How to Break your Plugin Addiction

by Reverb Team  |  Posted January 15, 2014

Plugin Coord

WordPress plugins can do wonders for enhancing the functionality of your blog. They can add incredible visual effects, social media integration and sharing, eCommerce, and other services that can help you gain traction and build readership.

While plugins can add value and extend your blog’s capabilities, they can also dramatically impact performance and load time.

Because adding a plugin is often as simple as clicking a button, it isn’t uncommon to go overboard with new functionality that can lead to issues with your site. Older plugins or even a small error in their coding can bring down a site or break other functions within your blog. The best rule of thumb is to carefully evaluate which plugins you must have and those that are “nice-to-haves.”

When you use a plugin, you’re adding workloads to the processor, RAM, and hard drive utilization of the server where your WordPress blog is hosted. Depending on the skill level of the developer who built the plugin, the code could be highly-optimized or incredibly inefficient.

Here are some recommendations on how to choose the best plugins for your blog:

Choose popular plugins

It’s important to choose plugins that add value to your site, and there is no better way to discover the best ones than by looking at what other users really like. You can check out the “Most Popular” section of WordPress and find great plugin options that are trusted by other bloggers.

Select recently updated plugins

With thousands of plugins to choose from, it’s critical to select one that is regularly updated from the developer. Choosing an outdated plugin can actually cause more heartache than benefit, especially if it crashes your site or is incompatible with your theme.

An updated plugin means that the developer is consciously fixing bugs or improving on the functionality. Plugins that are more than a few years old without updates should be avoided (unless they’re absolutely critical to your site.)

Read the “Support”

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sections

Once you discover a plugin you must have, take some time to read about it, particularly within the “Support” section. You should check to see how active the developer is within the support area and look for other incompatibilities that users are complaining about. Good response and regular updates means less of a headache in the long run.

Categorize “Nice-to-have” vs. “Must-have”

After you decide on the plugins you want to use on your blog, evaluate them carefully. Put them in “nice-to-have” or “must-have” categories. The goal is to make sure you don’t overload your site. Use the “must-haves” and cherry-pick the “nice-to-haves,” and your blog will be much more efficient.

Test your plugins

If you have a test server, use it! It’s important to be sure that different plugins play nicely with each other.

If you don’t have access to a testing server, be sure that you can easily FTP into your WordPress site in case a plugin causes issues. Sometimes a plugin can cause your site to become inaccessible or unresponsive, even in the admin section. When this happens, you’ll need to use FTP to go in and rename the folder of the bad plugin so that WordPress can deactivate it automatically.

Do some spring cleaning

Every few months or so, re-evaluate what plugins you’re using. There may be newer (and better) ones that accomplish the same functionality. Or there may be some older plugins that are simply not benefiting your site. Take time to deactivate and delete the ones that are rarely used or irrelevant to what you’re trying to accomplish.

If you follow the recommendations above, your WordPress blog will not only have the functionality you desire but will also perform better. Plugins can differentiate your site from others as well as increase the share-ability of your content. Choose them wisely!

Have some favorite or trusted plugins for your blog? Share them in the comments section!

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Keoni Cabral]

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Top 10 Game-Changing Announcements at CES 2014

by Caitlin Olson  |  Posted January 10, 2014

Crowd at an augmented reality demonstration in the Intel booth at CES2014.

We here at Reverb are into game-changing technologies. After all, we brought you a completely new way to discover the news you want to read. So of course we’re into what new technologies and product prototypes were featured at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

As crazy as some of the new gadgets may seem, keep in mind that many commonly known products, like the CD player, VCR, and camcorder, were originally announced at CES. Some of the new ideas may fail, but it’s likely that many of these new gadgets are here to stay.

Here are 10 ways these new technologies could change aspects of your life.

1. How you watch TV

Say goodbye to screen glare. Samsung, Panasonic, LG, and Sony all announced new curved TVs this week which all offer a wider span of vision.

LG’s new 77-inch flexible OLED TV went a step beyond curved screens and introduced a “bendable” screen that allows you to adjust the curvature of the display using a remote control to suit your preference.

