French software programmer Renaud Gaudin on Saturday provided an insight into some of the difficulties the developing world faces in gaining access to the Internet.
Speaking at a seminar during Wikimania 2007 -- an annual three-day conference taking place in Taipei -- Gaudin described his efforts to create an "offline Wikipedia" for people in the "unconnected part of the world."
Gaudin has been working on a project named moulin, which means windmill in French.
"Basically, moulin is a fully interactive, offline version of the entire Wikipedia, without pictures, on a CD," said Gaudin, who works as a volunteer at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in the West African country of Mali.
The project was the brainchild of Gaudin and Frederic Renet, who realized that while many organizations focused on bringing computers to people in developing countries, few have paid attention to making content available for people who do not have access to the Internet.
"Wikipedia has also been developing a project called `Wikipedia on DVD,' a CD collection of around 2,000 Wikipedia articles, but we want to do more than that. We wanted to have the full Wikipedia on the CD because people in Africa don't know about too many things," Gaudin said.
The current French version of moulin contains around 450,000 Wikipedia articles, he said.
Moulin started off as a side project of Geekcorps Mali, an NGO Gaudin worked for. The initial prototype of the system ran on a Nokia cellphone. Gaudin later rewrote the software and developed the current version before volunteering for his second tour to Mali.
Gaudin, together with several friends who have provided assistance in making the CD available in multiple languages, said he has sought help from organizations such as the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization. However, OLPC turned him down.
"OLPC said it would develop a system of its own since their project is targeted at children and [they] do not need the whole Wikipedia," he said.
Gaudin said his biggest problems were a lack of distribution sources and funding, although the project has received funding from US aid agency USAID. The lack of funding had made it difficult to distribute the French version CDs across West Africa, he said.
Nevertheless, Gaudin said he remained optimistic and has plans to develop a pocket device version of moulin and to set up a distribution network in Africa.
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