There are technology breakthroughs that make me proud of what I’m doing – informing the world about them. Leaving aside gadgets that get incremential updates year after year, I’m talking about 3D printers that make homes, for example. A practical use of technology where the life of people is substantially improved. Such is the case with Wikipedia Zero, an initiative that wants to bring free access to Wikipedia.

Wikipedia Zero is one of the boldest and most laudable projects I’ve seen in a while. To make it short – Wikipedia partners with carriers across the globe in order to offer free mobile access to Wikipedia. Obviously, for that to work, people would need a mobile portable device. Say what you want about Wikipedia and its founder, but it’s one of the greatest websites that have ever been created (if not, the greatest in matter of free knowledge).

Wikipedia Zero will bring free information access to developing countries

Wikipedia could be free for all in a bright future

Wikipedia is a non-profit organization, so, right from the start you should know that its sole goal is to spread free information to those that really need it. Wikipedia wants to reach almost 1 billion people by the end of 2015; this year, they’ve managed to complete agreementes to offer free Wikipedia access to 230 million people! Now, that’s something! And we know that mobile subscriptions are always increasing, currently reaching up to 6 billion.

Also, PC sales are declining and tablets are outselling laptops. While not everybody will be able to buy a smartphone or tablet (albeit there are cheap alternatives), it’s a sure fact people are becoming more and more interested in information on-the-go. Wikipedia Zero is a project that is currently available to countries in Africa and Middle East. But the real “explosion” will be when it will be available for such countries as India, Brazil or bigger other Asian countries. We know that the Chinese government has its own opinions about the Internet, so it might take a while before Wikipedia Zero will land there.

Started with Africa, expanding to Middle East

Wikipedia Zero has started this February, in Kenya, when Wikimedia Foundation managed to close a deal with Orange and to start offering free access to 70 million customers in the region. Right from the start, the most obvious issue and challenge was the fact that people don’t have smartphones. Back then, Orange representatives said:

Although there is increasing ownership of smart phones, there is still a large number of people who cannot afford them. In order to widen reach, Orange should consider marketing lower cost smart phones.

Just as with tablets, there are cheap smartphones available on the market, such as another Indian device, Lava S12. And we need not to rely only on Android in order to make low-end smartphones. We have such alternatives, already, as Firefox OS or Tizen OS. And for these operating systems to have at least some success, the partnership with carriers is essential. I am confident that in the near future, we will have cheaper smartphones that will become accessible even for those that live in third world countries.

Wikipedia Zero might ring a bell for those that use Facebook a lot. In May, 2010, Facebook announced that they were launching a 0.facebook.com page, that you could access, free of charge. It might be just a similarity in the names of the programs, but it’s good to know that you can have (in some countries) free access to Facebook and Wikipedia. Now that’s what I call a connected world.

Free knowledge for all!

This is how a Wikipedia page would look like on free access

This awesome program from Jimmy Wales and Company is just starting. It is expected that Wikipedia Zero will provide “free knowledge” access to countries in Asia, Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America. It’s also interesting to note that Wikipedia has thought about a solution for those that don’t have smartphones or tablets:

We are working on developing SMS and USSD services in which a user can search Wikipedia and read articles without a data-enabled phone. Unlike Wikipedia Zero, which utilizes the existing mobile site, these programs require additional infrastructure. For that reason, we anticipate being able to roll out those services to partners in the second half of 2012.

If you are excited about this project and would like some features to be enabled, you can submit yours here. Also, there are feature phones that have the WAP view option. And it seems that Wikimedia has thought about that, as well. There will be a dedicated Android application, for those that have Android on their mobile devices. Currently, Wikipedia Zero is available in the following countries and at the following carriers:

  • Uganda, Orange
  • Tunisia, Orange
  • Malaysia, Digi
  • Niger, Orange
  • Kenya, Orange
  • Montenegro, Telenor
  • Cameroon, Orange
  • Ivory Coast, Orange
  • Thailand, dtac October
  • Saudi Arabia, STC
  • Bahrain, STC
  • Kuweit, STC

For some, Africa might be perceived as the “poor, black continent” where nothing happens. But you should know that, in fact, Africa’s mobile phone industry is booming and represents the fastest-growing mobile market in the world, being second to Asia in size. Now, they just need to access Wikipedia Zero more often, become more knowleadgeable and strengthen their economy.

PHOTO CREDITS: Gates Foundation
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was the Managing Editor of Technology Personalized. He now writes about Windows 10 apps and reviews them on WindowsReport. Believes that technology is the main engine of civilization. Send him a tweet or make him your Facebook friend