thinkblogging
Reviews on free blog toys, tools and services, and other yakkety yaks about blogging.


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Blogging for Money

Not that I'm mocking Kottke at all, but this is a good wake up call to many who think that they can make a living out of full-time blogging. At best, revenue that you may collect through online corporate advertising (Adsense, Chitika, etc.) can only cover your web hosting fees, and if you are lucky, electricity bills for 1/12 of the year.

And for all the many websites out there that claim to have earned 5 figure digits per year, come on out and show us your rock-hard-solid-paper pay cheques from your advertisers. Your laughable desktop screenshots of your Photoshop-ped earnings just don't work.

The reality is, Google Adsense has been running on Think Blogging for almost a month now, and all I've got is $2.00. (I remain optimistic) Guys, let's just keep our day jobs ye?

Read more about Kottke: here.

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Ad-Free Blog

Ok perhaps not really this blog. A few bloggers have come together to launch a quiet 'movement' against corporate advertising on blogs. This 'movement' isn't a big hoohaa, just edging on its supporters to display their sentiments on their blogs by placing a small graphic on their blog that looks like:


(enlarged version)

By using this icon, users are stating:

1. That I am opposed to the use of corporate advertising on blogs.
2. That I feel the use of corporate advertising on blogs devalues the medium.
3. That I do not accept money in return for advertising space on my blog.

It's free at AdFreeBlog.org.

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Bloggoing - Now With Audio Player

Jeff from Bloggoing just sent a mail to all its users today to inform us about his new feature on Bloggoing, an audio (mp3) player.

It is a standard free feature for all of Bloggoing's users, and can be customized as one of Wordpress's options, under 'Audio Player.' Customization options are available if you wish to change the colours of the player to suit your blog theme. However you may not change the layout of the icons or their looks.



Implementation of this fantastic plugin will be easy, with a one liner that looks like [audio:http://Your Mp3 Link Goes Here]

It's free at Bloggoing.com.

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Irritating Advertisements on Adsense

I'm keeping a list of irritating advertisements that appear on my Google Adsense spaces, that usually have nothing to do with my blogging content. No qualms if these advertisements look good to beautify my website, but they don't. They are ugly, irritating, and their content, nonsensical.



If you have just joined Adsense, I'd encourage you to add these irritants onto your Competitive Ad Filters immediately. =)

Irritants (Hope to add ALOT more soon!)
=========
icicinri.net
iotap.com
qumana.com
sitediary.com
sulekha.com
usafis.org

Got your list to share too?

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Google Adsense Optimization

Google hardly disappoints. Many have claims to earn thousands from their websites using Adsense. These people swear by methods, tips and tricks to make Adsense work for them. I've yet to get Adsense working for me, really. But I'm trying out some of these optimization tips I've seen every now and then. Thought I may share them with you. There are 5 currently, and hope to add on more soon.

1. Make Use of And Position Your Link Units

Most publishers will recommend that you place Link Units below main page titles/headings, thereafter if you like, also place them in within your side navigation links. Customize the colour of your link units, to that merge seemlessly into the design, just like other links. It is one of first things your users see on your website. For some weird reason alot of viewers will mistaken it for your own links, and click on them. Well if you aren't exactly honest, try this trick.

2. Position Your Advertisements Wisely

As a rule of thumb, keep Leaderboards (horizontal spanning ones) to the top and bottom of the pages, and Skyscrapers on the sides (close to the scroll bar.) Also, some how, viewers do accidentally click on these advertisements when they are using their mouse wheels scrolling through pages. Do not place Leaderboards and Skyscrapers in the middle of your content, thinking that there's where all attention is. You are more likely to be irritating your viewers.



For blog owners, or online content publishers, place Square or Rectangular Ad Units after each article/blog post. After reading through your content, you readers will be wondering what to do next, and where to go from here. With revelant ads after each article, you are effectively presenting a continuation for their surfing. For more information, see a Adsense heat map.

