Wikipedia by text-message

Wikimedia's Wikipedia Zero project will let people look up Wikipedia articles using text-messages. This will bring Wikipedia to billions of people who lack smartphones:

We want to enable access to free knowledge for every last human being. For many readers in developing countries, their primary (and often only) access to the internet is via mobile. However, barriers exist that can prevent users from reading Wikipedia and accessing free knowledge on their mobile devices.

Cost - While handset prices have reduced sharply around the world, data costs are still prohibitively expensive for many users. From the 2010 mobile readers' survey, for example, we saw that 21% of users listed "too much data usage" as a critical barrier to access. That number rises dramatically when we consider people who have capable devices, but are not even yet mobile readers. We need to remove the cost of data as a deterrent to reading Wikipedia.

Speed - The mobile survey also pointed out that speed of connection is the top barrier (44% of users) for using Wikipedia on a mobile phone. Therefore, we need to offset this barrier by offering an experience that loads faster.

There are two outcomes to this. First, new readers will be encouraged to access free knowledge for the first time, knowing that the barriers are low. Second, existing readers will not be obstructed from accessing knowledge when they need and want it.

Wikipedia Zero (via /.)


  1. Unless I’ve misunderstood, what’s being offered with Wikipedia Zero is not the ability to access Wikipedia via text-message a la ChaCha or similar programs, but rather the ability to access the mobile version of Wikipedia through the phone’s browser without incurring any data charges.

    1. This comment on the Slashdot post clarifies:

      The headline is about one program — for non-smartphones that can access by SMS, but not by WAP or HTTP.[…]
      The summary is about a completely different program called Wikipedia Zero where they negotiate with wireless providers to provide access to at zero charge for customers whose handsets have browsers[…]

  2. The only downside I see is that this could cause the total world domination of all knowledge by Stephen Colbert.  Then I reflected and I decided I was OK with that. 

  3. Reminds me of the ever useful google text service, if anyone doesn’t know about it.

    From any phone, you can text a bunch of queries to 46645 (googl). weather chicago, al’s pizza 60610 (for phone number/address), 1 hillbilly way arkansas to 90210, etc. if you ever find yourself without a smartphone, it’s indispensable.

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