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Posts Tagged ‘Wikipedia Zero’

MTN South Africa responds to Sinenjongo High School open letter and launches Wikipedia Zero

MTN South Africa’s video response to the open letter written by the 2013 12A class of Sinenjongo High School. The original video was uploaded to and was released under a creative commons license.

Wikipedia Zero is an initiative started by the Wikimedia Foundation to create partnerships with mobile carriers who provide access to Wikipedia free of data charges. On February 14, 2014, MTN South Africa, one of four cellular carriers addressed in an open letter by a class at Sinenjongo High School in South Africa announced via a YouTube video that they would provide access to Wikipedia without data charges via the Opera Mini browser. They are the first South African operator to do so, and the first to answer the Sinenjongo High School students’ plea.

From the video:

“Hi. This is an open letter to the youth of South Africa, and the students of Sinenjongo High School in Cape Town. You recently shared a video asking South Africa’s cellular networks to give their customers free access to Wikipedia. We think this is a wonderful idea. We know that many schoolchildren in this country don’t have access to research material, which can make excelling at school so much more difficult. That’s why MTN is proud to be the first South African cellular network to make Wikipedia free. Free Wikipedia means access to a wealth of knowledge on just about every topic, giving a boost not only to schoolchildren, but to our whole education system of South Africa. We hope that by changing one small thing, we can change everything. To the learners of Sinenjongo High School, who sparked the initiative, we would like to thank you immensely. Thank you.”


Open letter for free access to Wikipedia on mobile in South Africa

This post is available in 8 languages: English Afrikaans العربية •  Español German • Français עברית • Nederlands • Português • русский • isiXhosa


In November 2012, the students of Sinenjongo High School penned an open letter on Facebook, encouraging cellphone carriers to waive data charges for accessing Wikipedia so they can do their homework. In May 2013, filmmaker Charlene Music and I asked them to read their open letter on camera. Below is the video of their letter:

The cost of data is a major obstacle to accessing the free knowledge on Wikipedia for hundreds of millions of people. These students want their cellphone carriers to sign up to Wikipedia Zero, a partnership program organized by the Wikimedia Foundation to enable mobile access to Wikipedia – free of data charges – in developing countries.

We will be sharing the longer documentary about the class as soon as it’s ready. While we are still editing the longer documentary, we’re looking for:

1.) A few skilled volunteers who can help to translate captions to accompany the video above and the longer documentary. There are currently eleven official languages in South Africa alone. We need volunteers to create captions for all those languages, and as many other languages as possible.

2.) A motion graphics or digital artist who could help us design and animate a few titles, maps and statistics for the documentary. If you are interested, feel free to email me: vgrigas at or get in touch with me on my talk page User:Vgrigas.

3.) If you agree with these students, please share the video above.

Victor Grigas
Visual Storyteller, Wikimedia Foundation


Telenor Wikipedia Zero partnership will provide free access to Wikipedia on mobile in Myanmar

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Telenor CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas at celebration.

As we announced today, the Wikimedia Foundation and Telenor have expanded our Wikipedia Zero partnership established in early 2012 to now include Myanmar. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was in Oslo today and celebrated the agreement with Telenor’s President and CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas.

On 27 June 2013, Telenor was named one of two successful applicants for a telecommunications license in Myanmar. With new mobile competition the country will see better network service, internet-capable phones and lower prices to drive mobile internet usage.

This is a big deal because Myanmar currently has one of the lowest mobile penetration rates in the world of less than 10 percent – only North Korea and Eritrea have lower rates. The Myanmar government’s stated objective is to increase mobile penetration to 80 percent in the next three years (overall internet penetration is estimated at roughly one percent). Another 40 million people will get mobile service, and many of them will be introduced to the internet for the first time.

With the extension of the partnership, Telenor Myanmar’s future mobile subscribers will be able to access the vast knowledge base in Wikipedia free of data charges. And they will be able to freely contribute their voices to Wikipedia. Today some people in Myanmar use Wikipedia, primarily in English, but usage is not widespread. The local Wikimedia community is working to grow the Burmese language version to reach a wider audience.

Removing barriers to access Wikipedia for people in Myanmar is a major step toward our goal of making the sum of all human knowledge available to everyone. We’re excited to see the benefits of this new partnership unfold.

