Twitter is #blogchat. As the name suggests, people expect this hashtag on tweets that discuss blogging matters. In fact, there is a group that coordinates good discussion every Sunday night (American time) on blogging, using this hashtag. However, there are hundreds of other twitterati who use this hashtag just to be counted wherever this term comes. In most cases, their tweets have nothing to do with blogging.

    Extreme examples of abuse of hashtags is when there is hardy anything worthwhile in the tweet other than hashtags.

    Things become worse when people post hashtag-stuffed tweets through automated apps. 

    Twitter has been discouraging abuse and misuse of hashtags but does not seem to be doing much to penalize the  culprits. This has emboldened the misusers, and after Twitter raised the character limit of Tweets to 280, tweets are seen with double the number of hashtags.

    Some twitterati might also be over-using hashtags not knowing the spirit behind hash-tagging. They seem to be stuffing their tweets with their own numerous hashtags (which in any case, do not help in any way) thinking that every important word needs to be hash-tagged.

    We had carried a detailed article earlier on how to effectively use hashtags. The present one is an extension of the same and to show how this useful feature is being further misused and abused with Twitter's 280 character-limit and Twitter not taking sufficient action.

    March 30, 2018

    How to get SSL security for Blogger blogs with independent domain name?

    Google last year shifted all its blogs on Blogger platform behind the SSL security, and their URLs got the prefix HTTPS:// in place of HTTP://

    Google has also announced that it would work for a world wide web in which all websites have the minimum level of security layer so that communications between the user's computer and the website server are not hacked and misused, and people actually visit the intended site and not a fake one.

    There is an issue, however, with Blogger blogs that have an independent domain name. A large number of bloggers map their Blogger blogs to independent domain names (custom domains), and Google does not provide them HTTPS:// security.

    A number of queries made to Google have resulted in their saying that since the code has to be changed at many places so that all pages result in HTTPS:// they would make the shift available after some time.

    However, quietly, Google has given a surprise to bloggers: you can change to HTTPS:// on your own by two clicks!

    Giving the blog HTTPS security the easy way!

    • Go to Settings.
    • In Basic section, go to HTTPS.
    • Against HTTPS Availability, change the button to Yes.
    • Visit this page after some time. 
    • Against HTTPS Redirect, change the button to Yes.
    You will have got your blog with HTTPS. HTTPS, besides making the sites secure, is an SEO signal too!

    Let's make the www more secure with SSL security to websites.

    If this hack does not work for you, please make a comment so that we petition Google. If you think, this redirect results into a 'mixed security status' issue, kindly share that too.

    March 27, 2018

    Are we being manipulated by social media crooks and government propaganda in a big way?

    Cambridge Analytica's alleged use of Facebook users's data for election targeting has shaken people's confidence worldwide.

    The Observer first reported that this company mined data of 50 million Facebook users and used complex tools to deliver them targeted ads during the last US presidential elections. Facebook has responded by saying that its data was abused by a rogue firm. Cambridge Analytica's CEO has explained it away saying that in 2014 elections, an affiliate company used Facebook data without user consent and when the fact came to their knowledge, they erased the data.

    After that, Facebook has issued full page ads in Europe, appeared before Singapore house committee, apologized publicly, committed to look into its data in response to India's strong message. The saga continues.

    In an in-house document, Cambridge Analytics has claimed that it used Google, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to favor Donald Trump in the elections. But targeting ads is not a crime; it is a science. What has raised eyebrows that users' data has been given away for political purposes without their consent. The company, known to brag its influence, has been claiming big gains for its clients in other places too.

    In India, the top two parties are engaged in an ugly fight blaming each other for using that same company for social media campaigns. It started with the company's assertion that in 2010 elections in a state, Bihar, it helped its clients win by a thumping majority. The other side of the story is that it was used by the opposition party in 2009 general elections.

