TK park in association with ALA-Asian Leadership Academy recently organised a talk “Inspired by Idol” featuring guest speaker Apisilp Trunganont, Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Thailand’s legendary website, www.pantip.com, who shared the website’s in-depth history and his standpoint of business management.
The Three Eras of Pantip
Pantip.com is the initiation of Wanchat Padungrat, the entrepreneur and pioneer website contributor, who wanted to create an online computer magazine but later extended to cover discussion forum called “webboard". Being launched on 7 October, 1996, the original team was composed of few IT and computer specialists. One of them was a college student named Apisilp who voluntarily joined this project without getting paid.
“The history of Pantip can be divided into three eras. The startup period covered the first few years when the team operated website with no return. Khun Wanchat was the founder. I am website administrator and there’s another guy taking care of the web design. Apart from us, there was a group of volunteers and regular users who helped us monitor and delete inappropriate comments on webboard. Most of them worked for fun.”
The second era is the growing period which lasted for more than 10 years. The website started to make money from selling advertisement. “This era began in 2000 when dot-com business was booming. Many famous websites were taken over by foreign investors. However, we spent most money derived from selling ads on office rental and employees payroll.”
The third era which marked the fastest growth has arrived just three years ago. “We call it Big Data era. At the end of the growing period, we have 8-9 hundred thousand visitors a day. This number increased to 4.5 million in the first year of the Big Data and could reach 5.1 million with 4-5 thousand topics generated during peak times. To put it simply, we were growing quickly. Our staff were doubled from 40 to 80. Our user base has also expanded with around 3 million users subscribed to our website.”
The Driving Force from Its Members
Regular visitors must have known about Pantip’s membership system which is the key towards success in establishing Pantip’s virtual society. However, before grounding firmly in the digital world, the website had to get through the trail-and-error phase.
“In the beginning, we didn’t have membership system since we wanted our users to be comfortable with using our website as an anonymous. Not so long, we had this problem of identity theft”Apisilp explained the reason he developed a membership system which required users to put login name and password for identification. “At one point, we found that this system had defects. Since the system allowed the users to create as many login names as they wanted, it failed to confirm the users’identity. For example, a user might post topics under one name, then use another login name to answer his or her own questions. To fix this problem, we required users to give their ID for subscription. With this, one person would have only one login name.”
Although the new identification system can fix this problem, it’s not convenient for temporary users; so the team brought in the newest system. “The new system requires users to use their email or Facebook ID to log on to the system. It is useful for non-members who want to post comments but have never registered to our website before. For example, one of our members posted topic to seek legal advice. A lawyer wanted to help but as a non-member, he couldn’t log on to our system to answer the question. So we managed to let him in by using his email address and Facebook ID for login. This way, more people can use and share their knowledge on our website, so our user base is expanding.”
Positive Contribution Is Key
“Pantip is a public sphere for knowledge sharing. It attracts people who have something to share and provide answers for those who seek. People feel that they can rely on us.” Apislip talked about the website’s goal to create knowledge resources through members’ interaction.
“The member network and interaction causes snowball effect. One example is a graduate girl who challenged herself by taking train from Hua Lamphong Railway Station to Tibet. Her story was so famous that she later published a book about this trip. The source of her inspiration came from our webboard. After the trip, she posted topic to share her travel experience with others, inspiring them to challenge themselves the same way. When those people managed to step out of their same old world, they shared their trips and discoveries on the webboard. The process kept repeating itself, turning Pantip into source of knowledge and positive inspiration.”
Inspiration can also comes from our daily life. “We have found many interesting topics, for example, tips and tricks to cook stir-fried cabbage with fish sauce. This is an easy menu but need some frying techniques to make it taste good. This post regarding this simple thing has gained popularity and generated a lot of shares. This is the key of the webboard’s success.”
Each social media has its own standpoint. Twitter focuses on real time content while Facebook aims to connect people around the world. For Pantip, they have to answer this question: “How we can do to provide answers for every question occurred in Thai society in a trustworthy, reliable manner. This is our standpoint which is different from others.”
Obviously that the website’s standpoint is information sharing and exchanging; but what follows are dramatic conflict issues caused by having different attitudes. “I see what happens in a positive way since it promotes knowledge exchange. As long as those thoughts do no harm, it might be good to let people discuss because it will lead to a conclusion somehow. We want to provide positive inspiration for people. This is our vision,”said Apisilp.
The Next Step
The journey through 20 years has underscored Pantip’s commitment towards Thai online society. Despise more players entering the market, Apisilp sees it a challenge to overcome.
“If you try searching us on google, you might find only one percent of the answers you want to know. How we can do to provide answers for all the rest and those answers must be reliable. This is our challenge.”
Apisilp added that the website only provides space for discussion but those who truly contribute to the society are the users themselves. “The true value of Pantip is being knowledge resource. I believe that we have many unseen fans who are the read-only users. This group of people have high potential —each of them is a specialist in their own field and packed with their professional knowledge. Once being shared, these knowledge, even they’re not scientific knowledge, can inspire and bring many benefits to our society.”
And that provides answer why the users are the real contributors.