Published in The National on September 8, 2000

PNG Net Search … found

From thousands of kilometres away, via e-mail, LENA LIEW brings you the story of the Papua New Guinean website PNG Net Search.

What were you doing with your life outside of school when you were 13 years old?

Besides school homework that probably went undone until the last minute, there must have been a lot of television, music and fooling around with siblings, cousins, friends and neighbours. Perhaps for some of us there was extra tuition on certain school subjects, sports, church and community work … etc. Then again, how many of us had Internet access at home when we were 13?

Well, one 13-year boy did … and he created a Papua New Guinean website called "PNG Net Search" (http://www.pngnetsearch.com) together with his 15-year-old sister.

Via e-mail between Port Moresby and Nashville, Tennessee in the United States, Steven Matainaho told Tok IT how he and sister, Megan, started up PNG Net Search in March 1998.
Born to a father from Mortlock Islands (Bougainville) and a mother from Irupara (Central), Steven and Megan are now aged 16 and 18 respectively. They are currently living in the US where their father is working on his PhD. at Vanderbilt University.

"My Dad has been the driving force behind my sister and I since we showed an in the Internet," says Steven.

Dad - Fifaia Matainaho - is an environmental engineer on study leave from the University of Technology in Lae. He obtained his Masters in Engineering from the University of Melbourne in Australia. That was where his wife, Karo, obtained her Masters in Business Administration around the same time. Mrs Matainaho was formerly financial controller and company secretary of BOC (PNG) before THE family relocated to the US.

Steven is in Year 11 at Hume Fogg Academic High School, a school ranked within the top 20 high school throughout the US.

"Hume Fogg is a magnet school for specially selected students who are consistently the top 15 per cent scorers in US schools.

"Students who fail to maintain their high grades are transferred back to their regional high schools," he says.

As expected, homework is a major bane, and our young friend says he spends many a late night hunched over his books.

"We are given homework everyday and many times I have stayed up late into the night to finish my homework.

"However, I like this school because it prepares me for university. We are made to work like university students.

"My favourite subjects are mathematics and mixed choir."

When he first went to the US in 1996, Steven attended J.T. Moore Middle School, where he completed Year Seven and Eight being winner of the "Top Student Shield" for two years straight.

Megan is a freshman in Tennessee State University, majoring in computer science. She was named in a list of "Who’s Who among American Students" for the 1998/1999 academic year.

Both were students of Coronation International School in Lae before they left for the US.

Prior to setting up PNG Net Search, Steven was the administrator of the message board Wantoks Forum, assisting the founder of PNG Online (http://www.niugini.com) Taholo Kami. (See Tok It Page article last week.) The impetus for Steven to start another Papua New Guinean website came when Mr Kami’s brother started an internet service provider (ISP) called Wantok Communications, which took over management of Wantok Forum.

"The idea to start a PNG-specific search engine to complement a network support system in the form of a message board came from my father and my uncle," Steven says.

The two senior Matainahos had apparently observed Steven’s affinity for programming and information technology on the web.

Steven says his parents and uncle have so far spent more than US$1,000 (K2,850) buying books on programming and financing his web-ventures.

"Mother is the one more concerned about the money.

"But both my parents realise the need to spend money to help promote PNG. The idea was, if it was going to help my sister and I learn something, then it would be worth it."

On his part, it has been hours and hours spent researching, experimenting and learning from various sources on the Web.

Maintaining the website from his father’s home PC after school, Steven puts his fixed costs at US$330 (K942) and operational costs at US$30 each month.

PNG Net Search is not generating any revenue. It was after all meant to be a non-profit venture for Steven and Megan to gain experience and help promote PNG.

"The website is hosted virtually by the California-based Verio Network Solutions, and powered by Gossamer Threads.

"The biggest initial hurdle was the setting up of the script for the website," Steven says.

Two-and-a half years down the road, the website is pretty much self-sustaining.

After all, PNG-related sites or individuals can add their links to PNG Net Search themselves. These links are then validated the next day.

Steven nevertheless regularly monitors the website. Once in a while he files away into archives the messages on Tok Save Board, and removes messages with rude language.

"PNG Net Search this year received an award from "Links2go.com" for being a key resource site on PNG.

"Ranked 38 out of 50 websites specially selected from among the million and sites on the Web, PNG Net Search become the most-cited Papua New Guinean website by IT writers.

"The hit counter is monitored by ‘Linkexchange’ only for the front page of the website; more than 300 hits per day has been recorded," Steven says.

The other pages, for example the Tok Save Board, could be recording more hits since there are surely people out there who bookmark certain pages so that they can go straight there two clicks faster.

Our inspiring young man is nevertheless not resting on his laurels.

The high volume of overseas companies wanting to add their website to PNG Net Search has prompted Steven to create a separate site which currently receives more than 200 unvalidated additions a day.

"The database of over 8,000 overseas websites will soon be transferred to Netaze.com, which I am currently designing. I hope to sell the site after its completion."

Other projects on the drawing board include "Pngproducts.com", a directory of PNG-made products that Steven and Megan developed last year with financial support from their uncle, Dr Teatulohi Matainaho, a UPNG medical faculty lecturer.

For boosting PNG’s profile as a tourist destination, Steven recently set up "Surfpng.com". And to begin generating revenue from their net-ventures, Steven and Megan set up an online bookstore, "Allabc.com", which is in the final stages of becoming an "Amazon.com" affiliate.

"Allabc.com was created to generate some income to help us with hosting fees and other related costs.

"Although we were approved two years ago to be part of the Amazon.com affiliate program, we did not follow through with that. Only recently have we been in contact with Amazon.com to restate our interest, and they are now sorting things out for us."

Despite link requests from a Hong Kong-based enterprise and income-earning opportunities from a US advertising firm as well as from PNG, Steven and Megan are all too aware that academic excellence must come first. And so their net-ventures remain a hobby.

Steven credits Mr Kami for giving him that head start in website programming. Most of all, it was thanks to the encouragement and financial support from his parents and uncle that Steven is successfully engaging in a positive activity he enjoys and promoting his beloved homeland at the same time.

"We look forward to returning to PNG at the end of this year. Hopefully, I will have the same opportunities to continue with my Internet activities."