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The rise of Google and how you should take privacy into your own hands again

(Guest blog Post by ZEEF curator Jeroen Rijken)

Everybody at some point uses Google’s services, and why not? They are free, reliable and easy to set up. Email? Google’s got it. Storage? Three clicks, done. Every convenience you want, served on a silver platter. So why is it that all these services are free?

Well, the thing is, these services aren’t really free. In the case of Google you pay with something even more valuable than money: personal data. That’s right, all your email, documents, photo’s and search data are stored on Google’s servers. But how does having all this personal information about you help Google earn money? Personalized advertising. Your personal information is used to offer you advertisements tailored to your personality. This is an invasion of your privacy.

I’ve created a Google Alternatives ZEEF page to show you alternatives to Google services that are first of all not run by Google and secondly, not in the hands of another internet conglomerate. For example, you could just switch from Google Drive to Dropbox, but what do you actually gain by doing so? Now all your data is in the hands of Dropbox and considering the recent revelations by Edward Snowden this is not an improvement. It is better to look at why you need to move away from service like Google. Reasons may include better functionality and higher flexibility. However I think we can all agree that there is another reason. A better reason. A reason which is thought not to be of this century…

PRIVACY

 

The solution to these problems is to either store your data with companies in a way that they cannot access your data without your knowledge or keep it to yourself. This is where free and open source solutions play a huge part, just like encryption and location. If you use only free and open source solutions you can inspect the source code and verify that it is not doing anything malicious. Encrypting your data makes sure only you can read it and if your service provider is located somewhere the US has no authority (like Switzerland), you can be pretty sure your data is safe.

Some services from Google are easier to move away from than others. From Chrome to Firefox, Code to GitHub, Blogger to WordPress. But how about the more prominent services that people use, like Google Search, Gmail, Google Drive and the mother of them all: Android?

Search
This is probably the easiest of them all. Even though it sounds impossible, there are actually really good search engines out there that take your privacy seriously. DuckDuckGo is one of the best known search engines that cares about privacy. It has gotten a significant increase in search request after the Snowden revelations and not without a reason; the results are good and the bangs (!) help you get your information quicker. Others like ixquick and Disconnect Search are also great upcoming alternatives.
duck duck go

Email
Who hasn’t got Gmail? It is easy to set up, free and widely available. Free email providers that respect your privacy are scarce, if they exist at all (of course, how are they going to make money?). To be sure only you can read your email you should use an email provider which has implemented proper security techniques and takes a firm stand against government surveillance.

The most important things to look for in an email provider are thus whether your data is stored encrypted and in what country the servers are located. If you reside in the US the best solution is a provider that is either located in the US and doesn’t have servers outside the US, or in a country that takes a bold stand against US government surveillance (like Switzerland). If you reside in any other country, avoid companies that have servers in the US. Unless you are 100% sure your data is both stored and sent encrypted it isn’t advisable to use the service, regardless of your and their location. Fastmail is a good option if you reside in the US, Kolab Now works well if you do not.
fastmail

 

Drive
Setting up your own private cloud is a viable solution. Services like ownCloud can host your storage, contacts, calendar, news feeds and much more. The costs for the actual server don’t have to be that high and maintenance can be made easy if you decide to use a cloud hosting provider like DigitalOcean. For those that prefer not to host your own server, SpiderOak and Wuala are probably the most well-known cloud storage providers. You can find a lot more on my Google-Alternatives page.
Owncloud-logo

Android
This seems difficult. Google created Android. How are you going to use a Google service without using a Google service? Well, the platform may have been created by Google, but most of the source code is actually freely available! This is why derivatives like CyanogenMod, OmniROM and Replicant can exist. You can use these operating systems without using Google service like Gmail, Contacts and Calendar, however it is going to be a challenge unless you host these yourself. If you install a third-party market like the AppBrain market you won’t even need the Google services (remember apps like Youtube do require these).
CyanogenMod-Logo

Preach it, use it
Here is the part where it all comes together, or not…

As stated earlier in this article, moving away from Google is difficult. I am still struggling myself. I use DuckDuckGo for all my searches, except for images. Gmail will be replaced once I have a job so I can afford an email service like Kolab Now or Fastmail. Hosting my own ownCloud server will have to wait as well, seeing how I can’t afford a new server at the moment.

