Wikipedia tests SMS entries for emerging markets


Wikipedia has begun testing a service that sends articles via text message, aimed at emerging markets in Africa.

The online encyclopaedia has partnered with mobile operator Airtel to offer the free initiative which is being tested out in Kenya.

It is hoped the service will be used to reach people who do not have internet access.

Emerging markets operator group Airtel has teamed up with the Wikimedia foundation to provide free access to Wikipedia via mobile devices. Wikipedia Zero will provide Wikipedia access to 70 million new users in sub-saharan Africa, starting in Kenya.

The firm said it can work with even the most basic feature phone, without the need for a smartphone application. The firm said that such technology enables it to reach a group of people that it has never been able to reach before: mobile phone customers who don’t have internet access.

How it works

Users can search for an article in the same way people already use their phone to check their balance or add airtime; a subscriber simply dials *515# on their phone, and they’ll get a text message inviting them to search Wikipedia. The subscriber enters a topic in the same manner they would send a text message and can then select any Wikipedia article.

At this point, about a paragraph of the article is sent to the phone via text, and the subscriber can respond to continue reading that article.

The Wikimedia Foundation added that it partnered with the Praekelt Foundation, a South African nonprofit with expertise in text messaging, to develop the necessary technology for the project.

The trial will be active for three months, said Dan Foy, technical partner manager for the Wikimedia Foundation.

"Throughout most of the developing world, data-enabled smartphones are the exception, not the rule," he wrote.

"That means billions of people currently cannot see Wikipedia on their phones."

Read the official blog here

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