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