I use Cyanogenmod on my Galaxy SII and use F-Droid as much as possible. Once I have my ownCloud server setup, I can start using the AppBrain market and live Google free. For now I still have my contacts and calendar in the Google cloud.

Further reading
After such a long blog post I can’t leave you without some links now, can I? I have collected additional resources to read which you can find on my Google Alternatives ZEEF page. My page is partially based on the links in the articles by senk9. You should also check out the blog posts by Bryan Lunduke. He is currently transitioning away from Google service and because of his unique position he can offer you some help with the transition too.

google alts

About Jeroen Rijken
screenshot-zeef.com 2015-08-04 12-35-28
Passionate about UNIX-like Operating Systems. Soon to be GNU/Linux system administrator with an interest in security and privacy. Still trying to break free from the grips of Google.

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Presentation Bar Tab

Building Bar Tab at TNW Hack Battle 2015

I recently competed in TNW Hack Battle 2015, part of the annual TNW conference.

As the non-technical startup Founder, of Party with a Local (a free app that connects travellers and locals that want to party), you could say my first ‘hack’ was getting accepted in the Hack Battle in the first place.

A bit of backstory on that – I’ve fairly recently moved to working full-time on Party with a Local and very recently recruited 2 new developers to work on it with me. I came across the TNW Hack Battle and saw it as a great opportunity to enter us as a team – so we could work together, really get to know each other’s way of working, and build something cool in a couple of days.

You had to apply to be accepted into the Hack Battle. I knew my devs would qualify as they had relevant experience and are true hackers, but I had to be slightly ‘creative’ with my application. I said I was a ‘Startup Founder / Web-based Front-end Developer with knowledge of APIs like Facebook, Google Maps & Foursquare’. This is in fact true, but my technical knowledge of these things is pretty limited, and my coding skills don’t go far beyond HTML & CSS! What I lack in hacking skills, I think I make up for with a hustling mentality, plus I love bringing new ideas to life and working with a committed team. I also enjoy the rush of working under time pressure, which you need when trying to build and launch something in 2 days.

Anyway, I crafted a nice application demonstrating my enthusiasm, and said I was entering with the other guys, as a team. We all ended up getting accepted via Appsterdam and one of the API partners of the Hack Battle – getDNS. Thanks for that guys!

So our Hack Battle team consisted of Jaideep (back-end hacker) and Vinod (very back-end hacker) and me (hustler). We recruited a 4th team member from Brazil, who had also been accepted via getDNS. He happened to be more of a real front-end guy than me was a handy edition to our team (our team’s hipster?).

Bar Tab iconOne of the ideas I’d had for a while and was hoping to bring to life at the Hack Battle, was ‘Bar Tab’. This was inspired by WanderTab and Product Hunt’s Chrome extension, which as well as being Chrome extensions, are literally extensions of another product, something that Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt calls “productized marketing”. This basically refers to apps or sites which are tangential to one’s core business, but which can be an effective way to reach new users (or keeping your product front of mind to attract more daily active users to your core product). I thought this could be a nice add-on to our core Party with a Local app.

The idea behind Bar Tab was simple – to show cool bars with every new tab that you open in Google Chrome. The problem this solves is – how do you discover bars in your city? There are so many great bars in every city, with new ones popping up all the time. How do you keep up – read newspaper reviews or long Blog posts? See which bars your friends like on Facebook? Just happen to walk past a cool looking bar? We think discovering great bars shouldn’t be that complicated. This is also a problem our app users can relate to – they are curious and looking to find cool new places (as well as to meet new people).

So the goal of Bar Tab would be to make finding great bars easy and inspiring – every time you open a new tab you would be presented with a beautiful image of a curated bar with some key info about it: bar name, a link to bar’s website, when it’s open, how to get there, (what else do you really need to know about a bar before going there?) as well as options to refresh to see a new bar, share a bar on Facebook or Twitter, and suggest a new bar (which would also have paid options for bars, events and brands).

Before diving in to building this, the whole point of the Hack Battle was to hack using the partner APIs, so we had to see whether we could utilise any of them first. So at the beginning of the battle, we spent a lot of time as a team discussing how we could best use the getDNS API (seeing as they were the ones who invited us). It was proving really challenging for us to create anything very creative or fun with getDNS beyond a bland DNS security product, let alone Bar Tab. We were a bit stuck.

