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It used to be said that everyone has a book in them. These days, it might be more appropriate to argue everyone has infinite tweets, snarky Facebook updates, and semi-random comments in them. But plenty of people retain a thirst for more thoughtful writing, and also a desire to share it as widely as possible – and these are the best blogging platforms to go about doing that.

Blogs might have fallen out of fashion a touch, due to the onslaught of social networks, but there's something about having a space that's properly yours, potentially free from the distractions of a billion adverts and countless competing status updates. And the best thing is, there are a load of free blogs out there to get you started.

In this round-up, we explore 12 of the best blogging platforms for newcomers who want to get a free blog up and running. And not a LOLcat in sight!

01. Contentful

No one knows how they're going to want to display their articles a few years down the line, so Contentful provides a way to separate your content from your design. It calls this an "API-first" approach, so your content is stored on their servers and you can call it into any design or platform as you like. So if you want to build a completely different site in a few years time, it's easy to bring everything in as it's set up to be portable from the start. 

02. Jekyll

Jekyll takes your raw text files, which may be written in Markdown, if you like, and turns them into a robust static site to host wherever you want. It's the engine behind GitHub Pages, which means you can host your blog on there for free. 

Making your blog with Jekyll avoids the need to work with technicalities such as databases, upgrades and so on, so there are fewer things to go wrong, and you can build something completely from scratch. 

03. WordPress

If the folks over at WordPress are to be believed (and they seem suitably trustworthy sorts), it now 'powers' over a fifth of the internet.

It's easy to see why: on WordPress.com, you can rapidly create a new blog entirely for free, with a reasonable amount of customisation; alternatively, most web hosts provide WordPress as a free single-click install, and more info on what's possible there can be found at WordPress.org.

Newcomers might find WordPress a touch bewildering initially, but it's the best free option for anyone wanting a great mix of power, customisation and usability.

04. Tumblr

To some extent, Tumblr feels a bit like a half-way house between WordPress and Twitter. It offers more scope than the latter, but tends to favour rather more succinct output than the former.

Decent mobile apps make it easy to submit content to a Tumblr blog from anywhere, though, and it's reasonably easy to customise your theme to make it your own.

Tumblr also has a strong social undercurrent, via a following model combined with notes and favourites. Although be mindful that the service has quite a few porn bots lumbering about, which may give the faint-of-heart a bit of a shock should they check every favourite off of their posts.

05. Blogger

Best blogging platforms: Blogger

You'd hope with a name like 'Blogger' that Blogger would be a decent free service for blogging. Fortunately, it is. Sign in with your Google ID, and you can have a blog up and running in seconds, which can then be customised with new themes. It is, however, a Google service, and so be a touch wary, given how abruptly that company sometimes shuts things down that millions of people were happily using.

06. Medium

Best blogging platforms: Medium

Medium is the brainchild of Twitter's founders, and appears to be their attempt to do for 'longreads' what they once did for microblogging. The result is a socially-oriented place that emphasises writing, although within an extremely locked-down set-up. It's a place to blog if you want your words to be taken seriously, and if you favour a polished, streamlined experience. But if you're big on customisation and control, look elsewhere.

07. Svbtle

Best blogging platforms: Svbtle

Describing itself as a "blogging platform designed to help you think", Svbtle is fairly similar to Medium in approach. It again strips everything right back, resulting in a bold, stylish experience that pushes words to the fore. It could easily become your favourite blogging platform for the act of writing, but it again relies on you also wanting something extremely simple and not caring a jot about customisation.

08. LiveJournal

Best blogging platforms: LiveJournal

One of the veterans of this list, LiveJournal (like Blogger) started life in 1999. Perhaps because of its age, it rather blurs the lines (the site says "wilfully") between blogging and social networking.

The result is more of a community that affords you your own space, but that also very much encourages communal interaction. It is possible to fashion something more private, but to get the most out of LiveJournal, you need to be prepared to delve into discussion as much as writing.