3. Use Proper Keywords - With AdWords Keywords Tool

To ensure more relevant ads for your content, you may like to consider using the Google AdWords Keywords Tool. What it does is to suggest keywords or phrases, to give publishers ideas for new keywords to improve ad relevance. I'm using this tool to get suggestions for more specific keywords in my content.



4. Using Competition Filters

Competition Filters allows you to filter ads from certain websites from being shown on your website. Without filtering these irrelevant ads out, you are losing out a chance to display ads that may interest your viewers.

Not filtering irrelevant ads may hurt the performance of your Adsense. The more relevance you can get with Google Adsense ads to display as they should, the more chances they have to be clicked. Take some time to analyse the ads appearing on your sites. Spot irrelevant ads, and filter them out. This has to be an on-going optimization.

5. Section Targetting

Adsense features Section Targetting. By adding HTML tags to your website, you can specify certain content out for specific ad-targetting. This removes some guess-work from Google's side, so that you are actually getting the type of ads that you want.

To specify content to be considered for ads:
<!-- google_ad_section_start -->
<!-- google_ad_section_end -->

To exclude content not to be considered for ads:
<!-- google_ad_section_start(weight=ignore) -->

For more optimization tips, hear it from the horse's mouth.

*** DISCLAIMER: The author of this article is definitely not an expert in Google Adsense. The article merely shares current popular Adsense optimization tips. As with all articles found over the Internet, do decide for yourself the accuracy and credibility of the information.



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Free iBlog Blogging

Do you already know about iBlog.com. Instead of offering the usual free Wordpress blog service like everyone else is pretty much doing now, they have rolled out their own blogging suite.

One thing I really like about iBlog.com, is their domain name. Though it does smell a bit Applish, it's a joy to say our your blog address! Say, 'Microsoft.iBlog.com' Nice? =)



Their own blog management allows for multiple categories (like Wordpress, unlike Blogger.) File uploads are also available, up to 5 MB. As of now, they have 32 templates for you to choose, some of which are Wordpress/Blogger copies. But generally, iBlog.com has nice templates for her users. You also get your usual Trackback and Comments management goodies. Also, the ability to view all posts from a specific user!

One thing bad though, like most free blog hosts, you cannot edit the templates available to you. But small matter I think, after all it is the content that matters the most.

It's free at iBlog.com.

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Post A Poll On Your Posts

A friend of mine once had a problem with hosting a poll on her website. She did not want to have polls to appear on her side navigations, and wanted to host multiple polls at that. Worse still, she wanted it to be free.

Yeah that's a lady blogger for you. They want all good things but have no idea how to get it done. Thankfully, Andy had shared a blog toy that does multiple poll hosting for free, and I want to share it with you.

It's at DPolls.com. Dpolls.com sets itself apart from other free poll services, by displaying hosted polls via <iframes>. Because most blog publishing softwares forbid the use of <javascript> tags in the posts, using <iframes> translates to the ability to show polls on posts. (Blogger, for one, prohibits the use of Javascript in posts.)

Signing up with Dpolls.com was merely a form to fill, thereafter an email verification. And in less than 2 minutes, I got my first poll started.



The appearance of the poll is largely based on the Windows icons. They are also clean and uncluttered. There is a mini calculation-roll animaation going on when the results are displayed, quite cute I think. Hopefully the Windows backgrounds on the polls don't deter alot of you.

It's free at Dpolls.com.

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Blog Toy: Moon Phases Calculator

These days the weather has been anything but nice. In the days, the heavy showers are unforgiving, and the nights, cloudy and cold; Hardly any good for moon gazing. Because bloggers hardly see natural light and breathe real air outside, they can now install a moon phase blog toy on their blogs, to moon gaze.



