OpenMoko (Om), a company that previously created an open source smartphone, has just launched The WikiReader, a dedicated reader device with an offline copy of the entire English Wikipedia (without images) stored on a small chip. With two AAA batteries, the WikiReader will run for several months, as it’s been optimized for low power consumption. The device has a simple LCD touchscreen and three buttons for searching, viewing random pages, and looking up previously viewed pages.

Building such a device is possible because, unlike most information on the web, Wikipedia content is freely licensed, allowing anyone to copy, modify, and re-use it for any purpose, including commercial uses. We’ve played with the device and given feedback during the development phase, but it’s not a Wikimedia Foundation product, and we make no guarantees of any kind for its operation.

The device showcases a great opportunity that free educational content creates: information from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects can be packed into self-contained devices, including purpose-built ones like the WikiReader, without requiring any kind of Internet connectivity. In other words, it is very much possible to get a copy of the most comprehensive encyclopedia in human history to every person on the planet who would benefit from it.

While this device is targeted at least initially at users in the developed world, the software running on the WikiReader is open source, so that other projects can re-use it in whole or in part. (Information about that will go up on their website soon.) We welcome it as a creative new distribution method for Wikipedia content. Congratulations to Om for launching this product; we wish them the best of luck in the marketplace.

Erik Moeller
Deputy Director, Wikimedia Foundation