    The political dealings of the election consultancy firm and its claims to have influenced elections is the first cause for worry. Are we being manipulated in a big way? Are elections won by mind games and money rather than based on performance and socio-economic issues? Are democratic processes being subverted?

    The second worry, of course, is that our data is not safe. Recall the Equifax data leak late last year and the revelation of Yahoo's millions of accounts being compromised. If those were leaks, this one is even more serious. It is giving data to firms for commercial and political purposes without consent and without any regard for privacy and web security.

    The third and a highly sinister one: Is social media being used for manipulating the masses? Yes, it is.

    In pre-social media times, manipulations were more difficult and they were prone to exposure. Now, with our browsing and purchase data getting captured and analyzed to the last bit, these biggies know almost everything about us. They also know, how with a little suggestion here and there they can mold our opinions and make us do their bidding. And they are evolving stronger analytical tools by the day.

    The Russina hand in 2014 US elections is a case in point. Previously it was Facebook and Twitter who were blamed to have harbored accounts that tried to twist the elections. Now Tumblr has revealed that the blogging platform was used by Russian users for running a disinformation campaign before the elections. But it looks too small an affair going by what Cambridge Analytica is doing publicly and perhaps legally (beyond sharing/ stealing of data from social media giants).

    Fake news is blamed for twisting information to suit the manipulators, political or otherwise. The damage is done before it is exposed that the news was biased, fake. What is more unfortunate is that while social giants do not seem to be too keen to kill fake news (despite their claims to be doing their best), political parties and businesses are stealthily using companies specializing in manipulative practices.

    Technology provides the social biggies, marketing firms, analytics firms and government agencies very powerful tools to easily know relevant facts about millions of people and easily serve them messages that can influence, even brainwash, them.

    In China, the complete control of the government over native chat apps and social media entities and purging of content from foreign social media gives the government not only full control over what is being spread to people, but also all the power and tools to spread propaganda. China, North Korea and despotic countries in Africa cannot show the torch to humanity, but nations in which democratic rule is in place and democratic traditions are strong are now at the risk of losing these virtues at social as well as political levels. Citizens of such nations must feel concerned and raise voices.

    March 25, 2018

    Voyager: a fine travel blog by Sandy, Vyjay


    "We are Sandy & Vyjay - a travel blogging couple. Traveling has been our passion and we love exploring world cultures, seas, mountains, nature, food, art, history and urban places. 

    We set up ‘Voyager’ as a place to share our stories and experiences of our travel journeys. We aim to inspire other travel lovers to see what this amazing world has to offer."

    March 21, 2018

    How to get maximum out of a press visit?

    Bloggers are more and more being called to press parties, especially by big tour operators, tourist destinations, hotels, governments, companies dealing with big manufacturing projects, and so on. Because bloggers have special needs and they should ideally be given information differently from seasoned journalists, savvy companies organize press trips exclusively for bloggers.

    Whether as part of a standard press party in which journalists from print (newspapers, agencies, photo agencies, magazines) and electronic (television) media take part OR as part of a bloggers' press trip, bloggers must follow some rules of the game to make the best of the trip and to become more worthy of being invited in future.

    Eleven best practices that Bloggers should follow when invited for press trips

    1. Do homework.
    Read about the place of visit, the host, special things that you are likely to see. Read material they send you.It helps greatly if you make your draft stories and jot them down. These may or may not play out finally but you will have ready-made outlines around which you can ask questions or seek more details when you are actually on the location.

    2. Be fully prepared.
    If going to an unknown place, check weather on the web. Keep clothes suited for the place - umbrella, light or heavy clothing depending upon temperature, jeans, cards. Pack medicine (sun-cream, anti-allergen, antacid, anti-pyretic, medicine for vomiting if going to hills). Keep all your gadgetry, and a pencil and a notebook even if you are sure the host will provide that. Keep a cellphone with good camera. Keep a battery bank. Though most hosts try to take full care of guests's needs and emergencies, sometimes they are not that prepared or unseen things might happen.

