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Wikipedia trials new text-based service

Graeme Parton

Wikipedia has started to pilot a new service which involves it sending articles to users via SMS, as opposed to presenting them online. It is thought that  the idea could benefit users in emerging markets such as Africa.

The internet encyclopaedia is collaborating with Airtel, an Indian mobile operator, on the scheme, which is currently being trialled in parts of Kenya.

The company is hoping to extend its offerings to those who aren’t able to access the internet. The testing phase will be in place for the next three months, according to the Wikimedia Foundation’s Dan Foy.

He explained that across the developing world, smartphones with data connections were still relatively rare and that billions of people are still unable to use Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia Zero service requires users to type *515# into their keypads; they will then be sent a message which prompts them to search for the articles they’re looking for.

Cheap, basic mobile devices are common in Africa, and SMS is still a hugely popular means of communication, with one service provider, M-Pesa, boasting more than 17 million users across Kenya alone.

Many of the developed world’s biggest tech firms see Africa as the biggest opportunity for growth in the future. For example, Californian social giant Facebook has admitted that it is close to the saturation point with its current markets, and has been looking at ways to adapt the services it offers to work for those using basic equipment.

Tom Jackson, an editor from African tech news site Human IPO, explained that Wikipedia’s new initiative would go down well in the region. He said that the latest developments will only boost the recent drive to make more educational material available for people across Africa as the main stumbling block had previously been the lack of internet access on the continent.

Graeme has experience creating content for online sources and for the radio, and at university he studied Multimedia Journalism.

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