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"Dumbphones" To Get A Bit Smarter With Wikipedia Zero

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, October 28 2013

Times have been tough for Wikipedia. Earlier in October the Wikimedia Foundation disabled a ring of more than 250 fake accounts used by a public relations firm to write and edit company pages. The scandal has prompted at least one writer to wonder if Wikipedia is getting worse. Other have pointed to the fact that there are 20,000 fewer active contributing editors now than in 2007, and blame the “crushing bureaucracy” and “abrasive atmosphere” created by the current collective, which is 90 percent male. In spite of the recent bad press, the beleaguered site has announced a new pilot program called Wikipedia Zero, which will provide access to 70 million new users without computers, smartphones or data plans.

Wikipedia Zero is a free SMS service. Users call *515# on their simple feature phone and wait for a text message. Through a series of back and forth texts, the user can specify the search term, the page they want to see, and the section they want to read first.

With partners Airtel and the Praekelt Foundation, Wikipedia Zero will launch the program in Kenya.

In a Foundation blog post, Technical Partner Manager at the Wikimedia Foundation Dan Foy wrote:

We’re launching this service with Airtel Kenya as a three-month pilot in order to learn more about how well this works in practice. From the lessons we learn from this pilot, we hope to eventually make this service widely available to reach the billions of people who have mobile phones, but cannot afford access to the internet.

Although Wikipedia has always had its detractors, it has also been called “as accurate as Britannica,” and is a valuable resource. The website follows in the footsteps of “dumbphone”-friendly Facebook Zero, which TechPresident noted, could be a useful tool for development workers in Uganda.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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