July 30, 2018

Voice search is going to rule the search universe in future: should you be worried?

With a number of virtual assistants available on desktops/laptops, mobile phones and standalone devices (e.g. Google Home, Siri), people are going to search more and more by giving voice commands. 

Voice search will take natural language search forward by leaps and bounds. Are present search engine optimization (SEO) actions geared towards this change?


Will voice search ever be popular or is it just a hype?


Talking is easier and less boring than typing. You need not be in a particular posture and tied to the device with fingers working on the keyboard. You can give the command while you are doing another task. Voice commands are unobtrusive and instant; you remember something suddenly or you need some help while doing a chore - and you speak to the device for an answer.

The trend may take some time before it breaks out in full swing and then becomes the norm. 2020 could be the time when voice search would have started becoming mainstream and  2021 when it becomes the preferred search option.


Voice queries are more conversational


Voice queries are likely to be more like our natural commands/ queries to a guide, an assistant or a friend in real life. So, search engines would need to learn the contextual meanings of  queries better than at present.

Before that, the voice recognition technology will have to be perfect. At present, there is a lot of gap between the spoken word and what is interpreted by the software due to voice quality issues and different accents.


Voice search will need to produce multiple results


Right now, virtual assistants are geared to give specific answers to specific questions. However, such single answers are not always sufficient. Bookmarking, opening multiple tabs, expanding the query with more specific queries, and saving useful links for future are other actions that searchers on desktops or tabs often take immediately after the first search query. 

On mobile phones, whether voice activated or typed, we often ask for nearby malls, restaurants, fuel pumps, directions etc and get instant results on screen with a great deal information attached to them. There are multiple answers and one can make  comparisons too (e.g. restaurants, based on customer reviews). However, such search and further actions are either not possible or are prone to error when searches are made for non-specific, nuanced and complex queries.

When there are no screens (e.g. with standalone assistants), display of answers is required even if the search engine is able to correctly figure out the query. That would mean another display hardware attached to the assistant or virtual solutions might emerge.

From a technology observer's point of view, voice search - for that matter, all voice activated ICT actions - will be a major development. For bloggers and website owners, the takeaway is that they have some time in hand to make their content better optimized for queries in natural language and they must make the best use of it.

July 24, 2018

Doing away with the list of the topmost Indian blog list

Top Blogs has been running a Platinum List of blogs for the last eight years, but has decided to NOT compile the list this year.

The reason is small. The list was found to be very elitist by some, impractical by some others. (It had blogs with content of significance and high blogging standards but not necessarily the most modern design. Earning was not a factor at all.) Some felt, it was too small to take note of (between 20 and 30 blogs). And it took a lot of time of ours in deciding the best-est among the best.

Moroever, our focus has also shifted towards helping bloggers with practical tips and also updating visitors and subscribers on social media. In that role, we have always been global in our outlook, not India-focused.

However, the Indian roots stay with us. Our flagship listing is the Directory of Best Indian Blogs. Besides that, we also compile a similar listing of best blogs in Hindi language. Both these are very popular and in demand. We'd continue to bring out editions of these directories in future. We had earlier shared our intent to bring our directories in other languages, but we are giving up that ambition at least for the time being.

Happy blogging!

July 20, 2018

Big social media updates this week: Google fined, Twitter purge, government actions and China IT report

Let's start this issue of social media updates with the two biggest stories of recent times: Google fined heavily for anti-competition bundling of apps, and Twitter's massive purge of spurious accounts.

Google is slapped the biggest European Commission fine so far


European Commission has fined Google with $5 billion over bundling of Chrome browser, Google search and 9 other apps with Android OS. 

Android OS runs most of the non-Apple mobile devices. 

This is the biggest fine slapped on a single company by EC/ EU ever.

What has been irking Google's rivals is that Google's Android OS (the non-Open Source version) comes laced with Google apps, and most phone makers pre-install them on phones and thus provide Google a huge market share of these services.

Google has explained its position on its blog:
The free distribution of the Android platform, and of Google’s suite of applications, is not only efficient for phone makers and operators — it’s of huge benefit for developers and consumers. If phone makers and mobile network operators couldn’t include our apps on their wide range of devices, it would upset the balance of the Android ecosystem. So far, the Android business model has meant that we haven't had to charge phone makers for our technology, or depend on a tightly controlled distribution model.
The ruling has wide implications. It challenges the Google model in which the ultimate consumers (and intermediaries) get a number of services free in return for an advertisement based system. The ruling also might put pressure on Apple, which bundles many services but has so far been able to avoid such rulings. Or will Apple gain in Android's fall? How will Google implement it? Will it lead to a more chaotic app ecosystem once Google's monopoly ends? 