ZEEF APIWe were very happy when ZEEF presented their ZEEF API docs on stage, and we saw the perfect partner for helping create our ideal product of Bar Tab. So we started to hack…

I first curated a list of cool bars I knew in Amsterdam, whilst the devs looked at the possibilities of the partner APIs. I mocked-up how I thought Bar Tab should look, which our front-end guy started to design. Next I created a ZEEF account (very easy with Twitter). I then built a page on ZEEF with ‘blocks’ that included the name of the bar, a link to the bar’s website, as well as a link to a nice photo of the bar (we found photos that were either Creative Commons or from the bar themselves where possible). The ZEEF guys helped us best structure the ZEEF page and blocks for what we wanted to build.

Jaideep then hooked up the API with the ZEEF REST-based API. We made calls to the APIs and got the results from the page I created. The URI mechanism is really easy and did not take time to populate the results to our database. The next task for us will be to schedule jobs on the back-end to fetch information about new bars as we add them. The search feature of ZEEF is also useful, we want to explore it and hook with our APIs. Jaideep also found a couple of little things that could be improved on the API, and the ZEEF guys appreciated the feedback.

We still really wanted to utilise the getDNS API, especially seeing as they had invited us. The most obvious use of the getDNS API is to check whether website is DNS secure (DNSSEC) or not. So, we decided to show whether each bar on Bar Tab we are showing in a tab is DNS secure, DNS insecure, a bogus website, or unknown. We symbolise each of these 4 possible DNS statuses on Bar Tab with a different symbol next to the link to the website. This gives users some confidence and choice about whether to access a website or not.

We used Python bindings for the getDNS API. First, we create a context, an opaque object which describes the environment within which a DNS query is performed. Secondly, a query is performed with extensions, a python dictionary, where key “dnssec_return_status” is set to getdns.EXTENSION_TRUE. In short, once we get the bar using the ZEEF API, we do DNSSEC query for the Domain name and check the “dnssec_status” in the response. This dnssec_status is shown to users in a user readable format (with the symbols). Not the most creative use of their API we admit, but it was good we could use it in some way.

Other tools we used to build Bar Tab:

In true Hack Battle style, we hustled to get it done and didn’t sleep much for 2 days and we literally went live with Bar Tab on the Chrome Store five minutes before our final pitch (completed in the line to speak)! As a result my pitch was not the most polished and I didn’t emphasise enough that the product was actually live to download from the Chrome Store right then (& had a business model built in too).

Bar Tab

Whilst we didn’t build the most advanced product, or utilize the partner APIs in super creative ways, we achieved our goal of hacking something cool together in a few days, and as a bonus it was something that looked nice and was related to Party with a Local. I’m not sure how many other teams launched a live to the public product (with a business model). I was really proud of the team, how we worked together and especially how we hustled to get shit done to go live just in time.

We didn’t come away with the grand prize, but it was a great experience for the team, and we did win a Raspberry Pi from ZEEF which is cool (my girlfriend was very excited when I told her we’d won a Raspberry Pi, but disappointed when I told her it wasn’t actually a ‘Pie’ :-P). We also celebrated our efforts with quite a few beers at the end, which is customary with Team Party with a Local.

So Bar Tab is live, but it isn’t finished. We plan on expanding it to 9 more cities before really announcing we are live (probably on Product Hunt), and if there’s enough traction, we’ll actively pursue the business side of it and get bars and events to advertise. If not, we’ll just use it as a nice add-on and extra marketing channel for Party with a Local.

A big thanks to TNW Hack Battle for organising a great event and our API partners, especially ZEEF. We look forward to developing Bar Tab further and entering the next Hack Battle!

Get Bar Tab and discover great bars with every new tab.

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How to develop your web presence

With almost 2.5 billion people active on the web it is important to develop your online presence. Luca Barboni shares his experience on how ZEEF has helped him build online visibility and showcase his expertise.

Case Study – Luca Barboni

Growth Hacker ♢ Content & Community Specialist ♢ Data Analyst
My name is Luca Barboni and I am a social media marketer turned growth hacker, consulting startups on how to kickstart exponential growth by embedding virality on the products they are working on. Currently I’m managing marketing activities for the coolest italian startup: Atooma.

