TorPlus v1.03 released

Today I am releasing the latest version of TorPlus. For those who still don’t know about TorPlus, it is a software bundle containing TOR (The Onion Router), Opera(browser) and Privoxy (web proxy software). The bundle is preconfigured to work through proxy servers with the help of Tor. You can move from the proxy mode to normal mode with one click. Opera is also preconfigured to include several modifications. You can enable / disable Cookies, Javascript, plugins, java and flash with a single click. Also you can switch your browser’s user agent also easily from the status bar. An adblocker is also included with the Opera.

I haven’t updated TorKestrel, yet. I will be updating it to the latest beta version soon.

You can download the latest version of TorPlus from the downloads section.

Update :  TorKestrel+ v1.0.3 has also been released

ChangeLog 

  • Updated Opera to latest version (v 9.24)
  • Updated Kestrel to latest beta version
  • Updated Tor to latest version (v 0.1.2.18)

Outsourcing and Relenta CRM

Today, many companies rely on outsourcing, freelancers, or contract workers in order to complete projects on time and in order to make a business grow. Small and medium-sized businesses, especially, often rely on contractors or freelancers in order to create better profits.

There are many advantages to hiring freelancers. They require less money and generate more real work for the effort. In most cases, you pay freelancers only for the amount of work completed. This means that you do not pay for vacation time, coffee breaks, and so forth. This can save you a great deal of money over the average employee. Additionally, freelancers usually do not require insurance, benefits, and other additional expenses that traditional employees make use of. Many companies are also finding that outsourcing some of their work to freelancers allows them to hire people for occasional work. For example, if your company requires design services only once in a while, outsourcing to a freelancer can be less expensive than going to a company for your needs or hiring a design team permanently.

Keeping in touch with your virtual team with Relenta CRM

One challenge with outsourcing is that in many cases employers have less control over the work performed and must develop a failsafe communications system with their new employee. Relenta CRM software makes this very simple. A contractor or freelancer can be entered into the Relenta CRM system as a contact. That way, you can keep track of all the e-mail correspondence, information, and files exchanged between the company and the freelancer. Plus, Relenta CRM provides the ideal virtual workspace for both you and your contract employee. Simply assign the contract employee a department of their own, or give them access to the department that they are involved in. The employee can upload files, manage contacts, add assigned tasks in the shared online calendar, and interact with the department that he or she needs to interact with. At the same time, you can keep your financial department, and then any other department with sensitive information secure. Relenta CRM has gained immense popularity with many Chicago web development and Toronto SEO companies for it’s easy-to-use modules and intuitive interface.

Google Analytics Reporting Suite on AIR

Today I am going to write about an excellent application, which I discovered yesterday. The main reason why I hated checking out my Google Analytics reports was that I hated logging in to my Analytics account. My personal Google account is different from the one I use for website related uses, including Adsense, Sitemaps and Analytics. Whenever I try to check my personal mails and Analytics account together, I get logged out from the former. That was when I discovered Google Analytics Reporting Suite based on Adobe Integrated Runtime (Previosly Apollo), developed by Nico.

Google Analytics Reporting suite is a desktop application based on AIR, which allows you to access your Google Analytics Reports directly from your desktop. GARS provides a much better interface compared to the original web application. It also implements almost all the features provided by the web application.

The program allows you to manage multiple profiles from different Google Accounts directly from the program. The login credetials will be saved on your computer so that you don’t have to re-login every time you check your reports.

Here is a screencast of the previous version

Highlighted features of GARS (from AboutNico.be)

  • Easy profile selection and account management »
  • Use multiple profiles from different Analytics accounts »
  • All visitors, traffic and content reports available »
  • Tabbed interface to easily switch between reports »
  • Data drilldown, goal values, data segmentation »
  • Animated, interactive graphs »
  • Advanced data grids with filtering and paging »
  • Switch between interactive reports or PDF reports »
  • Site overlay view »
  • Exports to PDF, Excel and XML »

Google Analytics AIR v1.0 sneak peakThe program is still in its beta stage with beta 2 released on October 5th. I recommend everyone  to tryout the program and provide feedback to Nico, so that it can be improved further. Version 1.0 of the reporting suite is expected to be released by early 2008. A sneak peak of Google Analytics AIR 1.0 was provided and the new version is much prettier.

Google does not provide an official API to access Google Analytics data by external programs. Fortunately, programmers have developed unofficial APIs[1, 2] for doing the same, even though Google is remaining silent on the legality of using it. Google Analytics Reporting Suite is also based on an unofficial API developed by Nico, by studying the working of the web application for months. Fortunately, both Google and Adobe extended support to Nico for further developing the application. GARS is included in Adobe’s Showcase program and Google has offered assistance in making the program more secure.