2. How you brush your teeth

So long, gingivitis! The Kolibree smart toothbrush tracks each brush stroke and then syncs with the accompanying app to give you a score that reveals whether or not you brushed thoroughly.

3. How you sit and stand

Was “have better posture” on your list of New Year’s resolutions? Lumo BodyTech’s new itty-bitty Lumo Lift tracker could help. The tracker clasps to the inside of your clothes and vibrates when it detects that you’re slouching. It’s vaguely reminiscent of your mother nagging you about standing up straight.

4. How you take care of your health

Speaking of moms, a new robot, cleverly named Mother, is designed to remind you to get more sleep or take your vitamins on a daily basis.

To monitor your sleeping habits more closely, Withings created a gadget to observe sleep stages, movement, and heart rate to track how well you’re slumbering.

Also related to health, Corning Incorporated introduced their new Antimicrobial Gorilla Glass which can kill bacteria, fungi (and more), on your devices so you can stay germ free.

5. How you monitor your dog’s health

This dog collar, created by Voyce, allows owners to keep an eye on their pet’s vital signs and other indicators to detect health issues early on.

6. How you game

Sony announced Playstation Now, a game streaming service that allows you to play games through a per-rental fee or a Netflix-style subscription service.

Meanwhile, advances in virtual gaming allow you to strap on movement-tracking sensors and play games like first-person shooters in real time, by relaying your motions on screen.

7. How you (don’t) drive your car

The time for driverless cars is here and is expected to become the standard in the near future. Companies like Google and Nvida have been partnering with GM, Honda, Audi, and Hyndai to build vehicles that not only drive themselves, but also are self-aware of what is happening inside the vehicle as well.

Think automatically re-routing cars that response to voice commands and have engines you can start remotely, of course.

8. How you stay plugged in

Washington-based startup Innovega (which might just be a competitor to Google Glass) is in the process of creating iOptik, high-tech contact lens that would allow you to run Facebook and Twitter right in front of your eyes.

9. How you eat

3D printers can now create edible food, like the ChefJet, which can create detailed cake decorations. Enough said.

10. How we wear our technology

Aside from all of the new smart watches, glasses and other smart gadgets, technology is quickly expanding to include smart clothing, such as these clothing items which are water-resistant.

Additionally, a rumor according to NPR is that ”a company may be adding a temperature sensor in clothing, so that the clothing changes thickness depending on how warm or cold it is outside.”

Which new technologies and gadgets do you think will stick around? Let us know in the comments!

And for even more CES 2014 news, check out this Reverb collection.

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by IntelFreePress]

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Building Your Blog for Web Performance Optimization

by Reverb Team  |  Posted January 8, 2014

sprinter

Out-of the box, WordPress performs fairly well. It’s only until you start driving more traffic to your blog or loading it up with features like plug-ins, fancy themes, or custom coding that it may start slowing down and under-performing.

Suddenly, your seemingly zippy WordPress blog may no longer be optimized for a good reader experience. At that point that you’ll need to do some performance optimization to ensure a good user experience.

If your site doesn’t load within a few seconds, users will head elsewhere for content. If your website sells goods or services, a one second delay could potentially cost you thousands of dollars in sales.

Also, slower loading and performing sites are ranked lower by search engines, particularly Google. This means that for the same keyword search, your content may appear lower in the search results than a highly-optimized and well-performing blog.

So how do you boost your blog’s performance? Here are ten recommendations.

1) Get a good hosting provider. If your site is hosted on a budget provider, chances are that its server is hosting many other sites as well. If you have a “noisy neighbor” who consumes a lot of CPU and/or bandwidth, your site will suffer. Ensure that you pay a bit more to get a reputable provider, or move to a dedicated or virtual private server.

2) More memory. WordPress tends to work better with more memory. You can even tell it to use more memory within the configurations. Give it the most you can.

3Reduce plug-ins and widgets. The more plug-ins and widgets your WordPress site has, the more time it will take to process and load. Use only the essentials.

