Announcing BlackMonk Version 4.0 - There's something in it for everyone

Better writability for the publisher, and better readability for the audience. What could be more virtuous about a CMS? We would like to introduce BlackMonk 4.0. This could easily be our biggest release yet, because we have redefined multiple modules of BlackMonk, thereby enhancing a range of operations. Articles, Gallery, Community, Design, Performance… You name it; we’ve improved it.

Publishing Articles:

Authors get their own vanity profile page with links to their posts, that they can show off. We also figured that if the editor likes them, then everybody likes them. That’s why we introduce the Editor’s Pick page, where admins can display a select few featured posts.

 

 

“Breaking news” for all those instant timely updates and “Top ten stories” should let you create a sense of urgency and take advantage of your readers’ attention span.

Rich media like videos and photos spice up stories like none other. But uploading the same media in two locations is inefficient. That’s why we’ve come up with embedding media. Videos, audio clips, tweets, Instagram photos, Vine videos and more.

 

That way, you can also make it easier for your readers to interact with those media, right from your web portal. For instance, readers can like, favorite and retweet media instantly.


On the reading front too, we have news. Readers can now mark articles as favorite so that they can read it later. They can also subscribe to the articles of their choice.

 

Gallery and stock images:

Getty Images and Shutterstock are now integrated with BlackMonk, letting you browse through  thousands of stock images for your articles and gallery.

 

 

 

Just configure your API key of Shutterstock, Getty Images and Flickr in our settings, and you are good to use millions of great images on your web portal.

 

For the Community:

Q&A is now more social. And precise. We have enabled sharing of Q&A’s on social media, which will amplify the reach of the questions. In addition, admins can prune out those answers and questions which just don’t cut it.

 

Design:

We have always believed it is more about how you say it than what you say. Justifying that claim, you can now configure custom themes with the choicest fonts and colors.

 

 

Or you can get started right away with the predefined themes that we offer.

 

 

 

And it is also possible to dynamically change the labels on the home page from your website. You can name and rename every section on your portal. That’s an opportunity to get creative. Banner zones has also been under the microscope to deliver better impressions of those ads.

In addition to all the above, there are enhancements that are invisible to the eye, but ensure smoother and consistent loading of content. Auto-loading events when searching, and upgraded universal analytics code are a few to note. Visible or invisible, they all have one common objective; better write-ability for the publisher, and better readability for the audience. Try BlackMonk 4.0 for your web portal today.

 

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Why WordPress for Web Portals is like Lego Bricks for High-rise Towers

WHAT EXACTLY IS A WEB PORTAL?

The primary idea behind web portals is to aggregate information from diverse sources and then present it in a uniform manner. Web portals can be visualized like a well assorted library which categorizes, updates content and grants access.

In the 90’s, horizontal portals were popular. AOL, Excite.com & Yahoo! gained special attention because they were for many users, the gateway to the World Wide Web. In recent times vertical portals that provide a gateway to a particular industry such as health care, insurance, automobiles, or food manufacturing are getting all the attention (ex: Yelp, WebMD, SitePoint, etc.)

HOW IS IT MANAGED?

Web portals manage their content using a software system and each type of content is displayed in a dedicated area (portlet). There is also role-based privileges, granted by the PORTAL admin to the staff (and registered users) in order to manage these portlets. Common features of portals are directory listings, articles, latest news, events, classifieds, videos, image gallery, etc.

Web publishers today require a level of dynamic content and functionality that goes well beyond what a conventional content management solution can offer.

WHICH CMS TO CHOOSE FOR WEB PORTALS?

Almost everybody knows about WordPress - a simple publishing and blogging platform with a massive user-base. It also provides a very powerful framework for developing websites with its "themes" and "plugins" ecosystem. In fact, it has become the de facto platform for most digital agencies.

