Wikipedia can be read for free by 350 million mobile phone subscribers in the developing world, its engineering chief has said — a result of partnerships with mobile phone operators which began in Malaysia in 2012.
Wikipedia Zero was inspired by Facebook Zero, an ambition by the social network to colonize new, mobile-centric audiences around the world. For Erik Moller, deputy director of parent organization the Wikimedia Foundation, the project answers two key priorities, building new international audiences and focusing on mobile devices.
Wikipedia Zero allows mobile subscribers to access Wikipedia for free, with no data charges. The program now stretches to Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Jordan and Bangladesh, and this year also added Kosovo, Nepal and Kyrgyzstan.
Moller’s focus has been on apps for the iPhone and Android, as well as allowing contributors to edit on smartphones. “On a technical level, this also means making a platform written for the desktop Web fully mobile-ready, which is a major undertaking,” he said.
Mobile use is important because it is helping to close the digital divide, especially in developing nations where mobile data connections outstrip traditional fixed-line broadband connections. Even then, the cost of Internet access can be prohibitive and therefore impinges on Wikimedia’s “open information for all” principle.
Moller singles out the complex markup and tools required to edit articles, which have a steep learning curve that can deter new users.
“We’re building a new visual editing environment without markup. In terms of empowering anyone on the planet to contribute to our projects, we believe this is the single most important technical change that’s under way,” Moller said.
Number two to newly installed Wikimedia executive director Lila Tretikov, Moller shares Tretikov’s drive to improve Wikipedia’s technology, describing it as “in some respects a Web site following 20th century paradigms.”
A San Francisco-based German journalist, author and software developer with strong, outspoken views on a range of topics, Moller was first an editor of Wikipedia under the pseudonym of “Eloquence,” then a developer.
He was appointed Wikimedia’s chief research officer in 2005, but resigned after just three months, citing personal differences with board members.
Moller was elected to the board, and in 2006 replaced Angela Beesley — the British cofounder of Wikia alongside Jimmy Wales — before resigning in 2007 to take up the role of deputy director.
Moller’s appointment caused a furor when previous articles written by him appeared to defend pedophilia and incest, prompting a response in which he stated: “It’s really simple. If the child doesn’t want it, is neutral or ambigious, it’s inappropriate.”
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