At the end of January, we reached another milestone:  3 billion mobile page views in one month.   This means 14.5 percent of Wikipedia page views now are to the mobile site, up from 9.9 percent a year ago.  Our target in the 2012-13 annual plan is to hit 4 billion monthly mobile page views by the end of the fiscal year (June 2013).

The “Why” of Mobile

The data speaks for itself. Mobile page views rose over 75 percent in 2012, while desktop traffic grew at just under 20 percent [1]. It is clear that much of Wikipedia’s growth is happening on mobile.  We know that two things contribute significantly to this: 1) With mobile internet, readers have new reasons to look things up on Wikipedia, be it either related to context and location or convenience and availability, 2) Many readers in developing countries, specifically where there is limited broadband penetration, are using mobile devices as their first or only means to access the internet.

A look at the data accompanying past mobile milestones reinforces these reasons.  In the 15 months it has taken for mobile traffic to triple (from 1 billion to 3 billion), overall Wikipedia traffic grew just 33 percent, indicating that many loyal readers are shifting their time to mobile devices[2].  Secondly, when Wikipedia hit 500 million mobile page views two years ago, 71 percent of that traffic was to the English Wikipedia.  Today, only 52 percent of mobile traffic is to English Wikipedia, illustrating that mobile growth has become a global phenomenon.
Wikipedia Mobile - Monthly Page View Milestones

The “How” of Mobile

The question is no longer about why mobile matters, but instead how to manage it.  It raises two challenges for Wikimedia — contribution and distribution.   Editing Wikipedia has traditionally happened with a keyboard and monitor, but now smaller screens and touch interfaces are critical to figure out.  Similarly, mobile contributions are likely to be more dependent on the context of the user — where they are, what they are doing, and how much time they have.  With each of these questions, though, also comes immense opportunity to experiment with new editing behaviors like photo upload and micro-contributions. The product team at WMF is tirelessly working on these experiments, with significant headway already made in photo contributions.

The second challenge of the new mobile landscape is how to distribute Wikipedia.  In a purely desktop world, many people discovered Wikipedia through search engines, and high rankings on search results provided credibility and brand equity for the site.  With mobile, though, sessions originate in a more diverse fashion, be it through apps, bookmarks, or even the ‘old-fashioned’ method of direct domain access to familiar sites.  Our official Android and iOS apps cover a lot of this territory, and we see around 40,000 device installs per day on Google Play and approximately 10,000 through the Apple App Store.  Wikipedia Zero, with a current reach of 330 million mobile subscribers, drives awareness of Wikipedia in mobile-centric developing countries and eliminates the cost barrier to accessing it.  Finally, plans are underway to pilot ways to read Wikipedia by text message, and we’re looking at additional app platforms as well. Of course, new mobile readers today become potential new contributors tomorrow, so each of our mobile efforts are part of a virtuous circle of free knowledge.

The potential of mobile is extraordinary, and the work is only beginning. Hope to see you soon at 4 billion.

Amit Kapoor, Senior Manager, Mobile Partnerships

  1. From (December 2011, December 2012,  percent change): Mobile (1.585 B, 2.799 B, 76.5 percent), Desktop (14.069 B, 17.275 B, 18.2 percent)
  2. Total Wikipedia traffic: October 2011 (16.616 B), January 2013 (22.111 B)