“Web Development: A Child’s Dream Finds Completion”

As a young kid, I remember looking at the Philippine map posted on the wall at home. My family had a reference of maps as well showing the different regions and provinces of the Philippines. During trips, I would memorize the names of the towns and barangays along the way. I had this interest in geography, but I was not really conscious of it.

When I was in early high school, I saw a book about Philippine provinces at the book stand of a well-known bookstore along the bustling Session Road in Baguio City. I could hardly take my eyes of it, imagining the book’s contents while looking at the book in the glass display. I resisted the urge to convince my mother to buy the book for me.

About a week later, we passed by the same bookstore and I was surprised to see the very same book still in the glass display. I was baffled. Was I the only person who saw the value of the book? I thought that it might be a sign that the book was meant for me, and fearing that others may eventually buy it, I finally persuaded my mother to purchase the book.

During late college, I came across a simple website that contained the entire names of all barangays in a single page. I found it very satisfying considering that no other website had the same comprehensive list as the website had. About a year later, I tried searching for the site in Google Search but could no longer find it. I was upset. The information of my interest was scattered around many websites, all with different layouts, and presentations.

I thought of creating a personal project file containing the barangay names of each city and town in the Philippines. As I had no knowledge of coding back then, I manually typed the first approximate 9,000 entries. Later, I discovered I could simply copy the text then use the “Replace” function of the text editor. It took me about 7 continuous months during my free time to finally accomplish all 40,000+ barangays, and I was able to save it as a PDF file. But, it was left in my computer and I had no idea on how to share it to the world.

In mid-2008, I registered at Wikimapia, a map-editing website where users contribute geographic data by tracing over a background satellite image. Back then, the site was severely flooded with overlapping place tags containing spam and vandalism. It was horrific, but I found the need to make a difference, with the prime reason to help clean the image of the Philippines. As a new user back then, the waiting time before a place tag is automatically deleted was 7 days. A user can cancel the request during that time alloted. The only way to speed up the deletion request was to request an “Advanced User” to “confirm” the request. If an Advanced User confirmed a request, it would take only about 2 hours before the place tag is deleted. I routinely copied the tags containing spam and vandalism into a text file, then posted the text under the “Deletion requests” thread of the Wikimapia forum. The “Advanced Users” were quick to speed up the deletion, and not long after, I was “promoted” into an Advanced User. I took advantage of the privileges by quickly deleting several thousand invalid tags for several months. In about 2010, I became inactive.

In about 2012, I registered at Wikipedia, after seeing several Philippine geographic articles low in quality. Upon clicking the “Edit” button, I was overwhelmed by the intimidating source code which I did not understand. I logged out and planned to never return to editing on that site.

That was until late 2014, when I saw that many geographic articles were still virtually left unchanged. I logged in and, with patience, experimented with the source code to see its effects (thanks to the “Preview” button). I was able to grasp the basic syntax of the Wikipedia markup, and was pleased I was helping clean several Philippine geography-related articles, through adding reliable content, references, and templates.

A year later, I returned to Wikimapia and continued editing the Philippine map. However, due to an incident as well as the deplorable and almost stagnant state of Wikimapia development at that time, I decided to leave Wikimapia for good. I opted to join OpenStreetMap, which I was reluctant to do at first due to my loyalty to Wikimapia back then. I was very surprised at the interface and features of their basic/default web editor “iD”, which had far more advanced features than Wikimapia. I was quick at refining my hometown’s map, and later started mapping some other surrounding towns. I frequently switched between editing at Wikipedia and editing at OpenStreetMap.

My mother convinced me that I instead make my interests and hobbies as a source of income instead of just giving it for free. She told me I had already contributed so much, so I also had to leave something for myself. Despite agreeing with what she had said, I had no tools to do so, no knowledge on how to accomplish such task.

That was until late 2016, when my brother who was taking Computer Science degree was reading a book regarding HTML and CSS. He gave me the book, saying he believed the book was meant for me. At the same time, my family and I had a meeting wherein we agreed to create websites as a source of income. It would be a family project, and my brother and I would be the developers. My family had some difficulty in identifying the website content. They said it should be something that would fill some information gap. Deep in my mind, I already knew the content. It was about Philippine geography. My observation was many Filipino people were searching for their own places, but the only one available at that time was a website that was almost not updated, with several deceptive sections containing no useful info, thus resembling click baits. I suggested this geography content to my family and they agreed.

I immediately started reading the book, and beside me was the laptop to test the code samples. I was surprised to see how an HTML page works. It was merely a text file that I saved with an “.html” file extension, and could open in a web browser. My curiosity was increasing while learning more from the book. What I thought I could never grasp was already being understood by me. I applied the codes to one of the new websites that we were trying to build. As I had no programming language knowledge back then, I resorted to workarounds such as using Excel formulas and regular expressions learned due to frequent Wikipedia editing. I was able to create a database-like Excel file containing the content. My brother also made a simple Python program to create the many web pages from a single text file.

After about 13 months of content research and development, we finally launched the site. The site grew in number of visitors slowly week after week. The site was earning little, but that was our expectation as it was a new site. Sometime in October, about 7 months after website launching, we received a notification from Google regarding our first payment from ads. But due to billing address verification issues, it took another 8 months before finally receiving the payment.

When pondering about it, perhaps my interest in geography and maps back when I was a kid was the sign that I had to render that interest into something concrete, and the website was the end result. I had to learn HTML, CSS, some JavaScript, some Python, some command line, and other languages in order to create the website and to simplify or automate frequent tasks. My family and I still find it overwhelming to see people visit the site, and at the same time, humbling, as we know we still have a lot more to offer.

Pinoy Geekster is a web developer, contributor to various sites online, loves everything about computers, and a big fan of chicken and egg dishes.
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