SOME might joke that the Philippine Computer Society's Digital Pinay 2005 competition is a search for "IT hotties," but the real "hottie" is US-based Filipino web pioneer Ken Ilio, who was named one of Asia's 50 movers and shakers under 50 in Asia Inc.'s annual list.
Ilio is the man behind Tanikalang Ginto (which literally means Golden Chains) at www.filipinolinks.com, the most popular human-edited Philippine web directory which has been linking Filipinos from all over the world since 1994.
Asked how he felt about being honored in the "Who's Hot in Asia" feature, Ilio replied via e-mail: "Old. Kidding aside, it is really humbling. I enjoy what I am doing so sometimes I don't understand the fuss. But it's also nice to be acknowledged. It means that I am doing something right."
Ilio has been hailed time and again by the Filipino information technology community as one of the most influential Filipinos on the Internet. Not one to rest on his laurels, however, Ilio said that he is now about to embark on new projects that would enhance the services offered by Tanikalang Ginto: a Filipino-grown wiki and a site for Filipino blogs.
"I am about to launch a FilipinoWiki. A wiki is a website, a collection of documents allowing users to add content and also to edit the content. This is easily done as it is all software-driven, and much of the software packages are public license. So you only need some kind of understanding of the software and the programming that it is built on. Now, I am not a techie but I am not dumb either, so I can get by.
"Besides, techie types are the most generous people on earth. You ask a question in some forum somewhere, and within minutes, someone will answer your question. For a blogger-type of site (offering space for blogs including software), that might be a problem because I have no idea how to program this. There are blog programs available but you can't just bundle them into a webhost. And there's actually already PinoyBlog which is exactly doing what I wanted to do. So perhaps [I will] just [offer] a linking site for Pinoy blogs (like a blogmap) or a blog ring," Ilio told INQ7.net.
Ilio was one of six Filipinos whom Asia Inc. named among the hottest people in Asia in 2004. The other Filipinos who made the list were Philippine Daily Inquirer president Sandy Prieto-Romualdez, columnist and mathematics professor Queena Lee-Chua, rescued hostage Angelo de la Cruz, Gawad Kalinga international volunteer Dylan Wilk, and magazine publisher Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng.
Asked if he felt that this recognition also showed how important a role IT, particularly the Internet, is now playing in the lives of Filipinos, Ilio replied: "Oh yeah. I am the perfect example. Even if I haven't been home for seven years now, I feel closer to home than before the Internet came about. That's why I keep doing what I'm doing and more. Really, to keep my ties bound to home."
Ilio added that contrary to what was stated in the Asia Inc. article, he has not become an American. "No, I have not bailed out of my Filipino citizenship yet," he quipped. He is also not an urologist (a medical doctor specializing in that field) but a basic scientist working in urology. Ilio is based in Chicago, where he works as research director of the urology division of the John H Stroger Jr Hospital.
Ilio also agreed that the choice of honorees shows the growing influence of the online community throughout Asia.
"While I am the only one of the six (for the Philippines) who is Internet-related, many honorees from other countries come from Internet-related backgrounds. For example, Asia Inc. cited Robin Li, co-founder of China's most popular search engine; Neil Shen who's also a co-founder of China's leading web portal; Jack Ma of Alibaba.com, the world's largest B2B (business-to-business) platform, also of China; Jae H Lee of eBay Korea, and India's Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of Hotmail [and now CEO of Navin Communications]. They are the big guys and to be mentioned in the same breath as them is mind blowing," he said.
Ilio also has a number of ongoing projects, including the TribungPinoy.com global Filipino friendship and dating social network he launched with Philippine-based Jason Banico. Banico is the founder of the Funchain social network and chief technology officer of its parent company Outsourceit2philippines.com.
As someone who recently jumped into the blogging bandwagon (though he refers to Tanikalang Ginto as his blog), Ilio maintains two "honest-to-goodness blogs": Photographic Ramblings at ilio.ph and Uncommon Photographers at uncommonphotographers.net.
Ilio agreed that blogging has become increasingly popular and said he sees more Filipinos from all over the world embracing this online activity.
"Blogs or weblogs have been around for awhile, maybe for five years now, and I am sure they will stay. Blogging certainly is increasing, both in the mainstream and in the Filipino online community. They say that blogs have doubled every five months in the last year to about five million at the end of last year (from about four million in September). I see the same trend in Flip blogs but the problem is, it's ningas cogon all over again -- the same fate as many Filipino websites.
"I've seen many promising Filipino blogs... but they tend not to be maintained after a few months. For example, there are 52 Philippine blogs and 36 Philippine-related blogs listed in Photoblogs.org. Photo blogs are special blogs because, instead of written journals, they are photographic journals. Among these Philippine-connected photoblogs, at least 10 percent are no longer active (not maintained since the end of last year) and a few no longer exist. It's the same thing with many written blogs," Ilio said.
Ilio added that it is time for advertisers to forego their traditional models and see the huge potential of the "marginalized" global Filipino online community that they apparently do not realize exists, citing in particular the Filipinos who use prepaid Internet cards or access the Web through cybercafes, as well as the huge Filipino chat community.
"That's [the chat community] a big market right there: young, salaried, and educated with disposable incomes," he said.
He added that in the US, most Filipino families own a computer (or even two or three) that is connected to the Internet. Unfortunately, he said many advertisers apparently don't realize the true size of the Filipino online community because they do not consider how Filipinos actually access and use the Internet.
"Advertisers don't see this and have the perception that Internet penetration [among Filipinos] is low. I was once in a focus group conducted by an ad provider and I kept harping to them how huge the ethnic market is, not just Filipino, and it might be fruitful for them to solicit ads from ethnic groups, but the interviewer kept on asking me, how about your mainstream sites, how much traffic do you get from your mainstream sites. We would like you to develop your mainstream sites. Again, their models are a little bit behind the times.
"So what I'm saying is, I just wish there was a way that we can emerge from our invisibility and perceived marginal existence," Ilio said.
Well said from someone who has spent over a decade making Filipinos aware of each other's existence on the Web -- and getting honored for doing what he loves.