On the other side, there are lesser-known "specialized" CMS's like BlackMonk - a modern publishing platform for portals, media companies, business directories and online communities. The central idea behind BlackMonk CMS is to provide a platform with integrated suite of apps and features necessary for developing, managing and monetizing web portals.

Which solution is most suitable for building portals? Lets find out!

BlackMonk vs WordPress for Web Portals

APPLICATION BUNDLE

BlackMonk was developed from the ground up keeping in mind all the important components of a modern web portal.

It has 20+ unified apps compatible with both mobile and web browser. All of these apps are developed in-house to ensure seamless integration and standardization. Rigorous testing ensures that the deployed apps will neither be conflicting with each other nor crashing your portal.   

Out-of-the-box apps include: directory software, articles, photo & video gallery, events, polls, classifieds, attractions, deals, bookmarks, social media integration, Google map integration, advertising management, user management, payment processing, data migration and reporting. The list doesn't end here - click to explore the features.

While WordPress is hands down the go-to CMS for blogging, it was not originally built to to be a portal platform.

In order to build a portal using WordPress, you can either go for custom theme development and on top of this you would have to get these 20+ apps developed. Another way to do this is to purchase a premium directory theme, because the free theme won’t cut it in the long run. Then you would have to also buy all of the required apps in the form of WordPress plugins.

The downside of this approach is that the integration among these plugins won’t be solid (as they will be provided by different vendors). WordPress plugins are quite infamous for breaking the theme because of the incompatibility issue and bringing in security flaws. More number of plugins also means equally bloated portal. Check out the detailed article written by amazing folks from WooThemes about the dangers of WordPress plugins.

Key thing to understand here is that your portal is as secure and swift as the code that creates it. Thus, all the required plugins would have to come from professional developers, not amateur programmers.

SUPPORT

BlackMonk clients are entitled to dedicated email support, knowledgeable and video tutorials.

As a BlackMonk client, you get support directly from the developers who have built the product. Not from a third-party developer.

 

WordPress has a popular forum where people can ask questions and also search for solved issues. Many are able to solve the issue from the answers posted in the forum and many are not able to.
Reason behind this is that none really ‘owes’ anyone an answer.

You can argue that when we are paying to theme developers and plugin vendors, they are supposed to give us support. True, but here is the thing - one vendor would invariably blame the issue on the other plugin vendor or the theme developer whenever the issue would go out of hand. In that case you’ll have to try different plugin and use something that integrates well with other plugins & theme.

MAINTENANCE

All the updates related to new features, performance and security are managed by the BlackMonk team and automatically rolled out after multiple rounds of testing.

There is absolutely no need for you to keep on checking for new updates and applying them. All of the updates are well tested in our internal server before applying them on client’s portal.

This burden of maintaining the platform and keeping everything in sync is taken care of by our team.

WordPress frequently releases bug fixes and security updates. Owing to its popularity, hackers target websites running on this platform. This makes it all the more crucial to apply the released updates as soon as possible.

The difficult and most dreadful part of update process is getting the site messed up. This can happen when the theme/plugin loses its compatibility with the base WordPress. While most of the vendors would update their offerings to make them compatible with latest version WordPress, we can’t say for sure that the update won’t create conflicts.

REVENUE GENERATION

Generating revenues is the toughest part of the online publishing business. We understand this more than anyone else.

BlackMonk comes integrated with monetization opportunities like business listings, event listings, classified ads, eCommerce (deals), affiliate marketing, banner advertising, advertorials (paid stories), etc.

Most transactions are automated. Ex: an advertiser can directly purchase paid business listing from the portal. There is no need for you to validate the transaction and add the listing manually.

WordPress seriously lacks in providing a built in system for monetization of web portals.

Again usage of plugin and custom coding can bring in limited capability for revenue generation. But, it would always be deficient in terms integration with various avenues for generating revenue and providing uniform transaction management system.

EASE OF USE

Although there is a learning curve involved, BlackMonk is relatively easier to use in the long run.
Our comprehensive video and text based user guides can be used by the portal admin and staff members to get started without wasting much time.

