You can't Stop the Signal

Say you need to know something but you don't have an Internet connection. Tricky. You can look things up in a book, but suppose there aren't that many around, and the few that are around are a bit out of date and don't address the topic you're interested in. What then? Well say you have a mobile phone. Not one of those fancy smart phones with all the Internet and apps and so forth built right in, but just a really basic mobile phone with basic text messaging capability. In Kenya, that will soon be enough to start getting you some answers:
Wikipedia is probably a regular part of your online life. And if you own a smartphone, you can take advantage of apps and extensions that give you access to its vast repository even when you're offline. But what if you don't have a smartphone, or an easily accessible Internet connection? In an attempt to increase the number of people who can use Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation has announced the pilot for Wikipedia Zero, a technology that lets basic feature phone (or "dumbphone") owners look up and consume Wikipedia content via text message. The Wikimedia Foundation says the three-month pilot, in partnership with the telecoms company Airtel and the South African mobile technologies nonprofit Praekelt Foundation, will open Wikipedia up to at least 70 million new users in sub-Saharan Africa, beginning in Kenya.
A project like this one is a nice complement a program like One Laptop per Child. Whereas that program provides computing equipment where it is needed in the developing world, Wikipedia's project will provide access to people in the developing world on equipment they already have. Seems like a great way way to fill the gap until smart phones are as prominent in sub-Saharan Africa as the basic ones currently are.


Photo by Southview legion.


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