Carolynne Schloeder
Director of Mobile Programs, Wikimedia Foundation


Wikipedia Zero grows readership in Africa and Asia

A little over six months ago, we deployed our first Wikipedia Zero partnership with Orange in Uganda, offering mobile internet users access to Wikipedia without data charges. Since then, nine additional operators in different countries have launched the program, and twenty-two others are in the current queue. We are now beginning to see the impact of the program, and the first numbers are encouraging: page views from our partners in Niger and Kenya have risen sharply, as have unique visitors in Malaysia.


Our stated mission for the Wikipedia Zero program is to reduce barriers for accessing Wikipedia on mobile devices. From the outset, it has been our goal to manage this program with an analytical lens. With the cost of data removed, we expect an increase in the amount of people accessing Wikipedia for the first time, and also hope that existing readers aren’t deterred from reading more articles. The best proxy to measure this is to look at the growth of Wikipedia page views that come from a mobile partner’s IP address range, and compare it to the growth rate of mobile page views from the rest of that same country. Ultimately, we also want to measure unique visitor additions from the program (to verify that new readers are indeed being introduced), but, internally, we can only measure page views for now.

Page View Growth

Two of our partners agreed to let us publish Wikipedia Zero traffic figures from their network for this blog post. Orange Niger and Orange Kenya both launched the program in July of this year. Both countries are extremely mobile-centric, with 41 percent of all Wikipedia page views in Kenya and 29 percent in Niger coming from mobile (compared to a global total of 12 percent)[1]. The chart below shows Wikipedia mobile page views for each partner and country respectively:

The news is good. Since the month prior to launch, we’ve seen 77 percent growth in page views through Orange Niger (compared to 7 percent for rest of Niger), and 88 percent for Orange Kenya (compared to -7 percent for rest of Kenya). For each of these two operators, their “Wikipedia share” (the percentage of mobile page views in that country from the partner’s customers) has nearly doubled in that time. Data sets for these two partners are both relatively small, so we’re careful to not to draw too many conclusions from them. However, we’re excited about what it might imply for the future impact of the program.

Unique Visitor Growth

As mentioned before, we’re unable to measure partner unique visitors yet through our internal analytics (our public, global figures for unique visitors are measured by comScore Mediamatrix). However, some partners, such as Digi (Telenor’s subsidiary in Malaysia), do have their own mechanisms for measurement. Since they launched the program in May, unique visitors to Wikipedia on their network have jumped 42 percent, from 91,000 to 131,000. Though it is not yet something we can measure on a recurring basis, it’s a telling indicator that Wikipedia Zero partnerships are successful in bringing new readers to the site.

What’s next

These three data points make us really optimistic. They show growth, though we need to continually manage and measure to see if growth persists when we work with larger bases, and also need to test what happens over time. We’ll share more data as we can, and we also hope to deep dive into a few markets over the next several months to learn exactly what type of partner marketing activity is most effective in driving the growth we described. Stay tuned.

Amit Kapoor
Senior Manager, Mobile Partnerships

1. From, Sept 2012 (mobile site page views / total page views): Kenya (4.1 M / 10.4 M), Niger (69 K / 244 K), World (2.2 B / 18.5 B)

Marketing Free Knowledge on Mobile in Africa

Free Wikipedia poster from Orange in Kampala

Over the last few months, we have written several blog posts about the launch of our mobile partnerships to provide access to Wikipedia without incurring data charges, so I thought it would be a good idea now to describe what one of these partners is doing to promote our common program. Orange Uganda is a great example.

Orange Uganda was the first Orange affiliate to launch the free access program we announced together in January. Since April 4, Orange customers in Uganda have been able to access Wikipedia on their mobile phones without accruing any data fees. Our shared philosophy is that this should remove barriers to knowledge access, giving people who previously may not have been able to access Wikipedia the opportunity to do so now.

This raises an interesting challenge in itself, though: how do you communicate the offer of free knowledge to the masses, many of them who have never used Wikipedia before and may not know what it is? Businesses deal with marketing products and services all the time, but promoting the availability of knowledge without cost is a creative endeavor that we need to pursue together with our mobile partners.

Orange’s approach in Uganda has been through an “upgrade your knowledge” campaign that is blanketed throughout the country. They’ve put up over 100,000 flyers, 100 street pole posters (pictured), and noticeboards at 11 universities. In addition, they’ve even run radio ads. All this helps get the word out about free knowledge, and for many people in Uganda, it may be the first time they’ve heard of Wikipedia. In an ideal scenario, someone who doesn’t have internet access at home may see one of these messages, turn on their phone’s browser, and look up their first Wikipedia article.