Donald Trump tweeted soon after the ruling, in a retaliatory tone: I told you so! The European Union just slapped a Five Billion Dollar fine on one of our great companies, Google. They truly have taken advantage of the US, but not for long!

Millions hurt with Twitter purge, and that includes @Twitter too!


Twitter started purging its platform of suspicious accounts last week, and as per initial reports, some top celebrities have lost thousands, sometimes millions, of followers in one brush.

Interestingly, Twitter's own account lost about 7.8 million (nearly 12.3% followers)! 

Britney Spears has lost 2.1 million, Instagram 1.4 million, Nicki Minaj 1.2 million, Oprah Winfrey 1.4 million.

BarackObama has lost 2.3 million, accounting for about 2.26% of his followers. Many other world leaders have suffered to more or less similar degrees. Donald Trump too has lost 308 thousand, which comes to just 0.58%.

Recall a New York Times expose last year in which a firm Devumi was found to be selling fake followers to politicians and other celebrities all over the world. It is reported that a big percentage of followers - up to 93% - supplied by this company have faced the purge.

On 11th July Twitter announced the cleansing action, stating that it will not impact most accounts greatly:

Most people will see a change of four followers or fewer; others with larger follower counts will experience a more significant drop. We understand this may be hard for some, but we believe accuracy and transparency make Twitter a more trusted service for public conversation.
Though the most significant changes are happening in the next few days, follower counts may continue to change more regularly as part of our ongoing work to proactively identify and challenge problematic accounts.


social-media-updates-2018

The next segment is on a slew of governmental controls that have taken place in recent days on social networking, messaging and blogging. Social media has always been at the receiving end of governmental actions. Sometimes they do not like its use because it is uncomfortable to them; sometimes social media is used by criminals and hate mongers, and thus needs to be legitimately controlled. The dividing lines are often hazy. You decide which side you want to take while assessing these actions:

Uganda imposes heavy social media tax


Ugandan government has imposed tax on online social activity, the way Tanzania did last month. The good news is that Ugandan parliament has referred the taxation to a parliamentary committee.

President Museveni says, social media is just gossip and is hurting his government's efforts to showcase democracy and economic growth. It is also argued that the tax would help Uganda in economic progress.

The tax is a whopping  $10 a day for using social apps.

Sri Lanka shuts down social networks to quell violence


In Sri Lanka, social networking sites were shut down for three days last week following violent protests that had spread across the country.

It had earlier blocked social networks over hate speech (March 2018) and resultant clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities.

In India, WhatsApp goes out of control; separately, supreme court wants the government to tell if it intends to control social media


Two major developments have shaken Indian social media. One, use of WhatsApp for mob killings and two, government having to explain whether it intends to monitor and control social media.
 

The lynching of innocents by blood-thirsty mobs in different parts of the country surfaces now and then for the last few months, and it has a trend: A message is spread on WhatsApp that some strangers are roaming in the area to abduct children. Then, some stranger (in one case a local tourist, in one case a foreigner) is spotted, a crowd gathers and starts hitting the stranger. It does not stop till the stranger is dead! More than 20 people are reported to have lost their lives so far.

The Indian government had earlier warned WhatsApp to pull its socks but when the lynching did not stop, has threatened to sue it:

Rampant circulation of irresponsible messages in large volumes on their platform have not been addressed adequately by WhatsApp... When rumours and fake news get propagated by mischief-mongers, the medium used for such propagation cannot evade responsibility and accountability... If [WhatsApp] remain mute spectators, they are liable to be treated as abettors and thereafter face consequent legal action.

On its part, WhatsApp has introduced new features on its platform that include identifying the one forwarding a message and limiting the number of forwards in one go to five. 

The supreme court has asked the government to bring a law if present laws are not sufficient to deal with murders by mobs.

In another major social media related development, Indian supreme court has questioned the government's move to create a 'communication hub' on social media. While the government says, the proposed entity would provide feedback from each district on the implementation of its policies, activists and opposition parties smell in it a plan to monitor social media communication. The hearing in the top court is not yet over.

Finally, good news about how internet and social are helping China grow:

How internet is driving China: a report


Reported to be the most comprehensive report on China's IT scene, China Internet Report 2018 says, in China rural internet penetration has risen fast, and its own social media ecosystem rules with some aid from the government.
Abacus News released the report earlier this week. The rural internet penetration in China stands at 35%, and this has helped rise ecommerce, education and media usage fast in villages, the report says.

