It's hard to understate the global importance of Wikipedia. While many traditional university professors still won't allow the crowdsourced site to be listed as a source, only a fool would deny the site's impact on educating the world in areas they may have otherwise never stumbled upon. Particularly in developing nations, Wikipedia
is an easy, ad-free, stripped-down knowledge base, with pages that are simple to load and easy to read on even the most antiquated of devices and over the most awful of connections. Granted, not everything is perfectly accurate, but the vast majority of Wikipedia pages are vetted and updated by legions of editors around the globe that do so simply to provide a service to other humans. It's actually a pretty great warm-and-fuzzy story.
But now, Wikipedia is hoping to get in front of even more people -- the "people who need it most." Knowledge can change everything, and direct economies out of the doldrums. Education is absolutely vital for a society to thrive, and having free and easy access to Wikipedia is a great start. Wikipedia knows that many people in emerging nations only have access to simple mobile phones -- the kind of phones that can only receive text messages and phone calls. Now, Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, has established Wikipedia Zero, a program where we partner with mobile operators to give their mobile users free-of-charge access to Wikipedia and its growing trove of 24 million articles. More importantly, this program is hoping to allow Wikipedia entries to be delivered via SMS (text) within the next few months.
With the program, users will send a text request to Wikipedia and, within seconds, they will get the article to their phone. Wikipedia is partnering with the Praekelt Foundation, a nonprofit based in Johannesburg, South Africa, to make this all work. It's hard to imagine how this might change the future of education in places where no formal education system exists. Give someone access to a free and near-infinite knowledge base, and watch where it goes. Exciting times, indeed.