We’re planning to do similar outreach with a number of our current and future partners. If you’re in one of these countries and you come across any of these materials, let us know, or snap a picture and send it to us. Also, tell us your ideas – how would you market free knowledge on mobile?

Amit Kapoor, Senior Manager, Mobile Partnerships

Wikipedia Zero launches in Malaysia with Digi

Shortcut to Wikipedia Zero on Digi’s portal

For the first time, Wikipedia is now available on mobile free of data charges in Asia. On Monday May 21st, Digi in Malaysia began offering Wikipedia Zero, Wikimedia’s program to reduce cost as a barrier for accessing knowledge on mobile devices. In addition to being the first in Asia, Digi is also the first operator in the Telenor group to roll out the program.

Digi’s 10 million customers can read as many Wikipedia articles as they like (provided they have an internet-capable phone), in any language, through the Opera Mini browser without accruing data fees. The free access applies to the lightweight, text-only mobile version of Wikipedia, which Digi customers can now access by going to Adding to the list of firsts, Digi is the first partner we have worked with to release the text-only site, which is especially beneficial to users with slower connection speeds or lower-end phones. Users can of course still see an image if they go one click deeper, but the download of that image may not be excluded from data charges.

Landing page for Digi customers at

To promote free use of Wikipedia, Digi has placed a link on top of their DigiLive Zero portal on Opera Mini. We are also beginning to work with them, along with all of our current and upcoming partners, to experiment with additional ways to promote the availability of free Wikipedia – and ultimately free knowledge – within their communities.

It’s the beginning of an exciting time, and one in which we hope we can bring the gift of knowledge to a whole new set of people. We’re approaching it in an analytical way, too, and will be measuring the impact these Wikipedia Zero implementations have on both overall page views in the regions along with the increase in local language readership. Malaysia is now the third country in which Wikipedia is available for free on mobile (Tunisia and Uganda are the other two; updates from there coming soon), and many more will be launching in the coming months.

Amit Kapoor, Senior Manager, Mobile Partnerships
Dan Foy, Technical Manager, Mobile Partnerships

Crown Prince Haakon of Norway celebrates Wikipedia Zero

Kristen Skogen Lund, Crown Prince Haakon, Jimmy Wales, and Minister of Development Holmas looking on as Wikipedians demonstrate editing.

On Monday, at the annual Wikipedia Academy in Oslo, Norway, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway joined with Wikimedians to promote free knowledge and to highlight the cultural institutions and businesses that have embraced Wikipedia. They focused on the Wikipedia Zero agreement between the Wikimedia Foundation and Telenor, which enables more than 135 million customers in Asia to access Wikipedia without any additional charge on their data plans.

The celebration was headed by local Wikipedians, who introduced Crown Prince Haakon, Jimmy Wales, Minister of Development Heikki Holmas, and Telenor Executive Vice President Kristin Skogen Lund. Lund opened the celebration by advocating for Wikipedia and its open source format, identifying it as the “main pillar” of Telenor’s policy of openness in Asia.

“It’s an important development we put on track together with the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikipedia movement, and we are proud to contribute to this,” said Lund

Lund then demonstrated Telenor’s commitment to the free knowledge mission by announcing that Telenor had contributed 200 photos to Wikimedia Commons with Creative Commons licensing. “There is so much work to be done globally, but we can also contribute at home,” she said. “We hope that others will do the same.”

The academy broke past participation records by attracting 99 sign-ups and 23 high school assistants, as well as the first ever royal participant. Half of the attendees belonged to GLAM institutions, mainly museums and archives. It marked the beginning of the sector’s national policy of officially acclaiming Wikipedia as a preferred channel of communicating cultural heritage.

Minister Holmas, Crown Prince Haakon, and Jimmy Wales

The 100 chairs of the academy room were all filled up, with people standing along the walls during the award ceremony for Wiki Loves Monuments 2011 and the local Wikipedian of the Year. The latter prize went to meteorologist Frode Korneliussen and the Catholic parish priest Claes Tande, who has 180,000 edits and more than 13,000 new articles.