Using raw moon data, and the time of your computer's clock, the moon phase data is calculated, and displayed in an image, with percentage values. To understand the fancy descriptions given to the various moon phases, perhaps a short excerpt will help:

The sun always illuminates the half of the moon facing the sun (except during lunar eclipses, when the moon passes thru the earth's shadow). When the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth, the moon appears "full" to us, a bright, round disk. When the moon is between the earth and the sun, it appears dark, a "new" moon. In between, the moon's illuminated surface appears to grow (wax) to full, then decreases (wanes) to the next new moon.

(Source: NASA)

It's free at CalculatorCat.

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Free Blog For Your Pets

New discovery guys! Have you had signed up your pets on online social networks, created profiles for your pets, only to have them deleted for "inappropriateness?" Well apparently Monir has. In a fit, Monir has created a cats blog cum social networking portal, called Fuzzster.com.



Things Fuzzsters often do; Leave comments on photos of other Fuzzsters; Post testimonials on each others' cats; Rate each other cats. Fuzzsters can also post blog entries about their cats, or if you like, post the blog as though your cat was the one who wrote it!

It's a pity they aren't offering unique URLs for each Fuzzster yet. Anyhow, have fun with your cats!

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Free Blog Templates #2

We're back with our second instalment of free blog templates! The first post was frequently access, mostly via Technorati. We hope to be able to help more bloggers when we get crawled by the search engines!

Free Templates - Has a good mix of image based as well as text based templates. The site doesn't list exactly how many templates there are, but I'd estimate up to 80. I should say this is the best templates site of this post.

BlogSpot Templates - Alot of image based templates. Some of them very nicely done, others a little less presentable. Requires Photobucket account to view some of the template screenshots, could be a little messy here. Seems like a few templates have been also made on request.

Costum Template - Looks like 3 Kubrik based Blogspot templates for download here. Change in title background and colour schemes. Clean and nice, nothing to fault.

Ravasthi's Template - 23 non-image based templates. The templates have very nice colour matching schemes. Hostings for the images will not be provided. The templates here are more suited for the ladies.

Templates para Blogger - Just one blog template to offer, but it's an interesting one. The Blogger Default - which is actually based on the Blogger.com design and colour scheme. Could be a little weird to use, but you should see it!

[small addition - 24/02/06]

Blog Templates - 20 somethings templates for Blogger. Most of the templates are pretty neat and clean ones, not too fanciful. Turns out I realised one of my girlfriends took a template from here a long time ago. Not to my liking though, the designs I thought were a little squarish. Here it is anyway, in case you'd like it.

This series: #1 & #2

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Show Recent Comments With Blogger

Unlike Wordpress and Movabletype, Blogger does not offer her users the ability to have "Recent Comments" columns on their blogs. My buddy Dewei, shared a work around solution with me a while ago. The main idea is to publish all comments from a main blog, to a comments blog, automatically using Blogger's comments notification service, Blogger's mobile blogging feature, and RSS feeds. Tried it and it works, so here is the step-by-step.

1. Create another BlogSpot blog to hold the comments. I shall call this blog the "comments blog."

2. At your main blog, go to Settings, Comments, scroll down. At the "Comments Notification Address" field, enter in an e-mail address to hold comments notification. E.g. your-comments-email@gmail.com



3. At your comments blog, go to Settings, Email. At the "Mail-to-Blogger Address" field, enter in a string of characters which only you have access to. Also, check on "Publish." E.g. thinkblogging.something-secretive@blogger.com



4. Set up your comments email account, forward emails from your-comments-email@gmail.com to the comments blog at thinkblogging.something-secretive@blogger.com.

This automatically publishes the new comments on the comments blog. To configure the email forwarding, catch emails from noreply-comment@blogger.com, with [Your Blog Title] in the subject. I catch [Think Blogging] in my email subject.

5. Use freely available Javascripts to parse the RSS feed from the comments blog, on to your main blog. There you have it, your own "Recent Comments" column!