    3. Be punctual and responsive.
    Respond to the invite. Be on time the first time and every time even if others in the group are not that punctual. Use the waiting time for knowing more about the place, organizing yourself, clicking photos.

    4. Participate and enjoy.
    Be game. Volunteer when there is an option (e.g. in response to 'Who all want the pre-sunrise visit of the temple tomorrow?'). However, don't be adventurous beyond what you can take. If part of the trip is too difficult for you or you suffer from an ailment that does not allow you to undertake that (e.g. trekking), tell the organizers - in advance, if possible. Exchange notes. 
    Enjoy the trip. Use the opportunity to make friends. Don't be tense and always looking to be 'on the job'. 
    Remember, the press trip is a professional assignment and also a sort of picnic: don't lose out on either.

    5. Don't grumble.
    If comforts are not as promised, don't make too much fuss. Do not be after food and drinks, better seat on the bus, better room, gifts etc. Do not complain about juniors when their boss makes a courtesy visit. Don't talk about better experiences, like 'In my visit to ... they did this and this.' Do not be too demanding. Do not bargain about your compensation unless necessary.
    Don't develop an ego of 'an invited blogger' or 'journalist' who must be looked after well.

    6. Take detailed notes.
    Go beyond what information is given publicly by the PR guys. Note down all that you can: mundane details that pad up the story, also details that would add value to your draft stories.
    Exchange contact details with key people especially when you would need to quote them on the blog or to get background information. This is especially useful when companies  and government organizations take the press to new projects that are hard to explain in simple terms.

    7. Think differently.
    Think from human angle, think from reader's point of view, find interesting details. 
    Don't make the mistake of  writing based on pamphlets and adding a bit of your story; write from your own perspective and based on your experience, and use pamphlets only for padding. 
    Don't ask too many public questions. If you want some details exclusively, ask them during lunch break, after the briefing, through a phone call, on email.
    If you discover an exceptional story idea that will help the hosts, be discreet in discussing that with others. Propose that as an exclusive story to be done later on.

    8. Click, even if you won't use photos.
    Photos not only are useful as part of blog posts, they also help recall many things that you might miss otherwise. Click yourself in different settings, that you'd do; but more than that, click shots to emphasize the place and important objects - photos that would support your reports.

    Be attentive, take notes. [photo:pixabay]

    9. Work on the spot, on the go.
    Do not leave work till you are back. Every evening, before going to bed, work on your draft stories, jot down things that you could not during the day, improve your drafts if already made. You can even write a post while on the tour if you want to make more than one post on the trip. 
    Otherwise too, why not issue a 'teaser' post with a photograph to tell the readers about your detailed post coming later? Why not post tweets and photos of the fantastic things that you experience? But be careful: on a professional assignment, your posts/ photos should tell others as a reporter, not as a picnicker.

    10. Be honest.  
    Disclose on the blog that you were taken on a all-paid-for press trip. 
    If it is a sponsored trip [in which you are paid for writing the post, beyond courtesies of a press trip], disclose that. Unless it is a sponsored trip, write honestly about good things but be  discreet about criticism - and tell that the views are your own.
    Do not talk about personal inconveniences caused due to your host's lack of care, but talk about hardships if they tell a story (e.g. in a submarine, how uncomfortable and claustrophobic it can be to remain in small cubicles for long duration; roughness of sea at a particular coast during rains; winding roads to reach a steep hill, which make you throw up at every turn).

    11. Deliver.
    Know the organizer's expectations in advance. Some organizers might expect you to post a number of tweets or short posts or photos (e.g. on Instagram) everyday. If that is part of the understanding, fine; if not, go along and do at least the minimum level of postings.
    Don't ignore to write posts even if there was no obligation. In fact, write more than promised or expected by the organizers. Send them the link once you publish a post even if they did not ask for such details.

    March 18, 2018

    Social media and blogging updates: Blogger jailed, Tumblr blocked, Facebook linked to hate ...

