Wikipedia to go offline with SMS service

Wikipedia has teamed up with telecoms giant Airtel to launch a free SMS service for mobile users who do not have an internet connection, reports ubergizmo.com.

The site set to roll out Wikipedia Zero in Kenya, which is one of the many African countries being targeted by the initiative.

Many Africans use mobile phones to communicate with each other, however, the technology is often cheap and will not allow the user to hook up to the internet. It’s for this reason that popular sites like Wikipedia remain inaccessible to those in developing countries, which is something the group is trying to address.

Bbc.co.uk says the trial will last three months and, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, will eventually introduce the group’s insights to “billions” of people around the world.

Indeed, if the pilot for Wikipedia Zero is successful, the service will be introduced to users all over the world – even those in Europe, where a strong internet connection isn’t always guaranteed.

Users of Wikipedia Zero can activate the service by dialling *515# on their devices. This will send a text message asking what they’d like to search for, with a text response including the request giving them access to a wealth of Wiki information.

The system runs purely off phone signal and does not require any additional applications. Tom Jackson, the editor of African technology news website HumanIPO, says the move represents a huge step forward for Africa.

“There has been a steady move towards putting educational material online in many African countries, led mainly by the private sector rather than government, but access to the internet remains a problem given that most Africans surf on their phones rather than browsers.”

Joking about Wikipedia’s reputation in the Western world, he added: “I just hope it comes with the same warnings that European and American kids are given about taking Wikipedia at face value!”