09. Weebly

Best blogging platforms: Weebly

Weebly bills itself more as a website-creation system than something for solely creating a blog. It's based around drag-and-drop components, which enable you to quickly create new pages.

However, blogging is also part of the system, and you get access to customisable layouts, a bunch of free themes, and the usual sharing features you'd expect, to spread your words far and wide.

10. Postach.io

Best blogging platforms: Postach.io

Postach.io claims it's the "easiest way to blog". It's from the people behind Evernote, and, naturally, is deeply integrated into their system.

Essentially, you just connect a notebook to Postach.io and then tag notes as 'published' to make them public.

However, you get some customisation, too, including a bunch of themes, the means to embed content from other sites, Disqus commenting, and the option to instead use Dropbox for storing content.

11. Pen.io

Best blogging platforms: Pen.o

Pen.io's approach is also rather different from its contemporaries. Unusually, it doesn't require a login — instead, you define a URL for a post and set a password.

Images can be dragged into place, and you can create multi-page posts using a tag. And that's about it.

Really, it's a stretch to call Pen.io a blog in the traditional sense, but it's a decent option for banging out the odd sporadic post, especially if you don't want any personal info stored.

12. Ghost

Best blogging platforms: Ghost

Something slightly different for our final entry. Unlike the others on this list, Ghost is only free if you download and install it yourself; use the Ghost site and you pay on the basis of traffic.

However, this system differentiates itself in other important ways: it's entirely open source, and while writing you get a live preview of how your post will end up.

You need to be technically minded for this one, then, but it's a worthy alternative to WordPress if you're happy to get your hands dirty and have your own web space that's awaiting a blog.

Author: Craig Grannell
Source: http://www.creativebloq.com/web-design/best-blogging-platforms-121413634

Categorized in Market Research

Large platform companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft want to provide the operating system for our lives, and they will fight hard in 2017 to establish their foothold in the emerging technologies we will likely come to rely on in the future.

Who will succeed? Those with the most complete product offerings have an advantage. Since people like to buy products that play well with the other products they already own, a platform company risks losing customers by not having a product in a hot category. These large companies already have an advantage over smaller companies due to their massive R&D budgets and their ability to hire the best people to build the stuff we want now and to anticipate the technology we’ll want in the future. And if a hot product is developed by some ambitious startup, these giants can easily swoop in and acquire both the product and the people who created it.

These categories, while not new, will be the front lines of the platform wars in 2017.

SMART BLUETOOTH SPEAKERS

Amazon brilliantly hit upon a whole new product category with its Echo home personal assistant device. While other platform companies like Google and Apple were limiting their respective personal assistants to smartphones, Amazon saw that people wanted a personal assistant that stood on the countertop, could hear and understand voices in the room very well, and contained a speaker that actually sounded good.

Google has since created a competing device called Google Home, and there is plenty of speculation that Apple and Microsoft have something in the works as well. Amazon wisely opened up its personal assistant (called Alexa) to third-party developers, and thousands of them are now creating new "skills" for the home assistant. This trend will continue to escalate throughout 2017, and we will soon begin to see a new wave of skills that are more useful and easier to call up at your command.

As more personal assistant devices find their way into homes in 2017, the platform companies that sell them will increasingly compete to get developers to create better and better skills for the devices. And the platform companies themselves will try to integrate more of their own services through the devices. For instance, Amazon might offer more useful shopping services through the Echo, while Google will try to offer new search and productivity services.

VIRTUAL PERSONAL ASSISTANTS

Home assistant devices are just one vehicle for the natural language assistants of the platform companies. Assistants like Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Amazon’s Alexa will begin showing up in new places, and in more useful ways, in the coming year. (Samsung has something called S Voice, but it this year acquired the company that developed Siri, so we may be seeing a new assistant technology from the company in the next year).

