Wikipedia sees future in cellphones

2012-12-13 14:15


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New York - Cellphones could be Wikipedia's path to global domination, but may also pose a risk to the crowd-sourcing culture the online encyclopaedia relies on, said chief executive Sue Gardner.

On one hand, said Gardner, who is also executive director of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, cellphones are by far the best way to reach vast new audiences in the developing southern hemisphere where people rely heavily on handheld devices, rather than desktops or laptops.

"Wikipedia is most popular and most effective in richer countries, because they have fast band, good internet penetration and people own lots of devices," she said in New York.

"In developing countries, people are going straight to the internet only with mobile phones."

In Uganda and Kenya, mobile operators allow free access to Wikipedia and learners from Sinenjongo High School in Joe Slovo Park outside Cape Town are lobbying Vodacom, MTN and Cell C to make the service available in SA.


To make Wikipedia take root in Latin America and Arabic-speaking countries, for example, the huge organisation wants cellphone companies to offer access without charge.

"Data charges are a big barrier to internet use in poor countries," Gardner said, adding that a streamlined, text version of the encyclopaedia will be built to reduce those phone charges and speed downloads.

In SA, Vodacom said that it was possible to make a service like this available, but the operator could not commit itself.

"We think this kind of programme is achievable, but we will have to investigate its affordability for a mass rollout," Mthobeli Tengimfene, executive head of the Vodacom Foundation told News24.

Ironically, though, the rise of the smart phone and incremental retreat of larger computers could threaten the lifeblood of Wikipedia, which is the crowd-based, volunteer collaboration between readers in creating content.

People may constantly demand more information at their fingertips, but the question ultimately may be: Who takes the time to provide it if they're glued to their smartphone?

"I think a lot about the shift to mobile devices from laptops and desktops. It looks that the internet is taking turn toward people using devices for consuming content more than creating it," Gardner said.
Read more on:    vodacom  |  wikipedia  |  mobile
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