Divya Manian

RSS Feed Youtube Channel Github

Interviews with Singapore's Next Gen Hackers: U-Zyn

Today we meet Chua U-Zyn who is now very well known for developing Ping.sg, a Singapore community portal (and blog aggregator) that everybody loves. Ping.sg has been growing in prominence ever since its launch and it is even more surprising to note that the author and the owner of the site is the freshly graduated U-Zyn! Reading the bio, you might see similar patterns with the other two web 2.0 developers - the thirst to create solutions to solve a problem.

1. What drives you to create applications/portals like lasthalo, ping.sg, gratisvibes?

Most of the applications that I created personally were done because of my interest, passion and by realizing the needs of certain applications. LastHalo was created because a few of my friends were using Haloscan for commenting service on Blogspot blogs and they were having a hard time keeping track of latest comments. Blogspot had no built-in commenting service at that time and Haloscan did not have any means of keeping track of latest comments easily then.

Ping.sg was created when I saw a need for Singapore bloggers to have an online presence that we can call home. I wanted the site to be as much community-driven as possible and not merely be a local blog listing. I started working on it without knowing that it would reach the current mass popularity.

Gratisvibes came about as a result of my passion in music. I was involved in the electronic music scene at that time and I listened to a lot of Creative-Commons-licensed electronic music albums. I realized that a lot of the CC-licensed artists and albums that don’t get much attention as they should, so I thought of creating a site to help promote free music and Creative Commons. Two of my friends are also helping me out in the site.

2. How much time do you devote to ping.sg?

It depends. As I am a freelancer, my time is pretty flexible. When I am not that occupied with my job, I devote a lot of time to develop and maintain Ping.sg and sometimes when I am rushing to meet deadlines, I wouldn’t be able to devote even an hour per day. So far the Ping.sg community has been really helpful in helping me maintaining the site. Whenever there is an abuse or they discover a bug, someone in the community would always report to me as soon as possible.

3. What technologies do you use on ping.sg?

Ping.sg was built entirely on open source software. Ping.sg runs on LAMP and is built on CakePHP, a rapid application development framework for PHP. It was among the first few applications that I built on CakePHP.

On top of the server-side scripting language, Javascript and AJAX of Ping.sg are largely built on Prototype, a Javascript framework and Script.aculo.us is used for some animation on the site.

4. How long does it take for you to get any web app off the ground?

It depends on the complexity of the application, thus it can range from 1 day to as long as a 2 months. I built the RSS feed creator bot for TODAY in 1 day, but took about 1 month to build Ping.sg beta. Ping.sg is still largely under development and I am still continuing to build it from time to time. Ping.sg today is totally different from what it was like during the beta stage, thus you can say that I took almost a year now to build Ping.sg.

5. How many people currently use ping.sg, lasthalo, gratisvibes?

Ping.sg has about 700 registered users at the time of writing with about 18K pinged entries. It is still a long road ahead to get most Singapore bloggers to be part of Ping.sg. LastHalo has about 1,000 registered users. The project is somewhat redundant now as Haloscan has finally come up with an official Latest Comments Tracker. Gratisvibes has about 110 feed subscribers at the time of writing. Since it is mainly a blog, and and it doesn’t require any registrations to read it is very hard for us to track the number of visitors to Gratisvibes.

6. What is the plan for the future of ping.sg?

There is still a lot of features that I am looking at adding to Ping.sg. Ping.sg is an ongoing project for me. Some of the features that I would like to add on Ping.sg are:

  1. ability to create groups for members on Ping.sg
  2. Add friends and list friends for each member
  3. Ranking system to encourage bloggers to blog regularly
  4. Making Ping.Sg alive on the mobile phone

With the extra features, hopefully Ping.sg will be able to gain the interest of many more Singapore bloggers.

7. What challenges do you face in developing web apps?

To me, one of the challenges in developing web apps is to create a good user-interface for each feature and functionality of an app. I noticed that sometimes developers get to engrossed in writing a good working back-end while not putting in enough effort to create a good UI that reflects the amazing features available in the back-end. I usually think from the user’s point-of-view, e.g. how would a user, with no knowledge of how an app works use it? and how he/she can use it without reading any or minimal instructions? Ironically, even web designers face the same challenge, even though they are directly responsible for designing the UI. I have seen quite a few web designers who choose aesthetics over usability of an app.

8. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently with your apps, given the new technologies now?

Generally I am the one who is quick to adopt to new technology. I should be among the first in Singapore to have adopted CakePHP as I see the potential in it. So as a whole, generally, I believe I am doing the best I could with the knowledge that I have during the time of my development to adhere to all the standards.

9. What do you think you would be doing next? What do you see in your future as you develop for the web?

I just completed my undergraduate studies and am looking forward to my work as a full time web developer. On top of my freelance work, I will also build apps that pique my interest. None of the applications I created have made me enough money to even cover my server expenses but I still built them anyway as I love making things and I will continue to do so during my free time.

Of course I hope that some of my personal projects will soon make some money. And hopefully enough to not just cover the server charges but also enough for me to make a living from. If that can be realized, I would be able to eventually reduce the amount of freelance work that I am doing to develop more innovative ideas of myself or of anyone’s just for the fun of it regardless of money-making opportunities.

10. You have recently given your final exams for undergrad studies and there is not many students who are all about creating applications/freelancing while still studying. What drives you to do it and how did you manage it with the studies?

When I was a student, I was more of a full time app developer and a part-time student rather than the other way round even though, on paper, I was a full-time student. I was a really lazy student. My friends hardly saw me in school except for labs, projects and of course exams.

I guess I didn’t really manage my studies well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed now, just hoping that I could pass my final exams and finally graduate.

11. Ping.sg is a real hit among the singaporeans. What I noticed in the ideas section was the largest number of votes was for the idea of banning any “sex blogs”, ping.sg is based on giving each blog equal opportunity to shine and the idea of banning “sex blogs” seems to be contradicting that premise. What is your take?

I have not banned any blogs that are discussing about sex, not including pornography, and as the founder of Ping.sg, I want to stick to the policy as much as possible, i.e., treat each blogger equally. Even though the ‘idea’ is currently on top of the list of ideas in Ping.sg, the amount of votes only represent a small part of the Ping.sg users thus it cannot be assumed to be the voice of the whole Ping.sg population. Of course, this is Singapore, Ping.sg will always adhere to the local law.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,