4) Third party images. If you link to images that are not hosted on your server, you’ll be at the mercy of how fast those sites can deliver them. Also, try to make sure that your image sizes are small and optimized. Larger images are bulky.

5Use a caching-plug-in. While you’ll need to take some time to configure these to work properly, using a caching plug-in like W3TC or WP Super Cache can definitely boost the load speed of your site.

6Use a CDN service. Similar to caching plug-ins, you may want to invest in a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to off-load image loading to a service that specializes in delivery and distribution speed.

7Geek out on your server. If you have the technical prowess and a server dedicated to your WordPress blog, you may want to look at other optimizations such as moving from Apache to Nginx for your web server application or using web-server caching applications.

8Reduce those ads. It’s great to make money, but the more ads that you have, the longer it will take to load your pages.

9Analytics galore. Try to stick to one analytic service and make sure that the code for that service loads at the bottom of your page. The more scripts that are loaded, the longer the page-load time.

10Optimize your theme. The more complicated your theme (e.g., sliders, CSS, image effects, etc.), the longer the browser will take to interpret it. Keep things as simple as possible.

Consider the optimizations above when developing a new site or if your existing one is currently experiencing long load-times (e.g. more than a few seconds). When properly optimized for performance, your blog will have a more satisfied audience and better search engine page rankings.

What optimizations techniques do you use? Let us know your tips in the comments below!

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Mark Sadowski]

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Holiday Gift Roundup: Best Gifts for Techies, Bloggers, and more

by Caitlin Olson  |  Posted December 20, 2013

iphone-black-stone-2

Welcome to our special holiday edition of the Blogger News Roundup, in which we aggregate our favorite gift roundups.

For the tech-savvy crowd, Laptop Mag shared their overall top ten best tech gifts of 2013. Mashable named ten great gifts for bloggers and new media moguls and Gizmodo showed us this neat stocking stuffer that any music lover would appreciate.

Meanwhile, Tech Radar named the best gifts for gamers this holiday season and, speaking of gaming, EA is discounting some of their iOS games for Christmas. Check them out.

Forget about composition notebooks, here are 25 gifts that writers will actually use. Let us know if you have any other suggestions in the comments.

For the kids, @TechAdvisorUK gave us nine great holiday tech gifts for kids ages 3-11, and six of the best gifts for kids ages 11-17.

And if you’re running low on time (we know how these holidays sneak up on you), SWIDE listed the best gifts to buy online at the last minute.

If you’re looking to treat others (or yourself) to a Mac Pro, the new one went on sale with the top-end model costing $9,600. Meanwhile, Apple highlighted language learning and visual design with their 2013 top App Store picks. And if you really feel like splurging, here are five iPhone cases that cost more than your iPhone.

In the Facebook realm, Facebook and Zuckerberg announced they are going to sell shares. If you’re feeling particuarly giving this

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holiday? Facebook’s new “Donate” feature lets you send cash to 18 non-profit organizations.

Finally, the @Reverb app (which is totally free!) is now available in Ireland, the UK, and Australia, in addition to the US and Canada! Get it here.

[Image: Stuart Hughes via Time]

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Dealing with Controversy on Your Blog

by Reverb Team  |  Posted December 12, 2013

Dealing with controversy

Believe it or not, one of the best things that you can do for the visibility and amplification of your blog content is to be controversial.

Controversy breeds discussion and discussion grows traffic. But while controversy can be an effective tactic for helping your blog gain awareness, it also can be difficult to manage and even a bit risky.

Decide up front how much risk you want to take in producing and publishing content. Do you want to write articles that are inspirational and educational? Great! There probably isn’t much controversy there.

However, if you want to write about an issue that you have a strong opinion about, chances are others have strong opinions about it too, and at least some of them will disagree with you. So how do you prepare for people wanting to stir the pot?

Here are some guidelines for addressing controversial feedback from your readers:

Everyone has an opinion – And you should embrace all of your readers’ opinions, even if they clash with yours. As mentioned earlier, for your blog to grow, you need visibility and discussion around your content. Give people the opportunity to express their opinions. By publishing on a blog, you realize that you are not writing in a vacuum.