Post Note: We can't directly forward our comments notification to the comments blog, and publish it without forwarding it first to our email, because Blogger does not allow comments notification to be sent to blogger.com emails.

Ran up with any problems? Can we help?

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Ready, Set .. Ping-Blog!

Good morning everyone! Hope you all had some good sleep last night, or were you all catching up with wrestling? I hoped you all have rememebered to ping your blogs before bed time last night!

Ping, in the context we are discussing it as, is to notify blog services that you have updated your blog, and there is new content. These blog services in response will index your content to their database, so that your information will be available when you want it to, rather than to wait for your site to be crawled. It is like being the first to tell on a gossip!

Many blog directories and services have their own ping services, but that's just going to take alot of time and trouble to update all of them one at a time. Let's not be silly and list every one of them here. There are nice services that do the pings for us.

Pingomatic.com
Pingomatic is like a daddy. It's the first ever ping service I've heard of. Wordpress guys uses it to ping automatically by the way.
Pingomatic is ping-ing to 23 blog directories. Feed Burner, My Yahoo!, Technorati, NewsGator ...
Pingomatic deals with the more common blog directories, there are no language specific blog directories available here.

Blogflux.com
You don't get any nonsense at Blogflux.com. Ping and go.
Blogflux is ping-ing to 17 blog directories. My Yahoo!, Blo.gs, Weblogs ...
Also ping-ing to 15 language specific directories. French, Japanese, Spanish ...

Pingoat.com
Pingoat is a new but very popular service. Nice catchy name and a whole load of directories!
Pingoat is ping-ing to 35 blog directories. Blogpeople, Blogstreet, Newsisfree, Feedster, My Yahoo! ...
Also ping-ing to 17 language specific directories. Japanese, Spanish ...
You can bookmark the same ping page, as a way to save your settings. That way, just revisit your bookmark for an immediate ping.

Feedping.com
Haha, all I can say is that they have the coolest logo around! For RSS feeds.
Feedping is ping-ing to 13 feed services. Technorati, Ice Rocket, Feed Miner ...
Feedping is in a different league here, but since most blogs have RSS feeds, try using Feedping to reach out to a wider audience.

King Ping
Apparently King Ping started because of a prolonged downtime in Pingomatic and they couldn't wait.
King Ping is ping-ing to 18 blog directories. Moreover, 1470.net, Syndic8, Weblogalot ...

Feed Shark
Feed Shark is another feed ping-ing service.
Feed Shark is ping-ing to 21 feed services. Search4RSS, Fastbuzz, EasyRSS ...
21 sounds like a lot, but you have to click each one of them manually.

FeedShot.com
Feedshot is a feed ping-ing service. You can choose between a paid or a free version.
Feedshot pings to 8 feed services for free. Blo.gs, Rubhub, Technorati ...
Also pings to 19 feed services for $3.
Offering a paid service for this? Er ...

FeedSubmitter.com
FeedSubmitter is a feed submission service.
FeedSubmitter submits to 16 feed services. Yahoo!, Blogstreet, Postami, RSS Locator ...
When trying the service out, only 4 out of 16 site submissions were successful.

But I'm sure there are more around ...

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Technorati Tagging Helping Page Views

Just to clarify, this post is about tagging your blog posts to Technorati tag pages. Specifically with HTML codes like this

<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/[tagname]" rel="tag">[tagname]</a>

Right now, there are plugins for Wordpress that does Technorati tagging for their posts. Others choose to do it manually. BloggingPro writes that it has raised his viewership by 10%. I'm not sure how simply tagging your posts like this and linking it to Technorati can increase exposure of your site. After all, Technorati only mentions of "Anyone with a blog can contribute to Technorati Tag pages." And not of how they can contribute to us!

I'm not sure about this increase in viewership thing. But I'm going to tag my posts anyway, to find out for myself. I'll let you guys know in a while!

