Airtel & Wikimedia Foundation Join Hands To Provide Free Wikipedia Access In Africa via SMS & USSD
In July, Aircel had partnered to bring Wikipedia Zero to offer free Wikipedia access to their users in India. Now, India’s largest operator Airtel has done the same, but for their customers outside India. Now, Airtel customers in Africa can access multilingual content on Wikipedia mobile site free of data charges.
However, the interesting thing about this partnership is that Wikipedia access can be gained without having any internet or data connection to the phone. So, millions of Airtel customers from developing countries like Kenya and others who have basic feature phones can start accessing wikipedia simply using SMS and USSD.
How Does Wikipedia Work Via SMS/USSD?
Airtel users have to simply dial *515# on their phone, and they’ll get a text message inviting them to search Wikipedia. The subscriber enters a topic (like ‘Cheetah’) in the same manner they would send a text message (1).
(2) The subscriber then gets the menu that lets the subscriber clarify which article they are interested in. Once user chooses the best match, the various subheadings for that particular search term are returned to the user (3). The user then needs to choose the appropriate sub-heading which will then return the description as the text message (4).
Wikipedia through text messaging is currently available for Airtel’s African subscribers. The service has been established with help of Praekelt Foundation, a South African nonprofit with expertise in text messaging, to develop the necessary technology. Their service acts as a bridge that communicates between the Wikipedia servers and the Airtel network, converting the customer’s request for articles into the interactive menus and SMS delivery as shown above.
Will it come to India?
While the press release has not mentioned anything, if the service evokes good response from African Airtel subscribers, it sure would be made available in India as well, probably in partnership with vendors who have developed similar text messaging technology (someone like Innoz).
India, like African countries still has very less users who are on smartphones. Over 80 percent users are still on feature phones. A multi-lingual service like this will definitely find many takers in India as well!
What’s your take?