Be prepared for the unexpected – You may believe that you have thought out each and every angle of your argument. You haven’t. Know how you’ll respond when someone challenges you.

Some social networks breed controversy – Some networks and forums are filled with people whose sole mission is to disagree with everything. If you share your content there, you should know this ahead of time.

Be respectful – It’s easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to an opposing view. Respect that others have different but valid ideas, and that you might be able to learn from them.

Don’t get defensive – The worst thing you can do is feel that you must defend each and every statement that is made. If you find yourself defending everything, the controversy will build and the conversation could potentially be made worse.

Learn to listen – Listening is one of the best ways to learn. As people voice their opinions, don’t respond immediately (or at all). Allow others to chime in.

Let others help – Sometimes discussions take on a life of their own. People who agree with you may jump to your defense or substantiate your argument. Let the conversations evolve organically.

Be willing to admit your mistakes – Sometimes people will cause you to change your opinion. Be ready to acknowledge that you made an error or have even changed your mind.

Most importantly, don’t panic. Over time, controversy tends to die down. As long as you aren’t feeding the flames, you’ll be able to move on. Remember, however, that once you publish something on the Internet, it’s pretty much permanent, as are your reactions and how you handle the discussion that follows.

Try to view the writing process as being iterative and evolving, and even influenced by feedback from your readers. Learn from that feedback.

Have you created content that sparked a controversial discussion with your readers? How did you manage the situation? Share your experience in the comments section.

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by goingslo]

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Blogger Goal of the Month: Don’t Have Any Goals

by Angela Tung  |  Posted December 4, 2013

no goal

As 2013 draws to a close, we’d normally task you with the goal of setting your goals for 2014. However, we’re going to go off the deep end and challenge you with this instead: don’t have any goals for next year.

Don’t get us wrong. We’re not saying don’t do anything next year except binge-watch Breaking Bad. We’re saying don’t set goals in the traditional way. Try something different. Here are four tips to get your started.

Focus on one priority

Stephanie Zamora at The Huffington Post makes this excellent point:

If you’re trying to lose 15 pounds, meet the love of your life, get out of debt, make awesome new friends, travel more, be closer to your family and volunteer at the local homeless shelter… you’re going to lose your mind.

Decide what you want to focus on the most right now, whether it’s your blog, health, career, family, education, etc. and focus on that one area.

But! That focus isn’t written in stone. More on that later.

Start small

If you’re currently blogging once a week, blogging five or more times is a lot to ask of yourself. You’re only setting yourself up for failure, or at least feeling like one. Better to start small and to increase, if you want, when that gets easy.

I used to be in the habit of working out five times a week. Over the years and with changing priorities, I fell out of that habit, and in the last year have tried to get back into it.

Of course going from exercising only one or two times a week back up to five was extremely difficult, and I often disappointed myself. Finally, I let myself off the hook and reduced my goal to three times a week. After several months that became a habit and I increased it to four, which after some time become a habit as well. Now my I’m back up to four or five times a week.

And yes “when that gets easy” is a vague deadline, as it should be. While some argue that habits can be formed in three weeks, everyone and every habit is different.

Think of it this way: your new goal, no matter how small, is still probably more than what you were doing before.

Be flexible

A couple of years ago, I spent several months planning a novel I wanted to write. This was helpful in some ways — the process helped me figure out my characters’ motives — but harmful in others.

When the path of the novel didn’t feel right and I wasn’t sure what else to do, I relied too much on my plan. Sometimes I force-fit the novel to my outline, or if I changed the novel, spent a lot of time rewriting the plan rather than working on the novel itself.

Leo Babauta at Zen Habits advises letting go of plans all together. Plans imply that “your path is chosen, so you don’t have room to explore new territory,” and with a plan, you may feel inclined to follow it, “even when you’re passionate about something else.”

This year, as I’ve written before, I started a new novel. I knew what I should have been doing instead: revising my previous novel. But the thought of that filled me with dread while thinking about the new novel got me excited.