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EFF: Blogger Rights



Electronic Frontier Foundation (EEF) is now garnering support from bloggers, to lend support in its case to fight for blogger rights. This initially to me sounded like a joke, because from where I am now, my country has punished 3 individuals by law, for participating, or allowing racist comments to be posted on their blog.

One of the things that EFF is fighting for, is the Right to Blog Anonymously. I don't know exactly who this anonymousity is intended for, so I would agree anonymousity to the general internet audience. But surely the law departments must be bestowed with ample powers to retrieve bloggers information, if a crime is committed. Now nobody has a right to commit crimes, and get away with it.

Another one which made me chuckle was that EFF was fighting for the Right to Allow Readers' Comments Without Fear. Now let me try to frame up a simple analogy for this. Deliberately harbouring of illegal immigrants in your place. Get the idea now?

Right to Blog about Your Workplace. Is there already a problem with this now? Of course you can have the right to blog about your supervisor or manager. Of course you can diss them off on your blog. But if they happen to read it on the web, then tough luck. It's just like drawing your boss as a cow on the company documents, and hope he doesn't do anything about it right? Now how possible is that if it happens to you?

Sorry if I made a biased judgement on this effort, but I guess I'm wired by logic. Read more about it here for more information about the effort.

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Track Your Visitors Geographically

I wonder if you have seen this interesting application, called the ClustrMaps. What it does is actually to track the geographic location of your visitors, and place them on an image of the world. Because the main function of ClustrMaps is to plot down your visitors as a point on the world, they do not track other information like URL referers and browser counts, unlike usual site trackers. The site hits are only incremented each time the image map is loaded.

Current ClustrMap users usually have them on their side bars. Here's how my ClustrMaps looks like. The more visitors coming from a specific location, the larger the red dots.

Locations of visitors to this page


It's beta and free at ClustrMaps.

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Free Wordpress Blog Hosts

I guess by now most would already know Wordpress as a powerful blog publishing software, well known for it's easy to use administration interface and themeable themes. I guess people use Wordpress, because you can customise just almost anything. Allow me to track down some of the free Wordpress hosts. [Last Updated: 14/1/06]

Bloggoing.com
What's Good:
. Cute name, could be easy to mistype though
. Wordpress 2.0
. Says they have 150 Themes, some customisation okay for themes
. Fast and easy sign up
. Blog Statistics
. No banners or link backs
What's Not:
. No file uploads
Another free host has everything of Bloggoing.com, except for a less presentable name, Blogswith.us.

Wordpress.com
What's Good:
. Ran by the folks who give you Wordpress
. Free Blog Statistics
. Akismet Spam Manager
. The team says they are open for suggestions
What's Not:
. Only 14 Pre-installed Themes
. And you can't edit these themes
. Which means no advertisements of any kind
. No File Uploads

Blogs.Bizhat.com
What's Good:
. Many themes to choose from, with minor tweaking
. Fast and quick set up
What's Not:
. No file uploads
. Business related domain name worries me about privacy issues
. Ugly blog address, http://blogs.bizhat.com/yourblogname/

Blogsome.com
What's Good:
. File Uploads - 314 MB Free
. Ability to edit installed themes
. Spamminator, to sieve out spam comments for you
. Some pre-installed plugins. e.g. Click Counter & Referer Tracker
. Last heard, you can run Google Adsense on Blogsome.com accounts
What's Not:
. No big daddy. It's out running on it's own
. Weirdy domain name, means you get a weird looking address

Weblogs.us
What's Good:
. Domain name quite cool
. Says can put Google Adsense
What's Not:
. It's not been accepting registrations since October 2005. "A while," they say.

e7.com
What's Good:
. To be updated
What's Not:
. Unprofessional e-mail sent during registration
. Problems with accessing /wp-admin/ when it's supposed to be set up
. Can't imagine what more to come when I can login successfully

Heard anything?