Now that I have Google Analytics Reporting Suite installed, I now check my Google Analytics reports 4 – 5 times a day. Thank you Nico.  🙂

Downloads 

Local Analytics – Errors & Suggestions

First of all, let me thank everyone, especially Joe, Kevin and David,  for their active participation and support in reporting the errors in Local Analytics. According to my Google Analytics stats, the plugin was downloaded over 200 times so far. A few errors were reported and fixed. Now the only unfixed problem is the corrupted zip file. I think it is caused by the some problem with my system, because it is showing some other troubles too. I will format my system and recreate the files in a few days.

I request you to report any difficulty or error you are having with the plugin. If no errors are reported during the next two days, then I will declare the current version stable and start working on the next version.

I also request you to suggest any improvements and changes you wish to include in the next version. Alex and David have made a very good suggestion, which I will try to incorporate in the new version. Though I don’t promise this, if I have time I will try to integrate the Analytics Reports also within the Administration Panel, as Jared and ekowanz asked.

Speed up page loading & save bandwidth by reducing page size

Yesterday, while fixing some browser compatibility issues of my new theme, I was surprised to know that my homepage was over 400 KB in size and took more than 30 seconds to completely load with my DSL connection. More than 80 files, including images, javascript and css, were embedded within the page.

I decided to optimize the page and found that the following actions can be taken to decrease the load time.

  • Reduce the number of requests
    First of all, I opened up my theme’s stylesheet and found several unused classes with image backgrounds and bullets. I removed those classes and removed all references to non-existant files.
  • Reduce the total download size
    I tried removing unwanted markup and html comments left by my theme and plugins. But that did not create much difference in size. Next I converted some of the images from PNG to JPEG format. This reduced the total size by over 30 KB. But most of the page size was due to the embedded Javascript and CSS files. For example, the prototype javascript library is over 90 KB in size, which on compression get reduced to 22KB. Hence I used Apache Module mod_deflate to compress my files dynamically for gzip enabled browsers. I used the following code in my .htaccess file to compress files of the following mime types  – text/css,  text/html,  text/plain,  text/xml and application/x-javascript. For this to work on your server, you should have mod_deflate enabled. Most webhosts have this enabled. If not, you may also try  PHP mod_gzip or ZLib compression.

    # Insert filter
    SetOutputFilter DEFLATE
    
    AddOutputFilterByType DEFLATE text/css text/html text/plain text/xml application/x-javascript
    
    # Netscape 4.x has some problems...
    BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4 gzip-only-text/html
    
    # Netscape 4.06-4.08 have some more problems
    BrowserMatch ^Mozilla/4\.0[678] no-gzip
    
    # MSIE masquerades as Netscape, but it is fine
    # BrowserMatch \bMSIE !no-gzip !gzip-only-text/html
    
    # NOTE: Due to a bug in mod_setenvif up to Apache 2.0.48
    # the above regex won't work. You can use the following
    # workaround to get the desired effect:
    BrowserMatch \bMSI[E] !no-gzip !gzip-only-text/html
    
    # Make sure proxies don't deliver the wrong content
    Header append Vary User-Agent env=!dont-vary
  • Cache files client side
    Almost all browsers have the ability to cache files on your computer for faster loading. If we set the expiry time of the file, the browser will check for updated content only after the specified time. We can use the Apache module mod_expires for this purpose. The following code will request the browser to cache all files for three hours. This can make the browser download the file only once during a session, but will update the content on next visit. You may also use the ExpiresByType directive to set different time for images, javascript and css files.

    # Cache all files for the next 3 hours
    ExpiresActive On
    ExpiresDefault "access plus 3 hours"

Results

The final result was great. The homepage size got reduced to 159 KB, which was less than half of the original size. The page load time also reduced to 19.3 seconds from about 32 seconds.

The load time and page size were calculated using the Web Page Speed Report tool from www.websiteoptimization.com.

Make sure you backup your current .htaccess file before trying the above code. So that you can revert back if something goes wrong.

Local Analytics v1.1 Released

Today Kevin reported an error with Local Analytics. The plugin was spitting a warning on accessing a page from a RSS feed. Though I wasn’t able to exactly replicate the error, this version should fix that error. Also I have added some more changes to the plugin, especially in the admin section.

As before, you can download the latest version of the plugin from the Local Analytics page.

Change Log

  • Fixed the error pointed out by Kevin
  • Removed the onclick events from RSS feed
  • Dropped domain name from tracked downloads
  • Edited admin panel to display configuration errors.

End of PageRank. What comes next?

For the past few weeks, blogosphere is teeming with posts on Google and its latest PageRank update. The recent update has raised a lot of hues and cries against Google, as a large number of popular and high ranking websites lost their PR by as much as -2. The action was part of Google’s plan to eradicate paid links and sponsored posts as it meddled with Google Ranking system. The penalties were not totally unexpected, as Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Webspam team, had warned about selling links with the intention of passing PR almost two years back. Still the public opinion was against Google was heavy with many webmasters deciding to boycott Google and its services.