During a course on how to edit Wikipedia, we learned that Minister Holmaas is an active Wikipedia user, and editor. Ten Wikipedia editors from the local Drömtorp High School were recruited to help teach the course. The students, with assistance from Wales, taught Crown Prince Haakon, Lund and Holmaas how to patrol, supervise RSS feeds, and recognize vandalism. The Crown Prince followed the lectures intensely and expressed admiration for the elaborate tools that administrators and patrollers use on Wikipedia.

This year’s academy coincided with the last day of the trial of Utøya terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo City court house, only a kilometer away. In the local media’s coverage of the academy, they focused on the efforts of the Norwegian Wikipedia community to keep extremists from making their imprint on articles. Jimmy Wales explained the Wikipedia model as one of openness and democratic debate, which helps the project attain a neutral point of view.

The morning after, Wikimedia Norway vice chairman Erlend Bjørtvedt appeared on the morning news, explaining how a corps of 150 norwegian patrollers and administrators on four continents, have managed to uphold the neutrality of disputed articles by a mix of patrolling, reverting and limited article blocking.

Erlend Bjørtvedt, Vice Chairman, Wikimedia Norway 

Wikipedia at no data cost is appealing to mobile readers

The mobile web is growing at a phenomenal pace. According to research, it will outpace the desktop internet web in 2014, when approximately 1.7 billion users will access the net on their mobile phone, many of them from the Global South, compared to 1.65 billion desktop web users. As part of our mission to provide free knowledge to everyone, we are committed to enhancing our mobile platform, and have made several improvements to the reading user experience. But most importantly, we recently launched a partnership with Orange to provide Wikipedia at no data cost to mobile readers in Africa and the Middle East.

To understand our current Wikipedia mobile users across different geographies and prioritize product features, we conducted a survey of Wikipedia mobile readers. You can read more about its methodology on Meta wiki.

Looking at the data from the survey, there is a strong case to be made for making Wikipedia accessible without data charges on mobile devices.  Over half of Wikipedia mobile readers (52 percent) said that having Wikipedia free for their mobile data plans would increase their Wikipedia usage. Moreover, 28 percent indicated that it would increase their likelihood to buy from that mobile provider.  Another 16 percent said that they would be willing to switch their mobile providers to have free Wikipedia access.


Q. If certain mobile phone service providers provided Wikipedia for free on their data plans, how might that affect your actions? Base: 6700 (Those currently pay for a data plan)

Looking globally, we found that Wikipedia readers in the Global South, specifically in Brazil, Latin America and MENA, indicated that they would use Wikipedia more often if no data costs were accrued, and even suggested this as a key motivating factor for switching to or considering alternative service providers.

Q: If certain mobile phone service providers provided Wikipedia for free on their data plans, how might that affect your actions? Base: 6700 (Those currently pay for a data plan)


We found high interest in Wikipedia access without data charges despite a majority of readers (54 percent) stating that their mobile data plan is not a significant monthly expense for their household.  But it should be noted that the data is based on current mobile readers, and doesn’t survey those who don’t have current mobile Wikipedia access, some of whom might not have access to the mobile web due to high cost.  Only 14 percent of respondents stated that their data plan was either a significant expense with their household actively managing usage, or too expensive leading to issues of affordability. In addition, about 32 percent stated that it was a significant expense, but that they were not concerned about it.

Q: Which of the following statements best describes how expensive your data plan is relative to other expenses that you have? Base: 6700 (Those currently pay for a data plan)

If you are interested in more data from the mobile survey, please check out the toplines or read our summary report or read key findings.

Mani Pande, Head of Global Development Research

Ayush Khanna, Data Analyst, Global Development

Free mobile for Wikipedia starts with Orange

The Wikimedia Foundation is working to make knowledge freely available to every person in the world, but for many potential readers in developing countries, the only way to access the Internet is by paying for data on a mobile phone. Cost is a barrier that prevents data usage and makes access to a vast repository of knowledge like Wikipedia impossible. In some developing countries, the poorest fifth of the population already spends over 20 percent of their income on mobile phone services [1]. We don’t want people sacrificing their basic human needs to spend money on data, so we decided to do something about it.

Today we are proud to announce [2] a significant step in breaking down barriers to free knowledge: the Wikimedia Foundation and Orange are partnering to offer access to Wikipedia for Orange mobile customers free of charge. Orange has committed to provide this service in twenty countries across Africa and the Middle East, for three years, and has included access to all of Wikipedia’s enormous store of images. We have worked with Orange over the last few years and they have really come to understand the value of our mission. Thanks to their leadership, we will reach tens of millions of people that wouldn’t otherwise have access to Wikipedia — and all for free.

