June 27, 2018

Best blogging tools in 2018: writing and language tools

As a serious blogger, you need to take care of technology, design and of course content. In content, you need to have high quality text, visual, audio and audio-visual matter. You also need a way to integrate the blog with your other social media accounts. One other major requirement is search engine optimization or SEO.

Managing the blog professionally needs so many skills, and one cannot be a master of all. Some tasks look too overbearing if one is very weak in those areas. Luckily, there are some FREE and dependable tools available on the web, which make life easy for the professional blogger and he/ she does not have to run to experts for each and every work e.g. quick editing of a photo, checking grammar, SEO and so on.

In this first part of this series on free, tested, tools, we have listed those on improving the quality of writing in English:


FREE ENGLISH LANGUAGE TOOLS


Grammar and language checkers


Grammarly is a fantastic tool to check grammar. Its free version is good enough for general grammar check as you type. It easily integrates into most apps on your device and keeps suggesting changes and better expressions where it finds an issue. However, that can sometimes slow the computer or can look annoying. If you want it just to work online for blogging purposes, use its Firefox extension.

Hemingwayapp gives you suggestions for improvement, tells the level of language sophistication in terms of educational grade (e.g. sixth grade, tenth grade), and also has the facility for markup! So, you can quickly format blog posts with headline level, bullets etc.

Online dictionaries and thesaurus (list of synonyms)


There are numerous dictionaries available online but some of them have too complicated feel and some do not do justice with words. We've picked up the best- simple, exhaustive:

Dictionary.com is very simple and has dictionary and thesaurus options side by side.

Collins dictionary is more exhaustive, with thesaurus and other options, and we like its informal way of presenting meanings. 

Wordweb is a superb offline thesaurus, and it integrates well with Word and other programs. 

Headline analyzers


Crisp and relevant headlines and those with power words attract readers and results in higher traffic and its stay on the blog.

CoSchedule Headline Analyzer analyzes headlines on many parameters and gives a score. One can play with many headlines and apply the best one on the blog post. The following three free online tools have their own ways to find a headline's worth. You may pick one and stick with that.

AMI's headline tool gives score based on the category to which the headline belongs and its emotional appeal.  

Sharethrough has a headline tool that rates headlines on engagement and impression.

All-in-one offline blogging tool


Open Live Writer is a useful offline blogging tool. In its own words, Open Live Writer is like Word for your blog. Open Live Writer is a powerful, lightweight blog editor that allows you to create blog posts, add photos and videos then publish to your website. You can also compose blogs posts offline and then publish on your return. Open Live Writer works with many popular blog service providers such as WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, Moveable Type, DasBlog and many more.


TopBlogs periodically recommends new free and reliable software tools. We keep testing our recommendations so that they remain current. The present series of posts seeks to update our recommendations as of June 2018. 

June 22, 2018

Blogging, social media updates: Tanzanian law, Pak blogger getting threats, offers from social networks...

Tanzanian law kills blogging

The Tanzanian law asking for a hefty registration fee equaling $900 a year for online publishing has come into force [we talked about it earlier too], effectively killing blogging. That includes other forms of online publishing such as websites, forum engagements and posting on YouTube. Bloggers also have to produce a tax clearance certificate. 

Those not abiding by the law incur a penalty of approximately $2500 fine with or without imprisonment!

The rule had in fact come into being in March itself, but it was challenged in the Mtwara high court. Now the high court has turned down the appeal against the rule, and the rule is in force from 15th June.

Many bloggers have quit in protest, quit as they cannot pay registration fee, or have offered their blogs to be run from outside Tanzania. 


Pakistani blogger says, family getting threats from ISI

Pakistani blogger and activist, Ahmad Waqass Goray, who now lives in the Netherlands, has through a series of tweets, stated that his elderly parents living in Pakistan are getting threats so as to silence him. 