The platform companies are already investing heavily in the research and development that will make these assistants better listeners and more suited to completing tasks. Natural language assistants must understand our words, but also the meaning and intent behind them. That first part is easier than the second: Microsoft said in October that its Cortana assistant can now understand language roughly as well as a human transcriptionist.

The problem of teaching assistants to learn more about the user (identity, preferences, habits) is harder, but assistants will show improvement in this area in the coming year. Some will begin learning about the emotion expressed in the user’s comments and commands, which is harder still. They'll begin to display what seems like "common sense," which will enable them to communicate and interpret commands and requests in a more natural (and accurate) way.

And assistants will become more knowledgable about more things. They’ll be harder to stump when asking random questions that you might normally use a search engine to answer. They’ll say "I can’t help you with that" less often.

But assistants are in general not ready to learn in an open-ended, autonomous way; rather, they're being taught to learn in a highly structured way within well-defined contexts. An assistant, for example, may be tasked with learning what it can about a user’s habits based on calendar usage.

Assistants are a prime example of a product that is increasingly linked to other products and services offered by the platform. They’re increasingly the thing we’ll use to call up all kinds of data and services, and they’ll show up in more and more contexts. If a consumer sees one assistant as clearly better than others, they might be very tempted to adopt the services the assistant is able to call up.

CAR BRAINS

Automakers have been building platform companies’ infotainment systems into new models for some time, but the integration will soon go much deeper, and it will heat up the competition once again.

Google and Apple each have a platforms (Android Auto and CarPlay, respectively) for extending the set of apps and services (messaging, music, navigation, phone calls, etc.) in Android and iOS to the car. They’re generally regarded as superior to the stock infotainment systems in cars.

But now the platform war for the car extends way beyond the dashboard. Google, for example (and very likely Apple, too) has built a software central nervous system for the car, an operating system that will control the semi-autonomous or autonomous operation of the vehicle. Google may have first intended to sell an autonomous vehicle, but the company refocused efforts on creating the software brains for the vehicles, which could be used in the vehicles of more traditional car companies. Apple has very likely taken the same path.

Google recently formed a new company called Waymo under the Alphabet parent company to market its auto software. Fiat Chrysler will be the first partner to use the system in its vehicles; it said in may it will first use it in 100 of its minivans.

Apple has never formally announced its "Project Titan," but Uber, Tesla, and various automakers are furiously developing self-driving systems. And other platform players like Samsung may eventually jump into the fray.

Microsoft HoloLens

VR/AR HEADSETS

Virtual reality and augmented reality products and experiences are new to many consumers, and it’s yet to be seen how popular the technology will be.

Virtual reality, at least in the consumer space, may be the more mature technology. VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive cover close out the outside world and create a 360-degree 3D world for the user. Companies like Facebook’s Oculus, Google, and HTC are already well down the road with the development of VR headsets and will continue to refine the technology during 2017. A growing number of phone makers are readying their devices to power the VR experiences in headsets based in Google’s new Daydream platform.

Apple has so far stayed out of the virtual reality space. This may be because the company is more interested in augmented reality, as CEO Tim Cook has suggested in his comments. Augmented reality superimposes digital data and images over the real world as seen through the camera lens on a mobile device or headset.

Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset has been available to developers (and, technically, anyone else) for some time now, but augmented reality arguably had its coming out in 2016 with the Pokemon Go phenomenon in July. But that app requires viewing the overlaid content on the screen of a mobile device, which can be a clunky experience. The same type of experience is being used by toy makers to overlay digital imagery over dolls and action figures to make the play more interesting and to sell add-on products (accessories, media, etc.).