WordPress is very easy to get started. It becomes harder once all the plugins are integrated.

 

TECHNOLOGY

BlackMonk uses Python with Django framework. Some of the hottest startups like Quora, Dropbox, Disqus use Python.

According to a research conducted by Udemy, performance of Python is better than php (the language used by WordPress).

PostgreSQL and Redis constitute the database of BlackMonk portals. Check out how SOOMLA boosted its performance by 7410X simply moving from MySQL to Redis. Here is a nice piece from software developer and technical writer David Bolton (from Dice.com) explaining why he chose PostgreSQL over MySQL.

WordPress was built 12 years back. The technology stack is PHP and MySQL. WordPress is stuck with PHP/MySQL for legacy reasons, not because they are the best options available currently.

 

PRICING

BlackcMonk SaaS plan, designed for small businesses has three options (standard $80/month, premium $160/month and professional $240/month).

No coding required - just choose your theme and activate the apps. Let us maintain the technology and provide you with dedicated support.

Think of BlackMonk as a full service package provider where you save time and piece of mind by paying a subscription fee.

$160 per month billed annually will amount to $1920.

For pricing of WordPress development, we’ll go with the article written by established premium theme developer - Elegant themes.

Option 1:
Custom WordPress site with design, development and custom plugin would cost $6,000 - $15,000.

Note that this price doesn’t include any hosting, support and maintenance charges.

Option 2:
Purchasing premium themes, plugins, hosting and hiring a cheap developer to make the site functional.

Hosting cost: $10/month (VPS by DigitalOcean)

Premium theme: $90 

Plugins: 15 (premium plugins) x $50 = $750

Support and Maintenance: 20$ (per hour fee) x 6 (hours per month) x 12 (months) = $1440

Total = 2400$

Note that 20$ per hour fee is charged by student programmers or hobbyists. Professionals can charge somewhere around $80 - $200 per hour. In addition to this hiring a decent developer is itself a mammoth task.

CONCLUSION:

If you choose WordPress for developing a portal you would have to move through heaps of unwanted objects to find out the right solution for making a functional and good site. Hosting, hiring, maintaining and paying for support are some of the factors that will surely take up most of your time. From the core business point of view, you would also have to deploy an integrated system for revenue generation. By choosing BlackMonk you’ll get integrated suite of apps, hosting, maintenance, security, superior technology and dedicated support at a lower cost ($500 less). In addition to this, BlackMonk comes optimized with revenue generation system and self-service transaction management system. Savings in terms of time and resources are two very critical factors that can help you go a long way with your business.

To sum it up developing a portal using WordPress is like plugging in bits and pieces of Lego bricks for building a high rise tower. You never know when it would collapse. What you need is precast concrete instead of lego bricks to be successful in the weird wild web (catch the drift?).

More than 200 publishers have chosen BlackMonk Enterprise Edition as the preferred web portal platform for their businesses. Now, the Small Business Edition makes the same power of BlackMonk accessible and affordable to small publishers. Visit our showcase page to learn more about how we have been adding value to the success of businesses.


Bourbon - Simple and Awesome SCSS framework

Syntactically awesome stylesheets (Sass) is a CSS extension language that makes it easier for web developers to create advanced styles. Bourbon framework and its associated libraries viz Neat, Bitters and Refills help developers speed-up Sass implementation as well as make it easier to build CSS features like grid, forms, typography etc.

Bourbon, Neat, Bitters and Refills together constitute a simple, lightweight and solid framework for Sass. The Bourbon framework enables modular development workflow, and  supports custom global compilation settings. It also provides support for IE7+ when  used with Selectivizr (for CSS3 selectors) and Respond.js (for media queries).

Here’s a look at Bourbon and its supporting libraries built by thoughtbot:

Bourbon

bourbon.io

Bourbon is a set of Sass mixins which use Scss syntax to provide a solid foundation for rapid development of CSS3 features. It includes mixins for supporting CSS3 features such as animation, font-family, button styles and pre-built functions for calculating gradients.

