From “text capital” to “social media capital of the world.” That’s how the Philippines would henceforth be known, thanks to four Filipino programmers who bagged a major prize at the recent Facebook Mobile held in Singapore.
Besting other programmers from several Asian countries, Jason Sia, Miko Ignacio, Melvin Fetalvero and Josh Basarte, programmers working for home-grown technology firm Chikka.com, won the “Hackathon’s” Best Mobile Open Graph award for creating “Hear Me,” an application that lets users post audio notes on their Facebook home page.
The term Hackathon was coined by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Featured in the Academy Award winning film “The Social Network,” Hackathons are Facebook’s main recruitment method for finding talented programmers to work for the Internet giant.
At the recent Hackathon in Singapore, developer teams were tasked to conceptualize, write programs and present the finished application within a short period of time.
“I don’t think we won because of what we came up with in four hours, but because of what Hear Me can become in the hands of other Facebook users and the developer community,” said Chikka team leader Melvin Fetalvero.
“They can surely build on it (and) run with it to launch very engaging content: think rapping bouts and ‘pick-up line’ battles. They can now bring those experiences to social media,” Fetalvero said.
The Hear Me application was developed as an iPhone application or “app” that would allow users to record voice greetings and post these on their own or on other users’ Facebook pages. Other users can then listen to the recording, “like” it, and even share it with their friends.
The app was created using Facebook’s Open Graph application programming interface (API), which enables developers to create apps that take advantage of Facebook’s social ecosystem.
Web, mobile integration
The team from Chikka—now a subsidiary of Smart Communications—was able to create Hear Me in just four hours and without the need to use expensive IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and VoIP (Voice Over IP) systems-technologies used in popular Internet communications software such as Skype and Yahoo! Messenger.
In a statement, Chikka founder Dennis Mendiola said: “It seems like only yesterday when we were called the text capital of the world. Today, it’s well documented how we are the ‘social media capital.’ It is why the world tends to expect innovation in this area from Filipinos; we take to social media like fish to water.”
Chikka’s flagship Chikka Text Messenger, which allowed Internet users to send short messaging service (SMS) or “text” messages to mobile phone users, was the world’s first commercially successful integration of web and mobile services.
Mendiola said Filipino telecom firms also invented the card-less over-the-air and peer-to-peer exchange of load between mobiles, which is now adopted in major mobile markets all over the world. Filipinos are pioneers as well in user-generated status broadcasts to a base of mobile followers, a precursor to such popular social media apps as Twitter, he said.
Passion and pride
“It’s in our blood. The Facebook Hackathon represents some of the world’s finest mobile applications developers. Beyond expertise, talent and creativity, there is passion and pride in what we do,” Mendiola said.
Chikka.com recently merged with Wolfpac Mobile Inc., also owned by Smart Communications, to form one of the largest web and mobile applications developers in the Philippines that cater to mobile Internet communities’ demand for apps of high utility and high entertainment value.
“We’re very happy with what the (group has) accomplished in Singapore,” Smart spokesperson Ramon Isberto said in an interview. “This is very much in line with our push in innovating in the application space,” he added.
“As you know, smartphones are now becoming more popular and at the core of this are relevant applications,” Isberto said, adding that Smart Communications would build on Chikka’s success to create more developer activity in the Philippines “so we can generate more innovations here to find international markets for Filipino developers.”