Introducing Wikipedia Zero: Free on mobile for 350m users in the developing world

Wikipedia engineering chief Erik Möller has announced that the online encyclopaedia will now be available for free for mobile users in the developing world. The programme, dubbed Wikipedia Zero, is the result of partnerships with mobile phone operators which began in Malaysia in 2012, and aims to improve access to online educational resources for countries in developing nations.

Wikipedia Zero was inspired by Facebook Zero, an initiative undertaken by the social networking giant, whereby providers waive data charges for accessing Facebook on phones via a stripped-down text-only version of its mobile website, located at 0.facebook.com or zero.facebook.com.

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"By working with mobile operators, we can enable anyone to read and edit for free," explained Möller, who is also vice president of engineering and product development.

"We estimate that 350 million subscribers worldwide are eligible to use Wikipedia Zero."

The programme now stretches to Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India, Jordan and Bangladesh, and this year also added Kosovo, Nepal and Kyrgyzstan to the list.

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"Hundreds of millions of people are coming online using mobile phones," Möller told the press.

"We must provide the best possible experience for these users, both for reading and for contributing content, to truly enable every person on the planet to share in the sum of all knowledge."

In the developing world today, mobile data connections often outstrip traditional fixed line broadband connections. Even then, data charges are often high, and prove prohibitive for the more than one billion people in the world who live on less than one dollar (£0.60) a day, and the 2.7 billion who live on less than two dollars (£1.19).

At the end of July, Facebook also rolled out its long-anticipated Internet.org programme, similarly designed to increase connectivity and access to online resources in the developing world.

The programme is being rolled out initially in the form of an app available to Airtel subscribers in Zambia, although the social networking giant plans to expand the programme in due course.

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