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Static vs dynamic personal blogs and interacting with readers

Static vs dynamic personal blogs and interacting with readers

In this day and age when the average internet user’s online presence is mostly restricted to social media sites where the main form of interaction is clicking/tapping on “like” and “fave” buttons on a mobile screen, having an online identity like your own website seems like an extravagance, particularly when you choose to own a domain name and pay for hosting. But there are still many of us who remember a time before social media took over the online landscape and personal sites/blogs were still in vogue. There are a surprising number of people who still blog regularly, though the visibility of the blogging landscape has shrunk, mainly due to the focus on big-brand social platforms.

One of the fundamental decisions when you decide to create a website is whether to make it a static content site[1] or a dynamic site[2]. My brother has written a good article on this subject, in which he explains the pros and cons of each approach. He himself chose to create a static website which is generated offline through a website generation tool.

For this website, I chose to use WordPress, a popular dynamic blogging platform rather than create or generate a site with static pages. Why? Because I think interacting with readers is a big deal and having the ability to receive and record comments on-site is a better way to engage with readers than through social media. I understand that the modern approach to user interactivity is to outsource comments and likes to social media and going with the flow, but I feel that there is some value in having comments and interaction on the site itself. Not only is it easier to follow the discussion which is on the same page as the content, but it also preserves and focuses the discussion in a way that social media cannot. And this way, the website or blog owner has full editorial and moderation control which is lost when the discussion is moved off-site.

I know it’s hard to get readers to engage in this way these days and it does feel like an uphill battle having to maintain a commenting system, especially when it comes to fighting spam. But still, for whatever it is worth, I choose to keep that option open and encourage readers to comment on this blog. Good, thoughtful comments add immense value to content and I would prefer such feedback to a hundred likes on FaceBook any day.

  1. pure static content, no server side scripting or interaction with the user[]
  2. pages are dynamically generated and served on request, and allows user interactivity[]
The non-content of the Internet

The non-content of the Internet

Beware, this is a bit of a rant.

Today I clicked on “Pocket”, Mozilla’s built-in content aggregator and offline reader which is sneakily advertised in Firefox. Then found this apparently “Pocket-worthy” article among others. From its very title, I knew that it was one of those empty “non-content” articles — where a bunch of inane, rehashed, impracticable, theoretical, unoriginal, insipid and clichéd ideas written in an impersonal, often corporatey style are presented as fresh, thought-provoking, intelligent and original.

This is not about Mozilla Pocket. It’s not even about that particular article that I linked to which seems to be a bit more intelligently written than your average click-bait spam. It’s about that kind of article with that kind of title. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the linked article I’ll leave you with, to illustrate my point:

Everyone is different: not better, not worse, just different. Appreciate the differences instead of the shortcomings and you’ll see people—and yourself—in a better light.

Don’t let your fears hold you back. Whatever you’ve been planning, whatever you’ve imagined, whatever you’ve dreamed of, get started on it today.

Source: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/10-things-incredibly-likable-people-never-ever-do-and-why-you-love-them-for-it

So deep, original, thought-provoking and inspirational! 😮 Sarcasm aside, those vacuous sentences tell you nothing about the author’s personal experience, has no unique perspective or viewpoint, nothing that shows that the author cared much about the topic except to make up yet another top ten list. Typical of the kind of non-content I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with low quality content however badly presented provided at least a bit of the author’s personality and originally comes through. I don’t even have a problem with bland generic stuff like the content linked above.

Seriously, what’s annoying is that this kind of rich-on-keyword non-content is still quite popular with search engines and often takes precedence over real worthwhile, quality material. Let’s say for example that I really wanted to research how successful and likeable people behave. Instead of getting linked to actual, objective research on the subject, an expert opinion or even a more thoughtful and original take on the subject, I am forced to wade through several such spammy click-bait links before coming across something of value.

FaceBook and other social media sites are already full of non-content pages, memes, images and videos. But far too often, web pages with click-baity titles looking to generate ad-revenue, sell you an e-book and/or make you subscribe for premium content appear too high on search results.

It’s not a coincidence that such (non-)content is usually created or copied by persons or entities in the business of “making money online” for as long as I can remember. I can well understand why: it is cheap, easy, low effort investment — a website with basic SEO, the right keywords for search engines to pick up and index, click-bait titles and you’ve got a steady stream of traffic and potential ad revenue. If it didn’t work, obviously the Internet wouldn’t be full of them, hogging precious search engine visibility.

Blockchain domains for a censorship resistant Internet?

Blockchain domains for a censorship resistant Internet?

Most of us associate blockchain technology with cryptocurrencies and I guess that’s the most visible use of that technology today. However, while doing some reading on cryptocurrency-related technologies, I found that blockchains can be used for a lot more than that. Wikipedia defines blockchain as

a growing list of records, called blocks, that are linked using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data (generally represented as a Merkle tree).

