Update on Wikipedia Zero (Wikipedia available on mobile phones free of data charges in many developing countries)


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Update on Wikipedia Zero (Wikipedia available on mobile phones free of data charges in many developing countries)

I recently presented at a conference in the UK about the Wikipedia WikiProject Sanitation (see my post here: forum.susana.org/forum/categories/156-co...gh-uk-feedback#14351 ). One of the things I mentioned there in passing is the free mobile phone access to Wikipedia in some countries (i.e. without data charges by the mobile operators). One person in the audience enquired to find out more about this.

Therefore, I thought it would be useful to give an update on "Wikipedia Zero" here. It is an initiative to get mobile phone operators to allow users to access Wikipedia pages from their mobile phones free of data charges in developing countries where deals have been struck.

This is the latest: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Wikipedia_Zero

I took some paragraphs from there:

For many readers in the Global South, the primary (and often only) access to the internet is via mobile. However, mobile data costs are a significant barrier to internet usage. We created Wikipedia Zero so that everyone can access all the free knowledge on Wikipedia, even if they can't afford the mobile data charges.

[...] So far we've launched Wikipedia Zero in 61 countries with 69 operators. We estimate that more than 400 million people can now access Wikipedia free of data charges. Our goal is to work with every mobile operator on the planet.


Concept and experience

Implementing Wikipedia Zero is simple. The operator "zero-rates" access to Wikimedia sites in their billing system, so their subscribers will not incur data charges while accessing Wikipedia and the sister projects on the mobile web or apps. Wikimedia recognizes the user is on that operator's network and serves a banner on the top of the page indicating free data courtesy of their mobile operator, which reinforces a positive brand experience for the operator. When the user leaves the Wikimedia sites, they see a warning message and are asked to confirm, so there is no confusion or risk of surprise charges. Wikipedia Zero itself is not a separate product from the core Wikipedia mobile site.

And here is the list of countries and mobile operators partners: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Mobile_partnerships

James Heilman also sent me some powerpoint slides (see attached below, of course provided as open access under CC-BY SA licence) where one slide (number 37) had the following explanation on Wikipedia Zero in the notes field:


There have been some significant technological changes that are putting Wikipedia within the reach of more people than ever before. Mobile technology is knocking down the physical barriers to the Internet for people in the developing world. The digital last mile is being bridged so more than ever we need to think about the language last mile.

Bridging the digital last mile is relatively new. When Wikipedia, the world's greatest collaborative project in history, first started, billions were left out of Wikipedia's riches, as they were left out of the internet, because of lack of physical access. Entrenched in poverty, living on a dollar a day, internet connectivity was inconceivable.

Lack of Internet connectivity meant that the fabulous wealth of knowledge of Wikipedia was just available to those who were already relatively wealthy. No Internet meant that the majority world would have little to NO access to critical medical information.

Fortunately, three technological advances are bridging the digital divide between the digital haves and the digital have nots; between those of us who can access the riches of the internet, and those who cannot.

The first advance that is bridging the digital divide is, of course, the proliferation of mobile devices. Today, to take the example of the least connected continent, 65% to 75% of the citizens of Africa have access to a cellphone. And many of those cellphones are able to connect to the Internet. In fact, for the 31% of the developing world that is online, the cellphone is the device of choice for Internet connectivity. In Africa, 4 times as many people are surfing the web by mobile phones as by computer.

The availability of cheap, mobile telephony, and of smart phones that are dropping in price all the time, is bringing the internet, finally, into the hands of more and more people. Even people who are living on two dollars a day, connecting up to the world is so important that they will do without a meal, or will walk rather than take the bus, just to pay to recharge their cell phone. People who earn two dollars a day are willing to spend 12 cents a day on their phone. That's how important it is to them.

But the explosion of cellphone access is not enough on its own. Poor people tend to use their phones for the cheapest of activities: sending SMS messages. For those people living at the bottom of the economic pyramid, there are major financial barriers to accessing knowledge. Data charges are a huge barrier to the internet for most of the developing world.

That's why the second big advance, Wikipedia Zero, is so exciting. For those of you who don't know about this potentially world-changing initiative, Wikipedia Zero offers access to Wikipedia, free of all data charges, in countries where agreements have been signed with the telecommunications companies.

Today Wikipedia is available, free of data charges, for example in Uganda, Tunisia, Malaysia, Niger, Kenya, Montenegro, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India.

And this is just the beginning.
The next challenge: not all of the world's poor have access to a smart phone. So Wikimedia, with South Africa's Praekelt Foundation are working on the USSD protocol to enable the wealth of Wikipedia's knowledge to be available on a basic or feature phone.* A mother will be able to query something, such as malaria, and get back 10 lines about malaria on her tiny cellphone screen.
So the technology that wasn't here when Wikipedia started is here today to bridge the digital last mile. This is fantastic news. But now it's up to us to empower communities to bridge the language last mile for their languages.

* Information by James on 1 August 2015: "The USSD protocol efforts fell through. We however want to get information preloaded on phones."

Has any of you got first hand experience with using Wikipedia free of data charges from a mobile phone in a developing country?
(And what are your experiences with using Wikipedia in languages other than English? Should the WikiProject Sanitation also be looking at the French, Spanish and Portuguese Wikipedia pages, for example?)

Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
Independent consultant located in Ulm, Germany
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @EvMuench
Founder of WikiProject Sanitation: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Sanitation
My Wikipedia user profile: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:EMsmile

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