Wikipedia will shortly become available to readers in the developing world as text messages.
Writing on the blog of the The John S. & James L. Knight Foundation, the Wikimedia Foundation's head of mobile and business development Kul Takanao Wadhwa said “We’re very excited about delivering Wikipedia via text, which we expect to roll out within the next few months.”
The service will see users “send a text request to Wikipedia and, within seconds, they will get the article to their phone.”
Wadhwa's not offered details beyond the snippets recorded above to explain how the service will work, but it is not hard to imagine the service may be a little unwieldy. To understand why, consider that the body text of the Wikipedia article about El Reg comprises 1808 characters, 12 TXT messages. Even with extended texts, you'd be looking at four messages.
Other articles are far longer. That on the sport of Cricket, for example, is over 64,000 characters long, or 400 TXTs. Then there's usability: it seems sensible to imagine that the first text for an article would offer a menuing system, so readers aren't forced to wade through many messages to find the bit they want.
What is known is that Wikimedia will work with South Africa's Praekelt Foundation to make the new service happen. We also know that the TXT program is an adjunct to the Wikimedia Zero program launched last year that sees carriers offer access to a lightweight version of the site at no cost. If Wikimedia follows that model, carriers will presumably send TXTs at low or no cost.
Whatever the format and cost, the aim of the effort is clear, as Wadhwa writes that many folks in thew world can't afford data-capable phones or data services, or live in places where data services are not available. A little information, even in the form of hard-to-navigate streams of TXTs, will surely be welcome in such environments. ®