PageRank[1, 2, 3] is the ranking system used by Google for finding out the importance of a webpage, for their search engine. The system grades every webpage in a numerical scale ranging from 0 to 10, depending on the number of backlinks it has got from other websites. Links from high PageRank websites boosts your PR much higher, compared to links from low PR websites. Google’s SERP is not entirely based on PageRank, as it would have resulted in a  lot or irrelevant results like Live Search. Among equally important pages, the ones having higher PR was given a higher importance. This helps in countering content copying, as most of the sites will be linking to the original website.

Initially the PageRank was limited to internal use and was not available to the public. But later Google integrated a visual pagerank bar to the Google Toolbar and it didn’t take much time for the webmaster world to accept PageRank as the best indicator of the value of a website. And soon the PageRank of the homepage became the symbol of a site’s prestige, value and marketability. And with the increase in importance of PR, improving a site’s PR became one of the prime objectives of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Several white hat and black hat methods were developed for improving the PageRank of a site. And most of the methods were cracked down by Google. But selling paid links was something Google was unable to stop, until recently.

Another major reason for PageRank getting its present day (or pre-october days?) significance was that most of the advertisers used to give much importance to PR, while choosing the sites to advertise on. Now that many of the top sites selling links are having lower PR, there is no point in continuing the policy. If advertisers don’t care much about PR, then most of the webmasters will be giving any even lesser importance to PageRank, which is reflected by the recent boycotts. Hence I too think Jamie is right in saying that PageRank is dead as a dodo.

Till now PageRank analysis had been the best method for evaluating the importance of a website. And it served as the basis for buying sites and links. But now with both PageRank and Alexa ranking dead, webmasters have to find an alternate method for evaluating websites.

Best traffic analysis programs for your blog

If you are into blogging seriously and hope to become a professional blogger, then you should analyze your traffic regularly. Regular traffic analysis helps you a in knowing what kind of effect your posts are making on your readers. It helps you in understanding the topics your readers are interested.  A keen observation and wise decisions will surely add your name to the list of the best bloggers.

Traffic analysis is a very difficult job and I’m sure that most of us are not interested in it. Fortunately, there are several services available, which allows us to analyze site traffic with detailed reports and convenient graphs.

  • Google Analytics

    Home Page | Get Product | Product Tour | Features
    Managed by Google, this is one of the best available web traffic analysis service. The best thing about Google Analytics is that it is free. In my opinion, Google Analytics is the best traffic analysis service that is free. Analytics allows you to manage unlimited number of websites from your account.
    Installation of Analytics on your site is as simple as adding a piece of Javascript code on your website. There are a number of WordPress plugins for Analytics available which requires only your Analytics account ID, and thus save you the trouble of editing your theme. I too have created a highly configurable Analytics plugin for Word Press, which allows you to locally host the urchin.js file and periodically update it.
    Pros:

    • Indepth reports with detailed graphs.
    • Ecommerce tracking is possible.
    • Option to export the stat reports to a number of formats.

    Cons:

    • Real-time tracking is not possible. . The reports are updated several times a day, but still it gets delayed by several hours.
    • Detailed report about single visits is not available
    • Customer support limited to Help center and support group
  • StatCounter

    Home Page | Get Product | Demo | Features
    If you too hate Google after their latest PageRank update [1, 2, 3], and do not want to use their service anymore, then StatCounter is your second best option (Is it a coincidence that StatCounter lost its PageRank from 10 to 6 in the latest update?). The reports are not as detailed as the ones provided by Google Analytics.
    Pros:

    • Stats are updated in realtime.
    • Detailed report about last 500 visits is available.
    • Ability to display a visible counter on your webpage.

    Cons:

    • The reports are not as flexible as Google Analytics.
    • Free account control panel is ad supported.
    • E-commerce tracking and tracking of visitors over multiple domains is not possible.
  • Mint

    Home Page | Get Product | Demo | Features
    Unlike Google Analytics and StatCounter, Mint is a hosted traffic analysis program written in PHP and MySQL. Also Mint is not free and costs $30. Mint provides very detailed realtime details of your site traffic. But since the program is hosted on your server which may not be dedicated servers with load balancing, it can cause heavy server loads for high traffic websites. I have never used Mint, but have heard very Good reviews about Mint from several sources. If you have a medium traffic website and can spend $30, then this is the best software for real time tracking. I recommend using Mint along with Google Analytics, so that you will be having access to detailed realtime reports from Mint and comprehensive and detailed long term statistics from Google Analytics.
    Pros:

    • Stats are updated in realtime.
    • Very simple and nice interface.
    • Ability to extend and enhance the functionality of Mint by using plugins(called Peppers).