I discovered the growth hacking mindset no more than two years ago and since then I’m focusing my efforts on letting everybody know that I have expertise on the topic. I came across ZEEF via Robin Good who is a content curation celebrity in Italy. Since I am always looking for new ways to build my online presence I was interested in using ZEEF.

Benefits ZEEF

I don’t always have time to create content from scratch for writing blog posts is a very time consuming activity. But thanks to my experience I know many valuable resources I’d love to share with my audience and ZEEF is allowing me to cut the process straight to the core by curating lists of actionable links.

1. High ranking Google

Luca Barboni

I was surprised to find out how high my ZEEF pages rank in Google. I did not actively promote my page or share it on other websites because I was waiting to define a funnel to drive visitors. Still I received organic shares and traffic from all kinds of places. If you search for my name in Google you will see the topics I cover on ZEEF. This really helps me with building online visibility and showcasing my expertise to the world.

I have asked the people at ZEEF why the pages rank so high in Google. Their answer was simple: ‘the people on ZEEF just provide good quality information and Google likes us’.

2. Bookmarking

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Coming across a lot of articles and links worth sharing I have found ZEEF very useful to bookmark them. It started from there and making the page on ZEEF was very easy to do. Especially thanks to the chrome bookmarking extension of ZEEF.

As a digital marketer I make a extensive use of online tools and this makes me the first user of my own ZEEF pages. For example, I am very interested in productivity tricks. During my career I started discovering and using a series of tools to help me maximize my focus: that’s exactly why I created my open-source-productivity page on ZEEF, so now I can have my own toolbox at hand.

3. Educating people

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In my free time I teach social media and growth hacking to students. I find that my ZEEF page is very useful for students because they can find all the information about the topic in one place. I don’t use slides anymore but simply show my ZEEF page and educate them about the tools, showcasing them one by one. The best thing is that the students can even suggest new links they have found on the internet, contributing to the growth of the page itself.

If you also want to develop your web presence and showcase your expertise, create a ZEEF page. What’s more, by creating a page right now you could also participate in the Golden ZEEF Award contest where you can win awesome prizes.

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How to become a SEO expert

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a popular subject for companies because it increases their online visibility. As the Internet expands and online competition gets more intense every day, it’s becoming a challenge to obtain a #1 rank in Google.

As a result, the demand for SEO experts and information about how SEO works is rapidly increasing. Unfortunately, SEO is not so simple. There’s no manual to help you learn the art of Search Engine Optimization.

So how do you become an expert in this field? Or even learn just the basics to improve your website’s rankings? Well, you can start with an online search for “SEO” or “search engine optimization,” but chances are you will encounter so much information and so many advertised links about this topic that you won’t know where to start.

That’s why I have made some useful lists of the most important topics within SEO, gained from my years of experience, to give you a kickstart!

SEO for beginners

Where to start? If you want to learn the basics, start with these beginner guides. You will quickly learn more about this complex topic.

Blogs

Ok, so now you understand the basics about SEO? It’s time to start reading quality: the best blogs by the best SEO experts in the world.

Books

After you’ve  enjoyed these blogs with interesting posts about SEO techniques, Google updates, penalties and more, you are ready to go more into depth with some of the best books about SEO.

SEO tools

Ok, so you know the basics and you are ready to start working on some SEO optimizations? Tools are pretty useful, but there are way too many tools that you don’t need. After testing lots and lots of SEO tools in the past few years, here’s a list of some really useful tools I always use.

The best events

Events about SEO can help you to test your knowledge and learn from the best. Here’s a list with some of the best events.

The most important thing to remember is that you don’t become an SEO expert overnight. It takes time, practice and lots of study. But with each step you take, from blogs to books, from tools to events, you’ll develop your skills and make improvements to your own site’s rankings. In case you want to have face to face advice please visit my company website Orangedotcom.nl.

One final note: sometimes, you read an older blog and the links and references are no longer relevant.  But the widget blocks in this blog post are powered by ZEEF – so even if you’re reading this blog months (or years) after it was written, these ranked lists will remain up to date as I change them.. You’ll always see the latest updates I’ve made as I continue to explore the world of SEO.

Best of luck!

