An Interview with Chua U-Zyn, the innovator behind Ping.Sg and TodayRSS
July 6, 2006 by SGE
The academic’s definition of an entrepreneur is someone who creates a new innovation or redefines the business landscape of existing traditional businesses. This time round in our SG Entrepreneurs series, we manage to have an interview with Mr Chua U-Zyn, a young innovator to tell us about the story of his two latest innovations: Today RSS Feeds and Ping.sg.
SGE: Let’s start with the introduction. What is your name, your background and what are you currently doing?
U-Zyn: My name’s Chua U-Zyn. I have been fascinated by computers and technology since the first day I got a PC and have spent almost all my time awake trying to learn how things work. As I’m not quite a reader, I acquired most of my computing knowledge and skills via observations, by hacking or by trial and error. Believe it or not, I did not even own a single PHP book until about a month ago, when I got myself a book on advanced PHP5 (which I barely finish 2 chapters).
I am currently a Computer Engineering (Faculty of Engineering) undergraduate in National University of Singapore and also a freelance web developer. I’m not quite the studious kind of student. Most of my time are spent on either doing web development, or reading technology news/articles on the web. I’m not sure which one of the two activities I spent more time on – I’m a big procrastinator, but I’m sure any of these two activities takes up more time from me than studying.
SGE: What inspired you to be an innovator?
U-Zyn:My inspiration is simply my fascination with technology. Well, I do not really consider myself quite an innovator. Most of my ideas come from my own experience, for wanting to do something but could not. So it is nothing really that great. I did not sit down, stare at the wall for a couple of hours thinking about what to make next. Don’t innovators do that? I do have quite a list of ideas though, I would write it down whenever I encountered a situation stopping me from doing something and thought about the possible solution. Sadly, I do not have enough time to implement them all and also most of them are not even worth implementing anyway.
Oddly enough, like Archimedes, most of my ideas came about during the time when I shower. I guess I am not thinking enough during my normal times as I spend almost all my time awake coding, debugging and procrastinating, and only have time to do some thinking when I shower.
SGE: As you are known as the man who hacked Today, for the Today RSS feeds, how did you embark on your next invention, ping.sg?
U-Zyn:Haha. Thanks to Miyagi for giving me the name. I’m still not quite used to be known as that, but for now, I think I kind of like the name.
ping.sg is not my next invention. I have had the idea for over a year. The domain itself was registered in Dec 2005. And I had been wasting my time in lectures thinking about the model and the details of the project, even the logo. I can show you how many ‘ping’ logos that I have sketched on my lecture notes during the time of lecture.
Although I have had the idea for more than a year, not much work has been done since then. All I did a year ago was planning on the features of the community portal and how it could help creating a community for local bloggers on top of benefiting them. Due to my schoolwork and my freelance web development work, I only found time to work on ping.sg during the December vacation. At that time my idea was to code every single line by hand, minimalizing the use of any 3rd-party code (if I really really had to). I had also got my friend to help me on the layout design of ping.sg.
About 2 weeks later, I managed to complete the framework for ping.sg and implemented the AJAX-enabled live feature (similar to the current http://ping.sg/live) on the self-coded framework. My friend also submitted 2 drafts for the design to me. Unfortunately, I did not quite like the design and it wasn’t following standards. So I had to spend the next few weeks, juggling between my clients’ work (I have datelines too) and doing the design + logic for ping.sg.
I did not manage to complete it before semester resumed. During semester time, I could not have found sufficient time for my own development work after discounting the time spent on campus (after skipping about 70% of lectures) and doing clients’ work.
A month ago I picked up a PHP framework that is designed based on Rails – CakePHP. I tried doing a few projects for my clients with it and find it amazingly wonderful and helped make my web development work more fun and more organised, if not faster.After submitting a few projects this holiday, I found that I had some time, not much, in between clients’ projects so I sat down and recoded the whole ping.sg, including the design, on CakePHP. I was not sure if that was the right idea when I did it as I was nullifying all my time and effort spent on ping.sg so far.
With the launch of ping.sg in about 1.5 week’s time, I figured that that was the right decision. Not only that ping.sg is launched, it is also more expandable, which is very essential to the project. A lot of features intending to make ping.sg a community portal for bloggers are not yet being implemented. With the new framework, it is easier for me to expand ping.sg and I would do so continuously.
SGE: What are the major obstacles that you encountered as an innovator?