    Blogger gets jail for offering sex

    A 19-year old Chinese blogger, Ye Mouyi, has landed in jail for prostitution after posting an offer for sex on her account in WeChat instant messaging platform.

    She gave her hotel room details, posted a bikini-clad photo and invited people to 'get me sex for free'. She left the hotel after the post but by that time over 3000 people had rung up or visited the hotel, going by media reports.

    Mouyi later posted that it was a joke, but that was too late. What the post got her (instead of sex!) was arrest, imprisonment for 15 days, fine and suspension of her social account.

    Indonesia blocks Tublr blogs

    Indonesia has blocked the blogging site Tumblr for hosting pornographic content. 

    According to the government, it had asked Tumblr last month to remove such content within 48 hours, to which the blogging platform did not respond. At least 360 accounts were found to have porn.

    Indonesia has been advising chat and media sharing platforms to pull down porn and extremist content, for the last two years, and has taken action against many of them. 

    In 2008, the Islamic country enacted a tough law against porn and the government is constantly under pressure from political parties to act against web porn.

    LittleThings closes down.

    LittleThings's goodbye post on its website.

    LittleThings, a lovable digital publisher, has closed shop. An alogrithm change by Facebook is behind its traffic decimating in a short time.

    LittleThings took birth when blogger Maia McCann wrote a post on kitten and it went viral. What began as a blog in 2014, LittleThings had in 2018 over 12 million followers, and most of its 'feel good' videos got thousands of views.

    Ironically, it was looking for investment when Facebook threw a bombshell over its plans.

    Facebook accused of spreading hatred in Myanmar

    Facebook has a high place in Myamar's society; a great deal of private and public information sharing happens on this social platform. For years, it was supposed to have helped the society in communication.

    However, the UN fact finding mission looking into large-scale killings of Rohingya Muslims has found that this medium was also exploited by ultra-right Budhists in spreading hate, which resulted in large-scale massacres and over 650,000 Rohingyas taking refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. 

    Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar is quoted to have said, I’m afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended.

    Facebook has earlier claimed, it takes hate content in the platform very seriously and has been working hard to deal with it in Myanmar.

    March 13, 2018

    Semantic search: what it means for your blog's SEO?

    What is Semantic search?

    This expression ‘semantic’ is often heard when people discuss SEO. It is said that modern search engines are capable of semantic search.

    To de-jargonize 'semantic', let's see the simple dictionary meaning of this word. This word means ‘relating to meanings of words and phrases’. So, big search engines like Google and Bing do not look at a word or phrase blindly but try to find what it is referring to, what it's true meaning could be. That's it.

    Though semantic web was conceived around 2003, it was not until 2013 that the concept was used effectively by search engines. In that year, Google came with its Hummingbird algorithm update and changed the way web search was carried out by the search biggies. Till then, search engines depended heavily on keywords that the searcher typed on his browser, and matched them with pages that had those keywords. This led to SEO guys stuffing keywords into webpages and getting on top of search pages. Search engines now try to find the true intent of the searcher and serve him relevant results, not depending on exact matching of keywords.

    That leads us to two places where the real intent of search expressions need to be derived by search engines:
    1. Search queries made by people on their browsers, and
    2. Indexes of webpages, maintained by search engines.

    Search engines must understand query, find best answers.


    Search Queries

    To deliver the most relevant results to the searcher, the search engine must first understand what he is looking for. For this, the search engine uses many signals, including
    • Recent search history of the searcher,
    • Possible meaning of the search phrase going by the main keyword and qualifying or additional expressions,
    • What others have been searching for, using the same or similar search queries,
    • Location of the searcher, 
    • Etc. etc.

    Search engines use machine learning to better guess the search intention. Machine learning means, the software learning and improving its own capabilities based on its 'experience' while doing that job.

    To visualize how a modern search engine works to find the intent of the searcher, let us take a simple example:

    If I write ‘net’ on the Google search bar and press 'enter', Google will try to find what type of ‘net’ I am looking for.  