Perhaps the biggest name in the consumer AR space is Florida-based Magic Leap, which says it has a new kind of headset lens to create sharper digital imagery. The company’s investors have put more than a billion dollars behind the product, but a 2017 release looks less and less likely. Two sources in the AR space have told me that if Apple releases some kind of AR product, it won’t be until 2018. So 2017 may be more of a warmup year for AR. If the technology captures the imaginations of consumers, the platform war may ensue in 2018 and 2019.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND NATURAL LANGUAGE

I saved this one for last because AI is now finding its way into many of the products and services sold by the platforms. Personal assistants (like Siri or Alexa) may be the first context in which many people encounter a conversational AI, but the technology will begin showing up in lots of different contexts across the platform in the coming years.

Google and Apple already use AI in photo apps to automatically identify and tag images. Apple uses the same technology in the iPhone camera to recognize objects in the frame, and make adjustments accordingly. Microsoft, Google, and Apple are using AI in bots that can act as customer service reps on behalf of businesses.

Eventually, more advanced versions of the neural networks we see today will be used as the means of processing virtually all kinds of complex data. Where today’s AI needs lots of human training, the technology will become increasingly able to learn on its own. We’ll eventually stop thinking about computers as input/output if-this-then-that machines, and more like huge systems arranged like the neurons in the human brain. They'll process data more like the brain does.

We’re also in the early stages of a shift toward voice interactions with computers and applications. In the next year we may see some leaps forward in the machines’ ability not only to understand our words but also understand the real intent behind the words. We'll increasingly be able to speak commands to the devices in our lives. We'll tap screens less.

The good news in all this is that as these big, well-monied companies battle it out, specific products naturally get better, and whole platforms get more complete. Today, no one company can provide everything we need throughout the day. This may become less true as the major platforms increasingly extend new products and services into our work, home, entertainment, and personal lives.

Author:  MARK SULLIVAN

Source:  https://www.fastcompany.com/3066746/tech-forecast/these-are-the-five-key-battlegrounds-for-the-big-tech-platforms-in-2017

Categorized in Science & Tech

We are living in ehe age of the World Wide Web and connection to the Internet, when even in the most rural areas, a raging 46% of the population manages to stay connected.

In the more developed countries, this figure increases to the majority of the population, sitting at around 96%. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that certain enterprises still maintain the belief that they do not require the use of a website for their customers to visit.

The arguments that they make to support this theory are abundant. However, six main absurd excuses seem to surface on average more than others. A brief summary of these can be seen on the infographic below provided by Infobrandz:

infobrandz

“A website is redundant for this particular business.”

2

Across major continents, the implementation of the Internet exceeded 75% of the total population (including both personal and business use) a mere two years ago in 2014.

These statistics have only risen higher to the current standing of 2016 which approximates an average of over 3 billion Internet users worldwide, with the development of countries globally as well as the World Wide Web.

These numbers may seem intimidating at first glance due to the potential amount of people that your website can be targeted to. However, understanding the potential target market that a website will be able to captivate can be the key to developing business for small business owners.

If you can correctly implement your website — meaning you are able to set up a unique webpage that captivates potential target market consumers with innovative content — it is highly likely that traffic to your business will significantly increase.

“The industry is not online.”

It’s been reported that 42% of the global population actively makes use of the internet in one form or another. In addition, this rate is increasing gradually by approximately 1.13% per year.

Looking at these numbers, it is clear that the Internet is intricately connected to the world’s population. Due to this fact, your clients, both current and potential, are most likely connected to the web in one form or another.

If your industry is considered one of those that do not require a web-based platform that promotes interaction with your clients, this should by no means hinder you from having your own web-based platform.

In fact, this should compel you even further to develop your website as it will give you a competitive edge, making you among the first in your industry to actively interact with your clients and prospective clients over the World Wide Web.

If you are able to be one of the first companies in your industry with a web-based background and customer interaction platform in place, there is a high probability that through the website, you will be able to command and grow your market share.

“Development of websites can be overly expensive.”

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A lot of small business owners are under the assumption that building a professional website is going to empty your bank and leave a hole in your wallet. The cost of developing websites fluctuates according to the complexity of your site. A simple website with minimum functions can cost you from $100, whereas the price for a more advanced website theme can extend to $1000 or more.