File size : 0kb

 

Neat

bourbon.io_neat

Neat Is an open-source semantic grid framework built on Sass.  Neat enables you to define column counts, grid spans, and breakpoints. It also allows dynamic alteration of column counts at different breakpoints.

File size (default) : 97 bytes

 

Bitters

borbon.io_bitters

Bitters is a collection of basic styles for typography, headings, form, lists, grid and error message module. Since Bitters does not providing good CSS reset, developers should add normalized styles manually.

File size(Complete) 62 kb

 

Refills

bourbon.io_refills

Refills provides pre-built page components and UI patterns built using Bourbon, Neat, and Bitters. Developers can easily choose a UI pattern and copy the corresponding code to the stylesheet file.

Conclusion

The biggest advantage of using Bourbon is that unlike other class based frameworks, it is 100% semantic and allows developers to write clean/compact code.


Released: Android App for BlackMonk

BlackMonk Android app

We are pleased to announce the release of the Android App for BlackMonk CMS. The all new Android app allows publishers to deliver a fabulous user experience on ALL Android-powered mobile phones; users can now look-up information on the go! The current version of BlackMonk Android app  includes articles/news section, business finder, event calendar and classifieds.

Here’s a quick look at the key features:

Delightful content presentation

The Android app makes reading articles and news stories a delightful experience. Users can quickly flip through news stories, browse through categories and view images in slide show mode. The app also enables users to keep tabs on upcoming events, as well as bookmark events/news stories for future reference.

Map based search & geolocation features

The app provides a convenient way for users to look-up nearby supermarkets, gas stations, restaurants or any other local business. Users can either run a text search or use the map to find nearby businesses. Once user has selected a business, the app launches GPS enabled navigation for turn-by-turn driving instructions. The map based search and GPS enabled navigation features are also available in event calendar and classifieds section of the app.

Powerful user engagement

User engagement on BlackMonk powered portals gets even better, as the app provides a convenient way for users to comment on articles and review business listings/events.

Download the official BlackMonk Android app for a hands-on experience:

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=blackmonk.mobile.activities&hl=en


BlackMonk v3.7 with built-in promo pages for marketing and more

BlackMonk v3.7

BlackMonk v3.7 gives publishers the essential marketing toolkit to help them attract new advertisers & cross-sell to existing advertisers. The new releases also introduces enhancements in deals and contest apps as well as many other features which enhance the overall user experience.

'Done for you’ marketing

BlackMonk has always been at the forefront of innovation with respect to monetization. And, each successive version of BlackMonk has introduced new features which’ve helped publishers create a lucrative online promotional space. However, even a promotional platform needs to be marketed, so we’ve created promo pages which can be used by publishers as marketing collateral.

Built-in marketing pages for publishers

Featuring impactful graphics, crisp copy and pleasing design, the new promo pages create a lasting impression on potential advertisers. Promo pages make it easier for publishers to market their website as a lucrative destination for online advertising and promotions.

Newsletter promotion for deals

The previous version of BlackMonk (BlackMonk v3.6) gave publishers the ultimate edge over established deal sites, by creating a system where merchants can enjoy greater control over their deal campaign. BlackMonk v3.7 introduces newsletter promotion for deals. The new feature makes it easy for publishers to send out newsletters to subscribers - informing them about newly added deals. Publishers also have the option to build subscriber base by importing contacts through a CSV file.

Automated and manual winner selection for contests/sweepstakes

Manual winner selection for contests

BlackMonk allows publishers to run timed contests/sweepstakes, which helps drive engagement and attracts referral traffic. BlackMonk v3.7 introduces new enhancements to the contest app, which gives publishers more control over winner selection. Publishers now have the option to automate winner selection as well as select winners manually from a list of qualified entries.