With this new book, I did little planning. I jotted down a lot of ideas, but I didn’t follow them to a T. In fact, I haven’t really looked at my list of ideas again. I keep them mind as a general idea of how I want the story to go, but veer off or change them if another idea presents itself.

This is a long way of saying be flexible and as Jeffrey Sprull advises at Money Spruce, “let go of what you’re not passionate about.” In other words, don’t be afraid to quit. You might find as the months pass that other interests arise, or that you’ll stumble upon something that inspires you. Be flexible and allow yourself to change your goals and focus as you see fit.

Don’t track your progress

As I struggled with both my earlier novel and exercising more, I thought tracking my progress would surely be encouraging. In a spreadsheet I meticulously tracked how many words

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I wrote a day, how many times I exercised a week, and how much I exercised each time.

However, I soon found myself focusing entirely on the numbers rather than on the quality and experience of my efforts, to the point that a short walk counted as a full workout and I began to count words that weren’t part of the novel.

This year with my new novel and exercise routine, I haven’t tracked my progress at all. I have only a loose goal for each — 200 words a day for the novel (more on the weekends), and at least four strenuous workouts a week — and now instead of focusing on numbers, I focus on the experience.

Tracking my progress made it more about the ends rather than the means. My activities still have ends but they’re not numbers. When I go to my exercise classes now, my goal isn’t filling a box but having fun and enjoying that post-workout euphoria. With my novel, it’s about the excitement of telling the story, living with these characters, and exploring their world.

Has goal setting ever been a hindrance to you? What mistakes have you made and how did you address them?

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Justin Henry]

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Developing an Online Persona

by Reverb Team  |  Posted December 2, 2013

Developing your own persona

As writers, we all envision becoming the next household name, or at least a recognized blogger within our community.

One of the nice things about writing a blog is that you can create your own unique voice and amplify it through promoting your posts on social media and other sharing services.

As part of that process, however, you need to make sure that you don’t have a scattered personality online so you don’t confuse your audience.

Be natural

When writing, speaking, or engaging in social media, you’ll want to be consistent with your message, tone, and style. The best approach is to be natural.

Don’t force your voice or style (unless you’re intentionally doing so to prove a point). As you produce and share content, how you articulate your ideas will help to form your online personality.

Decide how much to share

When creating your online persona, consider what and how much you want to share.

Once you say or do something online, whether posting a picture or producing a video, it’s almost impossible to “take it back.” While a little controversy might work, also try to create a fluid discussion and dialogue with your audience as part of your persona.

Choose a name for yourself

As you create your persona, keep in mind that you’re competing with a slew of bloggers for your audience’s attention.

If your primary goal is to promote your name, use it in all of your writing and social media. However, you can just as easily create and promote a screen name that identifies you in relation to the topics you write about.

Your screen name should be recognizable and unique enough to differentiate from others in your space. A prominent tech blogger and online socializer, Robert Scoble, chose “Scobleizer” as his online persona and screen name, melding his last name “Scoble” with letters that make his name an activity. His website is Scobleizer.com and his Twitter handle is @scobleizer.

Do some research on the competition as well as the availability of your desired user name (that is, if you don’t want to use your real name). One service you might want to use is NameChk. Simply type in your desired user name and see if it’s already in use. Once you find a name that’s available, register it across your desired networks.

Craft your content

After your user name is secured, the next step is to identify and craft content that matches your personal branding.

One way to start is to create a list of buzzwords that are particularly strong in the space you want to own. These words could be generalized for more crowded spaces or specific for topics with smaller, niche audiences. Identifying where you’re an expert as well as what topics you want to focus on will make creating a persona easier.

You’ll also want to research other writers and influencers in your space, read and share their content, and engage in discussions with them, making sure to ask a lot of questions since questions promote engagement and conversation. Then, as you formulate your own content, share your posts with those writers and influencers, as well as with your existing audience.

Aligning your content with your persona over time is key. Auditing your content regularly is a great way to check your progress:

  • Are you representing your online persona?
  • Are you sharing topics that are relevant to your goals or your space?
  • Are you spreading yourself too thin by trying to do too much or hit too many social networks?
  • Are you focusing too closely on one particular topic?
  • Are you getting feedback from your target audience?
  • Have you identified new targets in the process of fine-tuning your content outreach?