Yes, records that can store any data, including cryptocurrency, so the potential is limitless. Since each record’s hash and timestamp is stored in the subsequent record, this makes tampering with records well nigh impossible. A distributed, public blockchain makes it impossible for any one entity to claim ownership or delete the blockchain. Anyway, a description of the full technology behind blockchain is available in many sources including Wikipedia, and this is not my place to elaborate on that. Do read this brief but non-techie introduction to blockchain for more.

What I did find interesting one extremely interesting application of blockchain technology – effectively permanent domain names that can be associated with a crypto wallet[1] serving websites that are stored permanently on the InterPlanetary File System or similar distributed peer-to-peer file storage protocols, effectively making censorship hard to impossible. Getting started seems to be easy – Unstoppable Domains, one such provider of blockchain domain names (with the .crypto and .zil domain extensions) has reasonably simple instructions on how to get started with hosting such websites. You can also use the Ethereum Name Service to purchase .eth domains[2]. I don’t claim to understand how all of this works, but I can sense the potential of such technologies.

The biggest downsides, as far I can understand, with this newly emerging technology are:

  1. Blockchain domains are independent of the regular DNS that powers the world wide web. Currently you cannot just type a blockchain domain name in any regular browser and expect it to resolve, the exception being Opera which can resolve .crypto names natively. Naturally your website will be unavailable for discovery on search engines and people will need to install a browser plugin to view your domain, effectively severely limiting your potential audience.
  2. Once you put content on IPFS, it cannot be deleted, ever. By its very nature, IPFS is about permanent storage. On the other hand, normal websites can be deleted from a single location (your web host), though search engines/archivers might have cached (portions of) your website. The legal and ethical challenges of such content permanency[3] is also huge.
  3. With current technology it appears that only static files can be served through the IPFS, and so naturally you cannot host dynamic sites like blogs or CMSes which run on PHP or host any web applications that require any dynamic server-side technologies.
  4. On a more non-technical note, the very legality of cryptocurrencies and cryptographic enabled blockchain technologies in many parts of the world is a huge grey area, especially with regulators keen to assert their authority over all content and transactions on the Internet. Now that is bound to have a more chilling effect on adoption than any technological hurdle. Governments hate strong cryptography because encryption effectively makes it harder to monitor and regulate online activities.

To my mind, the above limitations are quite non-trivial and it appears that, the main use of blockchain domains at present is providing simple human readable alternatives to long cryptocurrency wallet IDs.

  1. owned effectively for life by the person possessing the private key – these domains can also be used in place of the Wallet Id in cryptocurrency transactions, and in fact, this application seems to be the primary use case for blockchain domains[]
  2. note: I have not been paid for by anybody to post these links or advertise these services[]
  3. for example you cannot effectively take down websites infringing copyrights or containing illegal content[]
There are no real online shopping deals

There are no real online shopping deals

The Indian festive season is here. Online shopping sites offer “up to 40% / 50% off” along with mouth watering credit EMI offers and want you to loosen your purse strings… And all the time, I’m still waiting for that elusive item[1] that is genuinely discounted at 40%.

Most, if not all, of the online deals even by established players seem to be big scams. To my knowledge any shopping site that offers “up to 40% off” or “up to 50% off” rarely offer any items with even bona fide 25% discounts and only a few items above the 10% range. 5-7% discounts seem more common and if you’re lucky, there’s a bank offer with 10% off[2]. The actual 40% off used for marketing purposes is mostly on clothing (branded and unbranded) which is grossly overpriced anyway[3].

The other big issue with discounts I’ve found is that online stores frequently quote old MRPs to show inflated discounts on items that have already dropped in price. This “oversight” is frequently the case with electronic items, where manufacturers often drop the maximum retail prices of existing models when a newer model is released. A price drop by the manufacturer is not a discount and in any case selling the product above that price is an offence. And I don’t know why, but it’s not trivial to get official information regarding current prices of older models from manufacturers. More often than not, older products are pulled down from the official website, and even if still sold, there is no price information available. Getting this information must be possible[4], but probably requires quite a bit of digging and persistence. I doubt whether they will make it easy anyway because revealing the price information in black and white will make it easy for consumers to calculate the real discount and not the discount that is marked by the retailer.

My suggestion then: ignore all these deals. Don’t go by the marked discount on the product but consider whether you really need the product and that it’s is worth paying for from your own perspective. Yes, the sweet deal may end in the next 3 hrs 45 mins and 32 seconds, but don’t be surprised to find the same deal still valid for another “12 hrs” the next day.

  1. with a clearly marked and verifiable current Maximum Retail Price[]
  2. of course, subject to a maximum limit which makes it much less generous for higher priced products[]
  3. speaking of clothing, even in physical retail stores, that 40% off item is always something nobody really wants[]
  4. I’ve not tried e-mailing manufacturers yet[]