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

Voyager
https://imvoyager.com

"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.

1. 

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.

2.

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?