January 3, 2005

Interview with PlaySMS project owner Anton Raharja

Author: Tex Guevarra

PlaySMS, a mobile application platform, was initially released on SourceForge almost a year ago. Since then it has been downloaded more than 11,000 times and built a community of more than 200 developers. Now on version 0.8, it is on track to release version 1.0 by the first quarter of next year.

The PlaySMS Mobile Portal System project aims to have a major role in the mobile applications area. Anton Raharja, the Indonesian project owner of PlaySMS MPS, has linked up with open source developers in the Philippines, the "mobile messaging/SMS capital of the world." Over 10% of the total SMS messages processed in the world, averaging 200 million messages on any given day, come from the island nation. Many mobile applications are already in use in the Philippines before other countries start experimenting with them.

Via email, Raharja spoke with us about PlaySMS, its potential uses, his open source beginnings, and what he thinks about Southeast Asians making an impact in the open source world dominated by North American and European developers. He began by running down a list of features in the current version:

- send SMS to single mobile phone (or web2mobile)
- send SMS broadcasted to a group of mobile phones (or web2mobiles)
- supports for Flash and Unicode message
- forward single SMS from mobile phone to a group of mobile phones (or mobile2mobiles)
- SMS autoreply for easy autoreplying formatted incoming SMS
- SMS board for forwarding received SMS to email, HTML, and/or XML page
- SMS command for executing server-side shell script according to SMS keywords and its parameters
- SMS custom for forwarding incoming SMS to custom mobile application hosted anywhere
- SMS poll for managing polling system based on SMS
- simple Web services for sending and receiving SMS and retrieving delivery reports
- possibility to create your own gateway module other than built-in gateway module
- enhanced phone book
- message templates
- simple Web-based control panel

Organizations can use PlaySMS for:

- Mass marketing
- Query a directory service
- SMS for advertising Web sites
- Premium SMS for quizzes
- M-commerce

What will users expect once you release version 1.0?

Anton Raharja: Version 1.0 will be able to interface with several popular gateways. It will include a theme engine, so you can merge it with your existing Web site or portal more easily; and it will offer simpler ways to integrate PlaySMS with existing applications. Users can expect continued improvements on features and a well-maintained project with minimum bugs and security holes. No new features have been requested for quite some time.

As for its usefulness, PlaySMS will fit into various mobile applications and extend their existing functionality.

Are there already implementations of PlaySMS around the world?

Anton Raharja: I've received email from people telling me that they have been using PlaySMS. Uses range from simple personal or company messaging tools to student-teacher communications to commercial solutions like adding advertisements to the Web using SMS.

Are you creating other projects based on PlaySMS?

Anton Raharja: Yes, including medical SMS applications based on PlaySMS, technical support tools using SMS, and several others mobile applications based on PlaySMS. In Indonesia, I established SMS Rakyat, which means "SMS for the People," to provide users a way to handle incoming SMS and use it as input for custom applications for free.

What impact will PlaySMS have as an open source offering by Southeast Asians?

Anton Raharja: For software developers in Asia, being open in application development is hard. After I unveil my application, then [Southeast Asian developers] might start to believe and go the open source way, and the list will get longer and longer, as more Southeast Asians release open source solutions.

What made you go into open source?

Anton Raharja: I have taken code from the open source community for about four or five years now. I "stole" ideas piece by piece from open source software announced on Freshmeat.net. I studied programming from many great open source PHP-based applications such as PHP-Nuke and Mambo. I looked at their Web sites, joined mailing lists and forums; learned how to maintain open source applications, how to develop road maps, how to achieve milestones, and handle support and maintenance. I also earned income by selling, tweaking, installing, and giving training on open source applications. After a while, I became totally convinced that the system works: when you take something from them, you feel you have obligations to give something back to them. So I did, after trying my hands on open source applications --- code from simple form handlers, groupware, CMS, to e-learning and project management software. Eventually I started creating PlaySMS myself, as the "giving" part that I could contribute to the community.

Why in the mobile applications area? Do you think open source will play a much bigger role in mobile applications?

Anton Raharja: With the LAMP platform, you can create anything. I wanted an area where people would easily notice my work and use the application. Web-based mobile applications is an area where no open source application stands prominently, even though open source already plays a major role in mobile applications. Many IT integrators or telecommunications companies use Kannel WAP/SMS Gateway for handling premium SMS services, for instance.

What are your plans with PlaySMS?

Anton Raharja: Version 1.0 should be ready by end of January 2005. In the long run, PlaySMS should fulfill its definition as a mobile portal system, accessible via many communications methods, pluggable into many important applications, able to work with many popular gateways, and used by companies to extend business services.

Are you going to provide professional services?

Anton Raharja: Yes. Open source software needs to be backed up by professional companies. Knowledge is free and given back to the community, but stability and the continued support and maintenance of PlaySMS entail expenses. It's a delicate balance, and therefore professional services are important to ensure the continuity of the project.


PlaySMS shows much promise and potential. While Anton Raharja and his band of Southeast Asian coders are swatting bugs readying PlaySMS version 1.0, they are also making a big contribution to the open source movement, proving that open source is alive and kicking in the region. They're finding that offering their application for the whole world to use for free is an exhilarating experience only the open source movement can provide.

Tex Guevarra is a Philippine-based amateur writer who is curious about open source and is excited about the impact of open systems in societies.

Category:

  • Open Source
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