Chinese ecommerce companies have adopted a Social+ model where their business is anchored by a social pillar that drives user engagement and growth.

China's internet, smartphone and mobile internet user bases are many times that of the USA. The number of payments China makes are over ten times that are made in the US! 

China has a strong ecosystem of social media, apps and ecommerce that rivals the global peers: It has Baidu for search, WeChat for social networking and messaging, and has own shopping, video sharing, payment platforms and so on. And all are going strong, with positive help from the government and also checks on foreign social media and IT.

July 13, 2018

Best blogging tools in 2018: Bloggers' queries answered

In the last three posts, we introduced reputed and tested free software/ tools relating to writing and language, image editing and video editing. In the present one, we answer some questions asked by bloggers (on Quora etc) that pertain to tasks that can be easily done with available free software but many bloggers do not know about. 

Can you suggest a screen capture software that does the job better than the one available on Windows computers?


Computers have an inbuilt sniping tool, and most keyboards have a 'print screen' key. However, if you want a feature rich screen capture software, don't pay for it as Greenshot is an equally good free alternative.

For video screen capture tools, please visit the previous post on video tools.

What are the best websites from which I can download free and license-free photos?


There are many such sites. Even normal photo sharing sites such as Flickr have a number of such photos. The following sites deal exclusively or predominantly in license-free photos: Pixabay, SnappyGoat, Freeimages.

How can I share a Word document or a slide with others through my free blog? There is no way I can upload it directly. 


Free blogging platforms such as Blogger, Tumblr and Wordpress do not have a provision for hosting such documents. What can be done is to host the document on the web through a file-storage and sharing site (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive) and give a hyperlink to that document from the blog. Slideshare is a good option to host presentations/ slides on the web.

Google Drive has an outstanding set of office tools, G suite, that allows you to create all types of documents, data sets and presentations and share them with others.

Is Quora a better blogging platform than Wordpress and Blogger for an information related blog, because many people come there in search of information? 


Though Quora offers blogging, it is NOT primarily a blogging platform. If you want your blog to be seen by people asking questions on Quora, include hyperlinks to your blog in your replies.

Is UC News a good blogging platform?


We have seen advertisements and promos of UC News. Unless you have a special reason to go with their platform, we'd recommend sticking with the standard ones such as Wordpress and Blogger.

I want an emailer that would send emails to addresses automatically. Is there some free service?


MailChimp is a good emailer/ email management tool if you want a free one. It will serve you well if you do not have to send thousands of emails a day. It has a number of customization features even in the free plan. 

My camera's photos are too heavy, running into MBs. What software should I use to make them light without cutting out anything?


Camera photos are often huge because they store a significant amount of pixel attributes and extra data. It is not advised to upload them directly on the website.

Our post on picture editing ( second in this series) has details on image-editing tools. However, if your interest is in just optimizing photos for the web or simple edits, popular image viewers such as IrfanView can save your photos for the web in much smaller sizes without perceptible loss in quality.

Optimizilla is a free online image optimizer for the web. However, you need to upload your original photos to the website, which you might sometimes not like to do. 

Is there a software for safekeeping my blog so that it does not get deleted by mistake or through cyber-attack?


You must regularly back up your blog. If the blog is on Wordpress or Blogger, there are in-built options on these platforms to export the blog and also back up. Wordpress also has free plugins for this work, but you can install plugins only on self-hosted blogs created with Wordpress or a premium plan. 

If your blog is self-hosted (i.e. hosted on a server for which you pay), the host will give you an option for backing up the blog. 

In all cases, make it a habit to store the content on your computer at regular intervals even if it means copying each post and saving it individually.

How do I put AdSense advertisements on my blog? Do I need an app or a code and knowledge of coding for that?


It is damn simple, and we have discussed it in the linked posts. However, know that you cannot put advertisements on your blog on Wordpress.com (free plan), LiveJournal, Medium and many other free blogging platforms. 

Best software is sometimes available free! Enjoy it.

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We have, over time, listed a number of free software / tolls useful for bloggers and others. You can browse them all in one place here: Posts of best free software category.

Other posts in the present series:

July 6, 2018

Best blogging tools in 2018: Professional audio and video tools, completely free!

In the previous two posts, I gave an update on the best free writing and language tools and picture tools available at present on the web. The present post talks about some tested, reliable and acclaimed multi-media tools.

