IF telecommunications companies can be compelled to interconnect, e-commerce in the country will do even better, the founder of a Cebu-based discussion forum site said.

Gerald Yuvallos, founder of Istorya.net, said the poor quality of the country’s Internet infrastructure is one of the challenges faced by online-based services.

He said the government needs to provide support and the right infrastructure to make the quality of Internet services reliable and encourage more people to go online to buy or sell items.

Although originally created to serve as a forum for discussion, Istorya.net has become an online marketplace for locals. Yuvallos said they created the feature about two years after the site was established, when they noticed most of their members used it as a platform to trade goods.

Yuvallos said that in other countries, telcos either get their bandwidth from the government or from other telcos in the area. This makes more sense than for connections to go overseas then return to the country simply because local telcos refuse to be connected. He noted that in more developed countries, such arrangements are covered by legislation. He hopes that local telcos will have the same kind of partnership to improve the quality and accessibility of Internet access in the country.

Because locals are saving on bandwidth, Yuvallos said, Internet users prefer to allocate their resources to other Internet activities.

He believes the market is not yet saturated and that even if another player enters the scene, existing online platforms will survive. Traditional businesses will benefit from better Internet services as well.

Yuvallos and OLX senior marketing manager Maria Regina Aguilar were the guests during the first TechTalks Kapihan, a monthly talk show meant to discuss issues to promote tech entrepreneurship.

Although often compared to one another, Yuvallos and Aguilar agree that they do not consider each other as competitors.

While OLX is an online classifieds platform, Yuvallos considers Istorya as a community, where friends can hang out online. He explained that they did not intend for it to become a marketplace but included the feature to make it more organized when their users engaged in trade. He considers social media like Facebook and Instagram as bigger competitors for them. “The revenue was just a bonus,” he said.

Gossip topics generate the top activity in Istorya, followed by the marketplace. Other groups that are active are experts who discuss topics they are interested in such as different professions and hobbies.

The challenge, according to Yuvallos, is to educate more local people that there are local sites they can join.

They also employ different approaches in promoting their sites. Istorya.net gained a wide base by word of mouth and referrals. Today, they have about 600,000 unique visits a month. For now, they are making improvements to the user interface and the mobile experience, citing 30 percent of their users access the site from mobile devices.

For OLX, they aggressively promote online buying and selling. On top of paid advertising, they sometimes go house to house to introduce to those who are not often online the opportunity to sell their secondhand items.

Aguilar said online and offline methods work together. While they earn from businesses that pay premiums to ensure their ads are at the top of the listings, she explained that their main goal is to get more Filipinos to use the platform and sell or buy secondhand items.

The safety of buyers was also discussed during the forum. Yuvallos and Aguilar said both customers and sellers should be vigilant in meeting for transactions.

OLX is also set to open their Cebu office and Aguilar said they are opening it up to OLX users as a trading hub so they will feel safer about their transactions.