    Cons:

    • It is not free.
    • The program needs to be installed on your server.
    • Requires Unix server with atleast MySQL 3.x and PHP 4.2.3.
    • Causes intensive server load on high traffic websites.
    • Lack of comprehensive reports and graphs.
  • FireStats

    Home Page | Get ProductDemo | Features
    Like Mints, FireStats is also a hosted Traffic tracking program. But unlike Mint, FireStats is free for non-commercial use and costs $25 for commercial use. I have been using FireStats for the past few months. The reports are not as detailed as in Mint, but the development of FireStats is happening at a rapid pace. FireStats can be installed as a standalone version or as plugins for WordPress, WordPress MU, Joomla, Drupal, MediaWiki etc. For WordPress blogs, FireStats provides two widgets for displaying your traffic stats and popular posts. It also allows you to display the country, platform and browser details of your commentators next to their name. For non-commercial usages, I recommend using FireStats. But for commercial sites I recommend using Mint, because for the small difference in price you get a much detailed report.
    Pros:

    • Stats are updated in realtime.
    • Very easy integration with a number of programs like WordPress, WordPress MU, Joomla, Drupal etc.
    • Multi level access to reports.
    • Availability of widgets for displaying stats and popular posts.
    • Ability to show the country, platform and browser details of your commentators next to their name.

    Cons:

    • Not free for commercial use.
    • Requires atleast MySQL 4.0.17 with INODB support and PHP 4.4.2.
    • Provides only basic details.
    • Interface and usability is not as good as Analytics or Mint.

Paypal supports direct withdrawal to bank account

Today I got a mail from Paypal informing that they now supports direct withdrawal of funds into an Indian bank account. This is surely going to be a great relief to all Indian Webmasters.

Previously fund withdrawal had been a headache for most of the Indian Paypal users. One had to request for a check from Paypal and wait for almost a month for the check to arrive. Many people found this difficult and made use of services like Xoom for transferring money to their Indian bank account. But with the two latest withdrawal features, i.e. Direct Bank withdrawal and balance transfer to a Visa ® branded credit card, Paypal is going to be much more popular among the online Indian community.

Now the charge for transferring fund has also been reduced. Previously, while requesting a new check you had to pay $5 as processing charge. Now the  processing fee has been waived for transfers above INR 7000 and for amounts less than that you have to pay only a marginal fee of INR 50. Xoom used to charge $14.99 for transfers over $500 and $9.99 for smaller transfers.

With the new withdrawal feature the time taken for transferring money to reduced to 5-7 business days. Though the waiting period has reduced from about a month to a week, it is still long compared to the time taken by Xoom transfers to complete. With Xoom, I used to get my check within 3-4 business days.

Existing Indian Paypal users can avail this new feature by adding your bank account [1] to your Paypal account by providing your Country, Bank name, Indian Financial System Code (IFSC) and Account number. Ensure that your name in the bank record and PayPal are exactly the same or your transaction will fail and PayPal will also charge a processing fee of INR 250.

Indian Financial System Code (IFSC) is an alpha numeric code designed to uniquely identify the bank-branches in India. This is 11 digit code with first 4 characters representing the banks code, the next character reserved as control character (Presently 0 appears in the fifth position) and remaining 6 characters to identify the branch. This is different from the MICR code, which has 9 digits to identify the bank-branch. If you don’t know your branch’s IFS Code, then contact your bank’s customer care. Alternatively, you can also find the code from the list of IFS codes for Indian banks published by RBI.

You can transfer the fund to your account with any of the participating banks. The banks that are currently participating in the service are HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, ING VYSYA Bank, Axis Bank (formerly UTI Bank), Standard Chartered Bank, State Bank Of India, Bank Of India, Canara Bank, Union Bank of India, HSBC and Citibank India.

Local Analytics – My first WordPress plugin

Today I am releasing my first WordPress plugin – Local Analytics. Though this is not the first plugin I have started working on, this is the first one to be released. The first plugin I started working on was WapPress – a plugin to make your blog Mobile Friendly.

Local Analytics is based on a program I wrote a few days back on how to speed up Google Analytics by locally hosting urchin.js and automatically updating it. The wonderful idea of creating a Word press plugin with it was suggested by Carl mercier. Carl is the author of the anti spam plugin, Defensio, which is still in beta stage. I have been been beta testing the plugin for the past few days and found it much easier to use, compared to Akismet.

Local Analytics is simple to use for a normal user and highly configurable for advanced users. Normal users only need to enter their Analytics Account ID, wheras advanced users can control the complete behavior of the plugin.

Please try the plugin and let me know your valuable comments and suggestions.