One caveat: All the tools listed here are top class and beat their paid counterparts. However, all need a bit of familiarization. Bloggers who are not required to have highly polished products with sophisticated effects may find these difficult. However, there are tutorials available on the web on all these tools.

In the next post, I am going to share experiences of two YouTubers who are doing excellent job without much learning and sophistication. Yet, I feel that quality matters. And the tools look intimidating only till you are familiar with them. You read a bit (in case you do not know anything about video work), play with these tools and keep becoming more and more of an expert. After a few days of experimenting and learning online, you find them easy and the time spent on learning would amaze you that you can be so productive later.

Lightworks

Lightworks is a professional-grade video editor that can be used for all types of editing and effects on a wide range of videos. However, it has a steep learning curve if you are very new to video editing, and consumes big resources on the computer. However, there are a number of tutorials available on the site to guide you.

video-blogging
Lightworks pane: professional video editing
Shotcut

Shotcut is even better than Lightworks in some ways. It is simpler and instant. Unlike most video editors it does not require a project to be created and one can work straight on the video. Its range of video formats is also wider.


video-blogs
Shotcut: a short cut to prof video editing
Audacity

Nothing beats this software tool when it comes to recording and editing audio. Rich in filters and options on different aspects of audio editing and enhancement, Audacity is a must have for audio bloggers and podcasters, and also for those recording audio for tutorials etc.

OBS Studio 

This is a very sophisticated suite for video and audio capturing from the computer, video streaming and mixing on the go. Being opensource and free, there is no limit on the number of sources and length of streaming or recording.


Links to the earlier posts in this series:
1. Best free writing, language tools
2. Best free picture tools


July 1, 2018

Best blogging tools in 2018: Picture enhancement tools

Continuing from the previous post in this series on free, tested and verified tools for bloggers as of mid-2018, we have the following recommendations in the area of image editing and enhancement:

Professional photo editors


There are free professional editors such as Photoshop and CorelDraw, which are immensely feature-rich but very expensive. In most cases, even professionals do not know all their  features and do not need to use them. 

Luckily, the wonderful open-source community has been supporting three almost equally good FREE professional image editing software:

1. Gimp is a highly professional raster image editing software just like Photoshop. It has numerous editing options, brushes and effects. The latest version (2.10) is superb.

2. Inkscape is a free vector image editor and is a CorelDraw alternative. One can create beautiful vector graphics using this software.

Quick and easy image editors


Most bloggers do not need to use sophisticated image editing software because their needs are limited to creating infographics or simple images, putting text over images to display quotes or slogans, and minor editing and improvement of photos. For such jobs, the following are fantastic free tools available, which are free and easy. However, most of them have free and premium versions, so the free versions have some limitations.

Infographics are images in which data is depicted through shapes, graphs and process indicators. These make it easy to appreciate lots of data, a long history etc. and are popular on blogs and social networking sites.

If you are a blogger or are active on social media working in a visually appealing niche (e.g. travel, arts, fashion, cooking) but do not need high-end photo editing, go for the simple ones listed below. They sometimes give much better output in a short time than the professional ones and their results are fine enough for the web media. For example, making an infographic or overlaying text on a photo is very time-consuming on the top photo editors but it is damn easy on the ones given below.


1. Paint.net is slightly less sophisticated than Gimp, but easier to use and has some ready-to-use effects, brushes and tools good enough for most image editing work.

2. Krita is a near-professional grade painting software for making artwork and paintings. Like Gimp and Inkscape, it is opensource and completely free.

3. Fotor free version is a good image editing and design tool available online and offline (only for Windows). The Fotor site also has a number of tutorials on image editing.


4. Canva is an online quick image making and editing tool, and can make images suiting different social media accounts and blogs. Its free version has a number of photo backgrounds and presets and one can use one's own photographs and also edit the default fonts and colors. It is not limited to blog images but can be used for making presentations, design brochures, make infographics,  etc.

5. Visme is a free online infographic and presentation maker and has numerous themes available. You can use wizards to customize a theme to create wonderful infographics in minutes. It can also be used to make ebooks, flowcharts etc.

6. Piktochart excels in making infographics in a very large range of formats.  

To be fair to others not listed here, let me add that there are many other free online and offline tools for image-related jobs. In fact, many picture viewers have a library of effects and minor image editing capabilities. 

The previous post in this series was on best free writing tools.

Disclaimer: TopBlogs does not have any commercial or other arrangement with the software, tools and websites recommended here.