His tweets show the threat he is to live with and depict his sense of persecution, so we are adding no editorial comment:
""Thread : Men from Pakistani intelligence agency ISI visited my elderly parents in Pakistan yesterday 20th June. They said loud and clear that they have orders to abduct and torture my father and attack my family to teach me a lesson. This is not the first incident.""
""ISI officials and men in Army uniform along with the FIA have been threatening the families of other activists as well. Many people can not report it due to fear.""
""If my family is harmed any way directly or indirectly the world should know that General Faiz DG ISI internal wing, Brigadier Adil Sector Commander Lahore and their staff is responsible.""
""It should have been clear by now that I will not be blackmailed by blasphemy campaigns and guns pointed at my family... Pakistan is my country and I will keep fighting to free my country from this terror. Abductions, killings, dumping political activists and terrorizing families has to end. ""


Extortionist blogger or a case of defamation?

Kenyan blogger, Robert Alai, has slapped a defamation notice on publishers of Weekly Citizen, a weekly publication, for an article against him, asking for 'immediate withdrawal of the defamatory words and an unqualified apology'

The article claims that the blogger has been threatening his victims with damning exposes if they fail to pay him money demanded by him. 

It is also reported that after the defamatory article appeared, Alai stormed the editorial department of the paper and damaged property. Alai has faced many charges of rowdy behavior, scuffles with police etc earlier and also been jailed for a short period.


'Linking tax' from EU regulators?

It is reported on Forbes website that EU Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs has approved copyright proposals that require, according to the report, """"any site linking to a third-party site with a snippet to adhere to an astonishing 28 separate copyright laws, or else pay for a license to provide the link.""""

Critics say, the law, if it comes into force (it still needs approval of EU Parliament), will lead to a copyright tyranny, distortions in the flow of information on the web and political repercussions.
You can visit the report here.


Facebook to come up with 3D pictures on newsfeed

Facebook is to soon have 3D posts on newsfeed, as announced in its F8 Conference in May. We tried to find how it will improve viewers' experience of viewing photos taken from mobile phones.

When you tilt your phone, touch the photo or scroll it, the photo will respond to the movement, giving a feeling of depth. 

Humans get 3D sense of objects in real world because of two eyes which simultaneously process the object from two angles. In addition, we get to see objects from different angles when we slightly move ourselves while looking at the object. 

Though by taking many pictures with a single camera while panning it (as it happens in 360 degree photography) and then stitching them through a software is how 3D imagery works, Facebook is reported to be giving us this small 3D effect on photos taken with dual camera mobile phones. The images taken by the two cameras will be processed through depth measuring and other features of the back-end software.

The feature is likely to be rolled out in August.

Paid group content on Facebook

Facebook has launched a pilot for allowing group administrators to offer additional content on paid subscription. 

The regular features of groups will remain available to other members, but the new option will let group makers earn a few bucks for their time and energy spent on maintaining the group.

Facebook explains on its blog: ""We hear from group admins that they’re looking for ways to help them earn money to deepen engagement with their members and continue to support their communities. Many admins do this today by creating an additional subscribers-only group that sits alongside their existing group, and rely on additional tools to track and collect payments. Subscription groups were created to make it easier for admins to provide these experiences with built-in tools, and to save them time so they can focus on offering members-only content. For members, they’re now able to sign-up and manage their subscription through the Facebook app for iOS and Android.""

A report says, the fee could range from $4.99 to $29.99 per month.


Instagram introduces long-form videos with IGTV

Instagram has rolled out long videos, of up to one hour duration, on this popular platform known for small video flicks. The platform already allows streaming of videos up to this duration. 

The IGTV video is in vertical format (i.e. the way we normally hold and view the mobile phone). It can be streamed live or can have a recorded video that lasts one full hour. Besides it being available on Instagram, a standalone IGTV app has also been issued. 


It is anticipated that some YouTube video creators will shift to Instagram, maybe for the novelty sake or getting incentives from Instagram or having faced issues with YouTube. It might also impact other video providers such as NetFlix.

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

Update:
We found the book slightly pricey for individual readers. However, the author has sent us the Kindle ebook version of the book, which is fairly priced. We'd review it in detail sometime later. On the face of it, the Manual looks to be of value.

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.


GDPR-compliance


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.