For a small company, the complexity and features of the website don’t need to be extravagant. The cost is decreased, which makes it more affordable, thus a smart choice for investment. However, throughout the web, there are even more inexpensive options. There are dozens of DIY website builders which simplify and alleviate costs, time, and effort. Sites that offer these features include Weebly and Squarespace. If you feel that creating your own website is still too much hassle, there is a wide range of much more affordable outsourcing choices when you hire developers through sites such as Upwork and Freelancer.

The use of freelancing websites can result in a much cheaper development process if you can find the correct contractor. The average cost of a website is never easy to determine. However, with freelancing sites, you can set up the development of your site on your own budget. These costs vary from freelancer to freelancer, as well as from company to company. The most accurate average for a small business website will be around $1000-$3000. The total cost includes the domain name and hosting, the design work, the programming, and the feature development, as well as other ongoing expenses.

However, it is important to compare this expense to that of the potentially exponential benefits that an online platform can have not only for the growth of your clientele and income but also for your business as a whole.

“I have enough customers.”

The essence of a successful and growing enterprise always lays in the expansion. The development of your total market share is an essential asset, critical in maintaining your business relevance. Keeping on track with this fact will enable you to grow your small home business into a company ready to serve your retirement. Having a website is an essential step.

When people are in need of a product or service, they tend to use search engines online. Lately, mobile phones have been evaluated to be the most conventional devices used for searching. As many as 44% of online shoppers make use of the search engines on their phones to make purchasing decisions. An SEO-friendly website placed near the top of Google’s search results will be privy to approximately 60% of all organic clicks. Therefore, making small business websites with friendly search engine optimization is the key to increasing your clientele and developing your business.

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“Maintaining a website requires an extensive allocation of time.”

In the past, it was difficult and time-consuming to design and maintain a successful website. However, thanks to improvement in both code and software, no longer will your website take hours away from your day leaving you no time to rest. Maintaining your website is simple and it keeps your content appealing.

The first basic step when it comes to maintaining your website is to ensure that your domain name is paid for and relevant. Domain names can average approximately $49.

After your domain name, the next step is to secure a hosting contract. Again, different packages are offered depending on your platform requirements and the particular offers available from the hosting companies. Generally, the price ranges from $1 to $10 per month.

Site maintenance is not as difficult as one may think. If you are interested in learning how the maintenance of your website will work and all that it involves, click here.

“I use social media instead.”

Using social media is a fantastic idea for all businesses, as about 2.3 billion people make use of one social platform or another. The annual growth of the number of social media users is approximately 10 % (that’s 219 million new users each year)!

A recent survey by HubSpot was conducted with 569 participants. The report concluded that businesses are expected to be on three to four social media channels at a minimum. The below graph represents customer/potential customer expectations with regards to service response time on social media platforms:

Untitled

Furthermore, following a friendly and direct rule of engagement with those interacting with your business will improve the word of mouth to your brand.

It is true that having a stagnant website is not as useful as having an Instagram or a Snapchat account thriving with followers. However, no matter how many followers, shares, and likes you can accumulate per day, if you are not able to turn these idle potentials into fluctuating sales, is there a point to having them at all?

This is why it is vital to have a call to action such as a link to your website visible somewhere on your social media platform. This allows for more in-depth engagement as well as potential purchases from your website from leads generated by social media platforms — these two foundations work hand-in-hand.

Start developing your website today

Although it is true that a small business can do well for themselves without implementing and investing money in online platforms, building a website is not as difficult or as costly as it seems. Furthermore, the benefits of having a website for your small business is a motivation too strong to ignore. Not only will a website promote your company and increase your brand’s awareness, but over time it will also lead to more productive sales quotas and critical expansion in the future.

Author:  Vikas Agrawal

Source:  http://www.lifehack.org/463026/heres-why-some-small-businesses-are-hiding-from-website-platforms

Categorized in Business Research

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