Over the past year, we’ve been urging mobile operators around the world to consider waiving data charges to access Wikipedia, even when we didn’t have the internal capacity to support such an endeavor. Despite not having a full-time mobile developer on staff until eight months ago, we operated in the mode of “if we build it, they will come.” I’ve focused our mobile team to help in developing countries, as we’ve fostered negotiations with operator partners.  And over the last six months we’ve grown our mobile team to six people, with additional contractors (and more hires on the way). Many people on our mobile team have been critical to making this happen including Amit Kapoor, Patrick Reilly, Phil Chang and Tomasz Finc, with special help from tech ops including CT Woo and Asher Feldman – and dozens of volunteers from around the world.

The Orange rollout will begin over the next several months, starting in Tunisia and the Ivory Coast, with four to six more countries including Mauritius and Cameroon and others shortly after.  The first countries will require a lot of testing and if you’re an Orange customer in one of the regions where the rollouts are happening, we’d love your comments. You can read more about this partnership via our Q&A [3]. We’ll keep you updated on our progress in future blog posts.

Orange has helped us get one step closer to making it possible to give everyone free access to the sum of all knowledge. We sincerely thank them for that. This is a really important precedent. Now we need more operators around the world to join in offering Wikipedia to their customers free of data charges. The movement for free mobile for Wikipedia has just begun.

Kul Takanao Wadhwa
Head of Mobile

Wikipedia seeks global operator partners to enable free access

Probably the most repeated words around the Wikimedia movement are Jimmy Wales’ “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s what we’re doing.” The Wikipedia community are the ones creating that world, and the ubiquity of mobile internet is what may actually enable it. With mobile internet users expected to surpass desktop users by 2014, mobile is fast becoming the primary medium by which people around the world can access knowledge. In the Global South particularly, many new mobile internet users are part of a generation whose first and only access to the internet is on mobile. This presents both an opportunity and a challenge to Wikipedia – how do we let these users know that the sum of all knowledge exists in their pocket, and how do we make it free? On the desktop, many readers discovered Wikipedia through search, but on mobile, sessions and queries originate differently. With this in mind, we need the help of partners – namely mobile operators and handset manufacturers – to help ensure the distribution of knowledge.  This is why we’re setting out with a global mobile partnership program.

We are looking for operator partners, particularly in the Global South, to join us in this mission. We want to work with them to help promote the availability of Wikipedia on phones — and, not just on smartphones, but across the range of data and feature phone users. This would include links through bookmarks, decks, and portals as well as marketing messages driving awareness towards the accessibility of free knowledge on mobile. Additionally, we are currently exploring ways to develop feature phone access to Wikipedia through SMS and USSD, and operator partnerships will be core to that initiative as well.

At the center of this whole strategy will be the launch of Wikipedia Zero – a lightweight, text-only version of our mobile site optimized for slower connections. The “zero” part means zero-rated, or rather zero cost to the user. Operator partners would “zero-rate” the custom site, meaning the user would not get charged data fees (nor be required to have a data plan) to access it. This will be a great asset to many mobile users in the Global South, who, although they may have an internet-ready phone, are deterred by data fees. This, to us, is in pursuit of truly enabling the “free” in “freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”

We are working to enlist new global partners now, particularly for Wikipedia Zero.  Mobile partnerships have long been seen as an important priority, but we haven’t had enough manpower to execute them on a fully global scale until now.  I joined the foundation three months ago as part of the global development mobile team (lead by Kul Wadhwa) with enlisting and managing these partnerships as my priority. Kul and I have begun to talk with new partners already, and we hope to announce some soon.  Given that we have a lot of ground to cover, we have to be systematic, so we are focusing first on India and East Asia in Q4 of this year, followed by the Middle East and Africa in Q1 2012, and Latin America in Q2 2012. This coincides in part with the global development programs including India Catalyst, Arabic Catalyst, and Brazil Catalyst.  Of course, we expect there will be some deviations from this sequence.

We’re also working very tightly with the mobile dev/product teams and community to ensure all the innovations and enhancements (including the forthcoming Android release) they are bringing are accessible throughout the world through these partnerships. We look forward to sharing the progress,  learnings, and discoveries here.

Amit Kapoor
Senior Manager, Mobile Partnerships