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Blog With Your Neighbours

Geo Tagging everything seems to be the way to go now. As the Internet brings us closer (in more ways than one,) now it's time for everyone to be closer in the physical sense. Feedmap.net uses MapPoint Technology, to build it's maps. They allow you to geotag your blogs, or surf your geotagged neighbour's blogs. Currently Feedmap.net supports geotagging via ICBM and geo.position meta tags. They also have a idiot proof BlogMap where you can do a 'right click -> Add a Blog.' feature.

Sign up was easy. Geotag your blog (I used Google Earth to get my co-ordinates,) submit your blog feed, and you're ready to place your personal image map on your site.

Here's how mine looks like



I guess it'll be hard to integrate such a big graphic on a template. Have fun toying around with it anyway.

It's beta and free at FeedMap.net.

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Free Blog Templates

Of course, one of the more fun things about having a blog, is that you get to choose how you want your site to look like. Using templates is a little like website designing, maybe just less troublesome because you have simple structures to work with. Here are some blog templates sites for fun.

Blogger-Templates - Top in Google search result. There's a good range of templates, but navigating them seems weird when you are clicking through the Archives to look through the templates. There are a few templates adapted from Typepad here.

Beccary Blogger Templates - Templates from Beccary from Hong Kong. 4 templates here only, but one of the best I've seen.

Thur's Templates - A Blogger templates showcase of an individual. His templates are nice, with a variety of 3 columns and 2 columns ones.

Eris Template Generator - A few nice and neat templates for download here. Best thing is that you can customize some aspects of your templates on this site, and then download it. Best thing, you can have them for Blogger, Movabletype and Wordpress.

Diaphaneity Blogger Templates - Alot and alot of girly templates. Like Hello Kitty, bunnies, and stuffs like "Naughty and Nice."

Spiderman Templates - Quite cool! Sony Pictures even got their own Spiderman Blogger Templates. Got 3 for you to choose from. Livejournal supported too.

Blog Templates - Some miscellaneous templates. Not very nice ones in my opinion. For Blogger.

Blog Fashions - 6 clean and neat templates for Movabletype. Too much to spend for their own domain name.

I don't think I would need to include Wordpress templates. Because they already have a wonderful collection of it under a few single sites, and they have fantastic support for it.

Something to suggest? Leave through comments if you like!

This series: #1 & #2

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BlogLines Has It All

Call me wols, but I just got round to using Bloglines a while ago. And I had a little fun with it. Unlike most domain names that have 'blog' in it, BlogLines is offering a service for real, that people USE. It's (I can't use basically) a RSS Feed Reader cum Blogging Platform cum Powerful Links Manager/Sharer. To me, that seems like quite alot it's offering already.

I particularly like way BlogLines handles the RSS Feed links for you. Simply because you can organise them into folders, and have them appear categorised on your blog. A while ago I tried Blogrolling.com, which didn't have support for multiple categories. So this is definitely a plus.

Bloglines offer a blog page for you too, thought I gather than most people who use that service, already have a blog of their own, and won't be using their blogging service. Thank you anyway.

The RSS feed reader performs as expected, but it's always good to have an online reader, to accompany you even when your laptop doesn't. Here's a screenshot of their administrative interface. I'm not a fan of frames, but it's not a big issue here.



I'm reviewing it primarily as a blog links manager, which I say, deserves a 5 star rating, for it's ease of sign up, installation, use, and management. Besides, it's under AskJeeves.com for sometime now. And you know what they say about big daddys and their kids. I'm using it now anyway.

It's free at Bloglines.com.

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Falling Asleep In This Weather

If weather means so much to you and your readers, or you enjoy looking at cute cartoons, then you should probably know about Weatherpixie.com. It isn't the parsing of weather information and the currency that is so cool, but rather that the models change their outfit according to the weather! (No you can't exactly see them change.)

The WeatherPixie

You can easily get the code of your location from the website, and embed it onto your weblogs.

It's free at Weatherpixie.com.

(Sleep time, happy weekend folks!)

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