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While local languages provide opportunity for greater penetration in the online world, the 70% of the global population without access to Internet represents an even greater opportunity for Wikimedia. Offline versions of Wikipedia may enable Wikimedia to further advance towards its ultimate vision of, and commitment to, allowing "every single human being" to "share in the sum of all knowledge”
Note: the following recommendations are a more programmatic augmentation of the recommendation put forth by the 2009-2010 Offline Task Force.
Current World Situation
About five billion people in the world do not have access to Internet, and these are grossly over-represented in developing countries. While over 50% of the developed world's population is online, only 17% of the population in transition economies are online and only 15% in developing countries. Beyond hardware constraints in developing countries, the costs of information and communications technology (ICT), normalized for income, are much lower in developed countries—countries with relatively high income levels—than in countries with low income levels. That is, people in developing countries have to spend a larger portion of their income on ICT services than people in developed countries. For example, in 2009, an entry-level broadband connection cost developing countries approximately 167% of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, while in developed countries this same connection averaged only 2% of GNI.
Current Wikimedia Situation
Currently, Wikimedia projects are most readily available online, so few but those with Internet access can utilize its wealth of resources. It is critical for the reach of the movement to proactively consider ways to make the information available to the offline majority of the global population.
To date, offline Wikipedia projects have been created for a variety of reasons from convenience and fundraising, to educational outreach (e.g., tools for UK schools), and to extend reach in the developing world. These offline projects have been limited to English, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and a few other European languages. The projects have been relatively small in scope with different purposes and strategies. Reach of people without or with limited access has only been the focus of a few projects and while these projects, such as One Laptop per Child, have had impact in the hundred of thousands, none have reached the scale of successful online Wikipedias (for a list of projects, see Offline Wikimedia projects.)
Despite the success of many grassroots projects, no strategy currently exists formalizing the broad dissemination of Wikipedia in those areas that are not currently connected to the Internet. In order to achieve the greatest scale of impact possible, Wikimedia must intentionally focus on the largest demographic segment of the world in order to address the steadily increasing “digital divide.”
In order to develop the most effective strategy, the following questions must be addressed:
- Who is the target recipient of the WP “offline” version?
- What age demographic?
- What region?
- What languages?
- What form should the offline version take? Are there ways to combine / package different offline versions?
- How should the offline versions be distributed? What partnerships are necessary to make this a reality?
- How can offline usage be linked back to the broader community?
- How will progress be measured?
The graph is clear, Internet access in countries where people are allowed access is increasing, therefore the offline market is a declining one and so one option we have is to remain part of that change process.
If this continues to be Wikimedia's main strategy then there are various options open to Wikimedia to promote that process. These include existing tactics - promoting new language versions via various translation drives, and creating articles about everyone's hometown, local river etc.
But we also have the option of making Wikipedia more accessible in parts of the world where editing and even browsing is a maddeningly slow experience. Distributed processing with local squids inside bottlenecked countries has enormous potential to enhance the user experience, dramatically increase the amount our existing editors can do in the time they give us and recruit many more editors who currently don't have the patience to contribute.
This may seem a cautious low risk strategy, but it leaves the window open for others to take over the market first.
- Main page: Mobile
Mobile phone usage is growing at an explosive rate in much of the developing world, many of these phones are web enabled, many of the users who don't currently have web access will soon do so.
Wikimedia is making significant investments in usability to make Wikipedia and other projects more accessible via mobiles. However we don't know what proportion of the worlds literate population will have mobile or Internet access in the future, and there could be a significant need for an offline version as well.
There are also initiatives that we haven't considered, including promoting the creation of alt text for images to improve the experience of editors using a text only reader, and reducing the maximum size of articles to make them more mobile friendly.
Many people are blind, in much of the developed world a large proportion of the population are illiterate.
Creating digital recordings of Wikimedia products, or working with text to speech conversion software to enable access for anyone who can understand a language being spoken but cannot read it, would enable a large proportion of those who can't currently access our information to do so. In the mean to medium term this proportion of the worlds population may fall as education improves, but it is usually many decades from the point when a country achieves mass literacy amongst children to when the whole population is literate.
In the medium term the mobile phone in combination with text to speech conversion may be the most practical way to reach the largest number of people.
With our principal offline competitors failing and withdrawing from the printed market it is unclear if there is a viable market for any printed version of anything but the tiniest proportion of wiki content. Whilst the cost of printing, distributing and updating paper versions of Wikimedia products for hundreds of millions of people would be exorbitant. Nonetheless there are geographic and cultural niches where this might work - particularly in languages where there are significant numbers of literate people without online access. Printing a Wiktionary or even Wikipedia for distribution to schools and libraries in such a culture might reach a significant number of people.
- Main page: Proposal:Offline Wikipedia
There have been various initiatives to create versions on DVD and similar electronic storage devices, This technology enables delivery of the information to literate people who don't have internet access. DVD technology allows for much cheaper updating than paper did.
During the 2009-10 Wikimedia strategic planning process, there was an Offline Task Force exploring critical issues around these areas. Related information within this wiki:
- Expand reach within midsize and under-connected populations#Leveraging Wikipedias offline
- Mobile reach
- Task force/Offline
- Offline/Offline Wikimedia projects
- Offline/Leveraging offline
- New York Times, "Dialing for Answers where Web Can't Reach." Sep. 27, 2010.
-  Internet World Stats, 30 June, 2010.
- Wikimedia Foundation Vision: “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment.”
-  “Information Economy Report,” United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. 22 October, 2009.
- , “Measuring the Information Society,” International Telecommunications Union. 23 February, 2010.