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EP1T0430

Review: The Art of Content Curation

This is a guestreview by Susanne Bender of Bag At You. Pictures of the event can be found in our Facebook album. Want to learn more about how to curate content on ZEEF? Join our workshop on Wednesday. The presentations can be found on SlideShare.

Last Wednesday ZEEF.com organized an event named “The art of content curation”. This event was held in the beautiful ballroom of Rockstart located on the Herengracht in Amsterdam. After a small reception where we enjoyed a delicious welcome cocktail, we all took a seat on one of the nine tables, each hosted by a company active in the field of content curation. Before this event I thought that everyone was familiar with the concept of content curation, so I wondered what exactly turns it into an art? Don’t we all gather and filter the older content to create new content? What are the obstacles of content curation and could you call it craftsmanship?

The content curator

EP1T0407The issues are e.g. that content curation cannot be managed, everybody can do it in their own way, so the quality is not guaranteed. There is so much information available on the web, it doubles every 72 hours. Because of this, the people need an expert who guides them to the most useful and quality content. So, once you can be qualified as a skilled guide, does this mean you’re a good curator as well? According to the most passionate talker of the night, Robin Good (left picture), that is not the case. The curator is neither a collector, nor a list-maker, nor a news-maker, nor a thief (slide 228 – 231). The (digital) content curator organizes, verifies, provides context, offers guidance, illustrates, shares opinion, archives, updates, credits, discloses, takes position and invites collaboration (slide 232 – 244). And if you can master the skills as set out above, you are an artist and you may have a very bright, successful and rich future!

The law of content curation

Merel Teunissen VWS AdvocatenBut is that all? Can we just go out there and use all the content we find suitable for our subject of interest and curiosity? No, between the starter and the main course we learned that almost all the content on the internet is protected by copyright law. It is therefore very important to understand how you can legally share someone else’s content. The curators can do that (i) after they received permission of the author, (ii) use a quotation right (serious expression, from a published source, clearly indicate the source, proportional and functional), (iii) use hyperlink and embedded link, (iv) creative commons, and (v) if the content is in the public domain (slide 84 – 105).

After the hot chocolate and some more drinks I cycled home and decided that it was a very applicable title for a very successful event with great speakers, delicious (artistic) food, tasteful drinks and good networking! As a bag-lover, I felt very inspired and excited to continue curating content about bags in an artificial way and in accordance with law. So a huge thanks to ZEEF.com and I truly hope to see you all again next year!

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Sjoerd: “Finally there’s ZEEF!”

After having coped with various linkpage-concepts for the past 10 years or so, finally there’s ZEEF. All good things are worth waiting for.

To be honest, at first we were a bit sceptic we might be served yet-another-startpage-concept. A very understandable sentiment for the experienced internet-publishers amongst us. In every nook and cranny you can find a startpage with links, and –of course– filled with advertisements to the brim. This, however, was a misconception.

Very intuitive interface

This is a very intuitive interface. Entering links automatically gets you a title, because the META data is being read out of the target page in a flash. You can change the link title by clicking on it and it’s very easy to get all your links look very consistent. This gives your link collection a very clean, easy to read look.

When using ZEEF as a publisher you can just simply drag/drop your boxes all around, drag your links between categories, and so on. There are very little content management systems that allow you to do this in such a easy intuitive way. If it takes you longer than 15 minutes to build up your ZEEF page, you are clearly doing something wrong.

Very clean overview

You really want to use your linkpage yourself, as the page is fast, lean, mean, and no obscene graphic commercials clutter your screen. This is, in our opinion a very big plus. Other concepts that allow you to collect your most used links on a topic typically flood your page with ugly banners, most of the time entirely irrelevant to the content.

Social linksystem

The social linksystem. You get to compete with other people or companies having the same interest. Only the very best pages about a topic get proactively displayed to the public, and this will give you the edge. Other people directly linking to your topic, because they wrote about this topic aswell will give you a linkbuilding force that you could not have achieved on your own. This is a very unique feature, and makes ZEEF stand out from the crowd.

There.. enough compliments about ZEEF so far. The question we are all asking ourselves looking at stuff like this is, can you make money? The answer is short: Yes you can: Because of the social linksystem, and the linkbuilding power that it gives, you can get a lot of traffic a lot faster than normal. It does not matter if you want to generate traffic to other pages you publish, or just want to add some paid links to your ZEEF page: Traffic means money!

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