Get feedback

You can do this a few different ways. Ask a friend or co-worker for some constructive criticism about what you’re sharing. Provide a way for readers to give you feedback whether through a form, an email address, or feedback button.

Also, do some research yourself. Google your name, user name, and website name, as well as some of the topics you’re trying to promote for your personal brand.

A great tip to follow: several browsers have “incognito” or “private” modes where you can search for things without returning results that are tailored to your previous search. Use these modes when going through a “self search.”

Promote, interact, and stay consistent

As you build your online persona, be sure to stay on message. If your approach is scattered, that’s what you’ll project to your audience.

Publish across multiple channels and promote others within your space as well. Listen, interact, reflect, and create in regular cycles, and your online persona will flourish and grow.

But most importantly, be consistent as well as constant when you brand yourself online. Register your screen names, align your content with the topics you’re promoting, and be regular with your content production and sharing.

Have some other tips for building your online persona? Who are your favorite online personas? Share your feedback in the comments section.

[Photo: CC BY 2.0 by Nina Matthews Photography]

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Blogger News Roundup: Reverb App, Blogging Advice, and Bitcoin

by Caitlin Olson  |  Posted November 22, 2013

Welcome to the Blogger News Roundup, in which we bring you our favorite tech stories and work and life tips of the week.

In case you missed it, the Reverb app is now available for free on the iPad! Reverb is a highly intelligent news reader designed to help you read more about what you like, and find interesting related content, too.

Speaking of content, blogger @vgrefer gave us some great advice on how to make sure you don’t build readers up just to let them down and @pushingsocial wrote about getting his first 100 readers.

Meanwhile, in tech news, the price of Bitcoin has risen to $600, Facebook accounts for 23 percent of all mobile app use, and Dropbox is seeking another $250 million and $8 billion valuation.

Finally, Sprint and Best Buy are offering students a year of free cellphone service…with a catch.

That’s it for this week!

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Exciting News! The Reverb App Is Here

by Reverb Team  |  Posted November 20, 2013

You may have noticed that Reverb has been gearing up to announce something exciting, and now the time has finally come for the reveal: the Reverb app, available now for free on the iPad!

The Reverb app is a completely new way to discover the stories you want to read. Just by tapping the Word Wall (and coming from Wordnik, you know we love words), you can reveal a whole world of stories and new interests to explore.

app-heroIn addition, with access to top news sites, Reverb provides with you the latest in trending stories, and like Reverb for Publishers, discovers related stories and ideas for limitless exploration and browsing based on what you’ve read, and in the case of your Friend feed, what folks on your Twitter and Facebook accounts have been posting.

There’s also the location feature, which, through a map view, allows you to explore news stories related to where you are, or wherever you’re interested in going.

So what can the Reverb app do for you as an RFP publisher? A whole lot. The app will incorporate content from the Reverb for Publishers network, giving your content a mobile distribution channel and exposure to an even larger audience.

More eyeballs on your site equals more traffic; more traffic equals more engagement; and more engagement equals more influence in your space. Your content becomes part of a larger network and a reader’s path of discovery.

Download the Reverb app for free and start exploring! And please share your first impressions and experiences with us at appfeedback AT helloreverb DOT com. We can’t wait to hear from you.

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SnapchatWelcome to the Blogger News Roundup, in which we bring you our favorite tech stories and work and life tips of the week.

Last week Snapchat boldly turned down a $3 billion acquisition offer from Facebook.

In Google news, Project Loon announced that their balloons will circumnavigate the globe three times.

Meanwhile, Apple started shipping their iPad Mini with high-definition display and is also considering plus-size iPhone screens.

Yahoo! started auctioning off long-lost domains like Sandwich.com and Sony officially unboxed the PlayStation 4.

MakerBot announced that they want to

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put a 3D Printer in every school in the US.

Finally, YouTube completely reworked their comments system. Do you think they killed their comments… or saved them? Let us know in the comments.

That’s it for this week!

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