U-Zyn:I did TODAYonline’s feed without thinking too much. It was during a weekend and I did not feel like doing any serious web development that day. I just sat down and started coding for the feed, and completed it in about 5-6 hours. I did not even think about releasing it for public’s usage, not because I was afraid of copyright issues, but I simply wasn’t considering public release at all. The project was originally intended to help create an RSS feed so that Avantgo (Palm’s RSS reader) could retrieve TODAY in a proper readable format everytime I sync. Only when I have done it that I considered releasing it to the public as I thought that it might be benefit others as well as me. Then I started to worry about copyrights issues. I released it anyway, with disclaimers stating the copyright owner for the content.
For ping.sg, the major obstable during development time was to get ping.sg to talk to the current web softwares. Bloggers would not want to have to visit ping.sg everytime they blogged an article on their respective sites to submit a ping. I had to read some technical papers on trackback and attempt to get ping.sg to speak the same language as the softwares. For now I managed to get trackback working and it is a challenge for me to get ping.sg to act as a pingback server, which is a more automated process for WordPress user, but a more complicated job for me.
Anyway, I believe the real major obstable for ping.sg are not the technical works but the promotion of it. Making a good product is one, getting it out to the masses is another issue totally. As my aim is to create a community for bloggers, I am hoping that when the community-related features are being implemented, bloggers would want to spread the use of ping.sg by words of mouth. I hope to take bloggers along with the growth of this site. I did it with the intention to bring the bloggers together, not really as a ‘product’ of mine.
SGE: Do you have interesting encounters with the users who adopted your technologies?
U-Zyn:I have had some users wondering about the permalinks of the articles in TODAYonline’s feed, claiming it is taking them nowhere but kept bringing them back to my site. Well, the feed is simply using RSS technology and it supposed to be used rather differently than conventional RSS feeds for websites. This feed is the newspaper itself, presented in the form of RSS, rather than an RSS feed for informing readers on site updates.
For ping.sg, a lot of users are comparing it to tomorrow.sg. I have heard quite a few people thinking that it would not work as they thought ping.sg is like an egoistic tomorrow.sg, where bloggers submit their own entries instead of submitting others. In actual sense, ping.sg is not intended to be comparable to tomorrow.sg. I believe the local bloggers have grown a little too accustomed to tomorrow.sg. ping.sg aims to create a comprehensive and thorough database for blog entries written by local bloggers and/or with local interest. ping.sg also aims to create online community for Singapore bloggers to interact and gives every single blogger the same chance to stand out above the rest. It would be a challenge for me to get people to see the actual model of ping.sg. I hope people would be able to grasp the concept more strongly when the community-based features are being implemented soon.
SGE: What are the interesting lessons you learn from the process of creating both innovations?
U-Zyn: I’ve learnt that sometimes something you thought is insignificant, or created for fun, would not necessary be ignored by the masses. One good example is the TODAYonline feed. I created it just for fun and didn’t even have much intention to promote it, but the stir it created, thanks to Miyagi’s article, simply surprised me.
For ping.sg, I’ve learnt that people generally tend to relate a new product/service with an old one that they are familiar with, for this example tomorrow.sg. If a product or service is new, some work would have to be done on the ‘awareness’ of it so that people would not compare it to a product they themseves have already grown familiar with and thus see all the shortcomings of the new product, which is intended to be viewed from a different perspective.
SGE: What are your thoughts on Web 2.0? Do you think that it can take off in Singapore, or that matter, Asia?
U-Zyn: I believe the internet is borderless. If my understanding is correct, Web 2.0 is an internet thing, thus I do not see why it would not take off in Singapore or Congo.
I have another product, maybe not invention, LastHalo. It is started in my bedroom in Singapore.
But believe it or not, most of my users are from South America! I know LastHalo is nothing comparable to the Web2.0 companies a lot of people have in mind, but it shows that Internet is indeed boundaryless. I do not see why an internet business/service would not take off in anyplace in the world.
SGE: Have you thought of starting a business given that your strong technology capability?
U-Zyn: Yes. I have had some discussions with my friend, who are already a successful entreprenuer himself, on starting a business. He himself is also very keen on Web 2.0. Nothing much to say for now. I will let you know how it goes if it happens.
SGE: On behalf of the SG Entrepreneurs team, we thank you for taking your time off to do this interview with us. We wish you success with your future endeavours. For more information, you can read U-Zyn’s blog and also get to know more about Ping.sg in the Ping.Sg blog.
 Justin Lee: Interview with U-Zyn Ã¢â‚¬ËœHackerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Chua – The Man Who Ã¢â‚¬ËœHackedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Today
 Mr Miyagi, TODAY, ‘hacked”, it’s on your phone.
 Adrian Lee, Today hacked through RSS.
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Covering the Singapore and Southeast Asia startup and entrepreneurship scene since 2005.Read other posts by SGE