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Bringing Wikipedia To More Users, One Text Message At A Time

The company has begun a three-month trial of Wikipedia Zero in Kenya. It works exclusively via SMS and is designed to reach the millions of people who have mobile phones but no Internet access.

What’s the Latest Development?

This month Wikipedia began a pilot of a new service, Wikipedia Zero, that sends articles to mobile phones via text message. The trial is taking place in Kenya, where the company is partnering with mobile provider Airtel, and will last for three months. To access the service, the user only has to dial *515# to receive a text prompting them to look for articles. Each article is divided into easy-to-read, text-message-sized chunks. 

What’s the Big Idea?

On the Wikimedia Foundation blog, executive Dan Foy puts it simply: “Throughout most of the developing world, data-enabled smartphones are the exception, not the rule. That means billions of people currently cannot see Wikipedia on their phones.” Africa in particular has seen an explosion of feature phone usage in recent years, and in some ways the industry is more advanced there than elsewhere, as companies like Wikipedia and Facebook look for new ways to work within the existing technology infrastructure. While HumanIPO editor Tom Jackson says Wikipedia Zero will be welcomed, he also hopes “it comes with the same warnings that European and American kids are given about taking Wikipedia at face value!”

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Read it at BBC News

It’s plain to see that I’m an optimist, sometimes more than is socially comfortable. The ease with which I dismiss the disastrous economic decline above serves as one example of that. I wrote that the recession will benefit our political system, and, before I cut this line, as having “rewarded our company for methodical execution and ruthless efficiency by removing competitors from the landscape.” I make no mention of the disastrous effects on millions of people, and the great uncertainty that grips any well-briefed mind, because it truly doesn’t stand in the foreground of my mind (despite suffering personal loss of wealth). Our species is running towards a precipice with looming dangers like economic decline, political unrest, climate crisis, and more threatening to grip us as we jump off the edge, but my optimism is stronger now than ever before. On the other side of that looming gap are extraordinary breakthroughs in healthcare, communications technology, access to space, human productivity, artistic creation and literally hundreds of fields. With the right execution and a little bit of luck we’ll all live to see these breakthroughs — and members of my generation will live to see dramatically lengthened life-spans, exploration and colonization of space, and more opportunity than ever to work for passion instead of simply working for pay. Instead of taking this space to regale you with the many personal and focused changes I intend to make in 2009, let me rather encourage you to spend time this year thinking, as I’m going to, more about what we can do in 2009 to positively affect the future our culture will face in 2020, 2050, 3000 and beyond.

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