[Photo Credit: The Verge]
Americans have come to rely on the World Wide Web, seeing that we often use social media chat applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and so on. We love to chat; at the same time, however, our desire to talk and communicate with others across the distance is the reason why text messages still remain in style. It is comforting to know that, if I’m away from my office or computer and cannot connect to Skype there, I still have mobile downloads on my smartphone and can send a message anywhere. If I have family and friends that are more local, I can use the SMS service provided by my smartphone carrier.
Americans are extremely privileged, but we still live in a day and time where residents of other countries are not so privileged. Internet services are still for the rich in many countries, with poor and working classes often being denied services because they are unable to pay for them. In the case of many developing countries, an item of American consumption such as the iPhone is a fantasy that one can only hope he or she will obtain in the future (whenever it happens). IPhones in Brazil can cost around $750 and Sony’s new Xperia Z will cost $849 for many overseas. While the American way may seem easy and spoiled, do not be deceived — other countries do not face the overwhelming luxuries and are denied access in many things.
For those who cannot afford Internet services in other countries, do not despair: Wikimedia has you covered. Wikimedia is the name of the organization behind the famous Wikipedia site, a consumer viewing site that provides instant information on anything you need to know. You’ve seen the company’s articles come up the moment you type a word or phrase into the Google search bar. In order to honor those who do not have Internet access, Wikimedia plans to send Wikipedia text messages in the coming months by way of SMS or USSD, two standards that bypass the usual Internet access needed to acquire Wikipedia articles and documents.
Now, Wikipedia users will have a second way to access their articles and documents if they want to store something and pull it up right away. Wikipedia users will be allowed to select what method they want to use to obtain their articles and webpages. Wikimedia is able to do this because the Knight Foundation, a non-profit organization, has granted them $600,000 for the program. This is not the first program Wikimedia has initiated to get its articles into the hands of those who desire them; the company also has a project known as “Wikipedia Zero,” a program launched in late 2011 that provides webpages in “text only” version. The Zero program, however, requires that wireless providers be onboard about the service. Since wireless carriers are involved, the issue has been financial with carriers. Wikimedia is only able to make the new text messages possible because of grants and donations.
With the latest technology at our disposal, Americans often forget that SMS is cutting-edge technology for those who have yet to experience the latest tech trends. There are many in academia who tell students on a daily basis that “Wikipedia is not an authoritative source,” but it is to billions of citizens who cannot access other trusted journals and sites except Wikipedia. We are excited for those around the world who will now have access to knowledge because of Wikimedia’s efforts — and it is my hope that one day, academia will sit up and take note of the plight of the less fortunate.