    I actually typed ‘net’ on Google and found that it threw results relating to NET [the National Eligibility Test (NET) in which many people in my locality right now are interested and must have searched for]; then came websites of some prominent bands offering net banking; then the Wikipedia page on Net; then .Net, Netflix, etc.

    If I type 'How can I crack net?', it gives results only relating to NET.

    Did you notice that it did not give any result on different types of nets such as fishnet or mosquito net. Then I typed ‘net catch’ and, as expected, got all results on fishing nets. Google's machines know that when someone types 'catch' and 'net' together in the search box, he is wanting to know about nets used for catching fish etc. while when he types 'crack', he is looking for ways to pass the NET exam.  

    If I keep going to the fish net websites, in a few days my top search results for 'net' are likely to relate to fish net sites. And yet, because globally and in my location, people would search for NET or internet related websites, it is also likely that websites on fishing net might show up only later.


    Search Indexes

    The second place in the search process where 'real' meaning is important is the indexes maintained by search engines.

    Search engines do not run from your browser to the entire w.w.w. to locate the thing you are searching. Rather, they have huge indexes in which webpages are tagged according to likely search queries.

    So, when I searched for 'net' on Google, it thought that I was perhaps looking for NET (which thousand others have been searching in my locality) or net banking or .NET or NetFlix, and then served to me the best possible results from its indexes for NET, net banking, etc., especially those suiting to my location.

    When I looked at the results that Google sent me, I found that while some had 'net' included in title or description, some results did not have 'net' anywhere, even in the body of the webpage. Even more was this case with 'net catch', whose many results did not have either the word 'catch' or 'net' in the title and description.

    How did Google think that a particular page without even one occurrence of the search keyword was in fact related to that keyword?

    The key considerations in including webpages in search indexes again need semantics or reading the true meanings of the search expressions. 

    When the search engine bots crawl the web, they tag the pages with keywords, but not in a simplistic way. They look for associations between different expressions, information and links to make a sense of what the webpage is talking about.

    The modern search engines have invested a lot not only in machine learning and artificial intelligence, they have been researching how different associations between different expressions and realities work. 

    For example, if I heavily optimized a webpage on Idi Amin, the notorious Ugandan ruler, for 'president' ten years back, that page would have come as one of the top search results for this word when searched by someone sitting in New York, but no longer. Today's search engines would perhaps not tag that webpage with 'president'; even if they index it for the keyword 'president', they won't serve it in search pages except when someone in Uganda searches for that word with search terms such as 'the worst president' or 'all presidents of Uganda'.

    SEO takeaways for bloggers

    Semantic search has made life tough as well as easier for bloggers. Tough, because you cannot just stuff keywords to get on top of search engines and cannot apply unethical tricks. Easier, because if you post good content on the blog (and apply a bit of ethical and commonsense SEO), the blog is likely to appear high on search pages. Of course, other factors are also very important, e.g. the niche, your location etc.

    Some good practices to search-optimize the blog from semantic perspective are:
    • Use different expressions, phrases and synonyms to talk about the thing for which you want the blog to be optimized.
    • Try to give answers  to questions that people ask about your subject.
    • Explain concepts.
    • Write detailed articles, at least once in a while, on main topics relating to your subject.
    • Don't optimize the blog just for very broad keywords such as 'Indian food' or 'Chinese customs', and also for very narrow ones. Think of a range of broad, narrow and medium sized expressions that people would use in natural language while talking about that subject.

    March 10, 2018

    Compilation of 'Directory of Best Indian Blogs' 2018 begins!

    This post might interest only Indian bloggers.

    Dear blogger friends from India,

    The compilation of the Directory of Best Indian Blogs has begun. The Directory will be published on 1st June, 2018.

    The terms for inclusion in the Directory remain the same as in the past. You might like to look at the FAQs on the compilation of blog directories by us.

    Have a great Indian blog? Claim its place in Directory as a matter of right!

