Six months ago, we awarded the Wikimedia Foundation – the charitable organisation behind Wikipedia – a grant of £10,000 towards the costs of upgrading their mobile portal. Prior to the upgrade, the Wikimedia Foundation relied on a slow and fragile redirect that sent users with certain select smartphones to the portal, which served only high-end phones and was too bandwidth-intensive for low-end phones and connections. As a read-only mobile portal, moreover, it was only available for some Wikipedia languages. In autumn 2011, they introduced a new mobile portal that works well with all mobile devices, including the wide array of feature phones that, because of their low cost, are the dominant mobile device in Africa and elsewhere in the Global South.
Wikipedia’s new mobile site displays all 282 languages that Wikipedia is in. Mobile
users who go to any page there can hit the “W” at the top left-hand corner and change the language, and this language option quickly became the site’s most requested feature. Monthly mobile page views in languages spoken in Africa have increased dramatically since our mobile upgrade. Shona, for example, has gone from 3,600 to 16,000, Wolof from 500 to 13,000, Zulu from 353 to 6,000, Igbo from 109,000 to 245,000, Somali from 12,000 to 46,000, Amharic from 15,000 to 75,000, Swahili from 48,000 to 210,000, and Arabic from 3.5 million to 9.2 million. While the mobile portal is fully operational, the Wikipedia team continue to make technical upgrades — patches and tweaks that ensure the portal is meeting the demands of its ever growing mobile readership. In November and December, for example, they improved the mobile site by adding type-ahead search suggestions, term-by-term search building, a larger input box, and full-screen displays of search terms. Mobile readership is now 10 percent of total readership. Overall, mobile page views have gone from 1.1 billion (in October of 2011) to 1.7 billion (February of 2012).
With Wikipedia’s mobile readership rapidly expanding, deals in the pipeline to provide free data to access the site and a growing team of non-English language editors, the world’s favourite encyclopaedia is in a good position to enhance access to information across the world. We’re very excited to have partnered with Wikimedia and look forward to seeing continued growth of their mobile market.
With thanks to the Wikimedia Foundation for part of the text of this blog post.