    Due to constraint of resources we have been able to compile directories of only Indian blogs as of now.

    We would welcome suggestions from you all on good blogs, till April end. Please send blog suggestions to kp.nd.2008@gmail.com. Comments on posts are sometimes lost sight of, so do not use that for suggesting blogs. 

    If you have a great Indian blog, please claim its inclusion in the Directory, as a matter of your right! 

    March 5, 2018

    8 photo blog mistakes you must avoid

    This follows my earlier post on photo-blog designs.

    In this post, let's talk of the important aspects of photo-blogging that bloggers often ignore. These include inaction or wrong actions relating to design as well as content.

    1. Putting many high resolution images on the blog

    You should not put more than one or two high quality photographs on the blog. One or two you may, because you might like to expose your talent to prospective buyers and other visitors. 

    High quality photos mostly have a high pixel value, which may lead to slow loading of the page. In addition, stealing of photographs is rampant on the web. Stealing hurts in many ways and the worst  non-commercial damage that someone can do is to edit the photo and misuse it especially if it has a person (especially children and beautiful faces). It is more difficult to morph low quality photos.

    2. No 'alt' attribute, caption or title on photo

    Photos cannot be read by search engines, at least as of now. So, they cannot index the photo unless it has some keyword associated with it. 

    Putting an alt attribute in the HTML tag of the photo is the best way to tell search robots what the photo is about. Alt attribute also is read out when a visually challenged person uses screen reader. So, photos that lack this small but important piece of tag lose attention.

    Please visit this post if you do not have any idea about alt attribute.

    Photos must be chosen with care for blog
    All photos may not suit all photo blogs.

    3. Not giving details about individual photos

    Photos not only capture things, they capture action and moods. They also capture unusual occurrences that look out of this world. Most photos speak for themselves. However, photos are mute as far as telling time, event and place unless they are of a famous event, place or person. 

    Not giving the right caption and details hurts search engine visibility, it also does not create the right impact on the viewer's mind, which in turn reduces its chance of being appreciated and purchased.

    4. Recommending bad products

    To earn money through affiliation and product reviews, photographers often recommend cameras and accessories. That is fully legitimate, but some photographers are seen recommending obsolete and defective products without disclosing their problems and also without disclosing that they have received payment for the review/ recommendation. 

    This is an unethical conduct and can spoil reputation of the photo blogger very badly.

    5. Not clearly displaying terms, price

    When the photo blog is maintained with the intent to make money by selling photographs, the terms including copyright details and price must be given through a common page and must also be tagged with individual photos. Many photo bloggers forget to do that. 

    If a buyer in hurry likes your photo but does not find the terms, he is likely to go to another website/ blog to look for photos.  

    6. Navigational problems

    Many photo blogs suffer from navigational issues. There is no proper menu bar to list categories; it is difficult to browse all types of photos or a particular category of photos quickly because archives are messy and can be seen only sequentially one after the other; it takes many clicks to find photographs other than those on the home page; and so on.

    On the other hand, some photo blogs expose all photos in one go. This too can be confusing, especially when the visitor is viewing the blog on a smartphone or tab.

    7. Wrong design choice

    Many photo-bloggers do not apply mind on design, which leads to the blog looking cluttered or mixed-up, confusing, too gaudy, too experimental, even amateurish. 

    Sometimes a designs totally unsuited to photo blogs is applied. Sometimes an unsuitable background image or color is used. Sometimes the thumbs are too small. Sometimes photos of different dimensions are used without caring whether they match with other photos.

    8. Slow blog

    A website can be slow for various reasons, including too much matter (especially images and video) on a page, hosting issues, bandwidth issues, and technically bad site-structure. In case of photo blogs, there is a risk of the blog going slow due to large number of photos getting loaded on the browser in one go (see point 1 above).

    Slow loading blog is bad SEO. It also makes visitors leave the blog and go to other places.

    Why let your blog suffer when these problems can be solved with just a bit of application of mind?