Jump to content

Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/More Wikipedia usage in Africa

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki




Research Report: How to get more people in Africa to use Wikipedia



Many programs at the Wikimedia Foundation are focused on expanding the projects in emerging countries, or “Global South” as it’s sometimes referred. One such program is Wikipedia Zero, which is devoted to enabling access rather than attracting edits and editors (though growing editors is a mid-to-long-term effect of Wikipedia Zero). However, while we’ve been successful in growing and deploying Wikipedia Zero, we acknowledge that we know little about what attracts or inhibits people in these regions from using Wikipedia.

We know on a basic level that a smaller percentage of the Internet-using population in emerging countries accesses Wikipedia compared to developed countries. This group also tends to view fewer pages each per month. If we understood why, we could be smarter about guiding our Wikipedia Zero partners on how to market free Wikipedia effectively, and we could also learn what tactics we might undertake at WMF for growing reach via Wikipedia Zero or otherwise.

As a first step toward gaining clarity on this front, we initiated a 2-month research project to answer some of these questions.

Working with Intelecon (a research consultancy with expertise on mobile usage in emerging countries), there were three different streams of research:

  • On-device questionnaire to 4500 people in 9 markets
  • Focus groups in 2 countries
  • 500 face-to-face surveys in the same 2 countries

The two countries we selected were Botswana and Uganda, in part because they represent two different demographic spectrums of the developing world and because our program is active in both.

While we know that lessons from this study can’t simply be extrapolated across cultures and borders, we were looking for themes that can be applied across all Wikipedia Zero countries in Africa, Asia, Middle East, and eventually Latin America. A summary of our findings is posted above, and here are the highlights of the seven key things we learned:

  1. Half of the people that use Wikipedia Zero don’t even know it’s free.
    This is our “low-hanging fruit” discovery. 56 percent of users in Botswana and 54 percent in Uganda of those who are using Wikipedia Zero didn’t realize they were getting access to Wikipedia free of charge.
    We need to examine how we present the “free” message, which is currently on a small banner atop each free page on mobile. We’ll start by changing the language in places where the word “free” is not mentioned in the banner, and consider displaying the message itself in an entirely different way. Also, while these numbers are too high, it’s a motivating factor for our partners to take more action in presenting the offer and to maximize the goodwill they receive from it.
  2. People are not waiting for someone to hand them free information.
    Just making Wikipedia free does not open the floodgates of new users; it has to be communicated overtly. A majority of people in these regions still sees the Internet as a communications (ie, social networking) or multimedia (ie, music) resource, less so as a place for knowledge. Cost is a deterrent for some (especially in places like Botswana, where prices are high), but not the majority. However, over 80 percent think it’s a compelling idea, and close to the same amount would try Wikipedia Zero if they knew about it.
    Lowering barriers to access Wikipedia on mobile is only part of the allure. People feel strongly that information is a human right. Our communication to new potential readers should reflect that ethos, and we have the most opportunity to make this impact in “mid-tier” developing countries where less competition among mobile operators can equal higher prices.
  3. Wikipedia Awareness is Greater than Encyclopedia Awareness.
    We have wondered if presenting the offer of a free encyclopedia is relevant to a majority of potential readers. We found it is, but surprisingly, a larger percentage (between 3 percent and 15 percent) of people are aware of what Wikipedia is, but not what an encyclopedia is. Similarly, we found there is a large percentage (around one third) who have heard of Wikipedia, but don’t use it.
    In offering Wikipedia as a free service, we don’t necessarily need to message it as a newer form of encyclopedia. Wikipedia as a knowledge source is a standalone benefit, often without the comparison. We also know that there is a very approximate rule of “thirds” for Internet users in our target countries: one third have not heard of Wikipedia; one third are aware of it but don’t use it, one third use it.
  4. Influence is still largely analog.
    In considering what the best channels are for promoting Wikipedia access, we found that family and friends are still very influential. While Google drives a large amount of Wikipedia sessions and search origin, family and friends are equally important in getting users to try it and understand its benefit. Social media, as we expected, is also critical for creating an understanding.
    While WMF may not be resourced to drive social media campaigns for Wikipedia Zero, we need to encourage our partners to use it more. We’ve already seen successful campaigns from Orange Kenya on Facebook, and Aircel India on Twitter. We need to leverage this more in encouraging other partners to follow suit. Also, given the relative awareness levels of encyclopedias expressed in point #3, we need to embrace that radio and newspaper are equally important bases to compare to as sources of knowledge.
  5. Perceived local relevance of Wikipedia can be low.
    Many people don’t see how Wikipedia could make a difference in their daily life; they’re missing content that’s directly related to the country they’re living in. When presented with options, local history is one of the most frequently cited topics that people would like to read about on Wikipedia.
    Wikipedia has lots of local content for most geographies, and that base is expanding rapidly. Many readers, however, don’t realize this and see Wikipedia as a source for only global or “western” content. We need to ask our partners to promote the prevalence of articles on local topics, and similarly develop a pilot case where we serve a country-specific home page, rather than language-specific, as it is now.
  6. Wikipedia still has a credibility problem in the Global South.
    Wikipedia still has a credibility problem in much of the world, not unlike it had in the U.S. and Europe 10 years ago. We found that this is somewhat correlated to an overall trustworthiness of the Internet as a whole. However, belief in the trustworthiness of information on the Internet seems to rise with frequency of Wikipedia access.
    Wikipedia Zero not only provides ubiquitous knowledge access, but it also can drive overall understanding of the Internet as a reliable source. This is a factor in the proposition of Wikipedia Zero to promote development of digital adoption. We also found that the credibility bias can often be a result of teachers telling students to not use Wikipedia (seemingly a more pronounced effect in Africa), so we should look at educators as part of the primary target of Wikipedia Zero, or even Wikipedia as a whole (as with the Wikipedia Education Program).
  7. What people say they want to read and what they actually want is vastly different.
    Those who use Wikipedia say they use it most for pop culture topics (entertainment, sports), but when asked what type of information they crave most, education and health are cited just as often. Additionally, when assessing what people perceive Wikipedia’s greatest asset to be, the most repeated answer was that “all information is in one place.”
    Pop culture may not be the ideal headline regarding “free knowledge,” but we need to acknowledge its appeal and leverage it as a starting point to read deeper into additional topics. The single fact that Wikipedia contains in-depth information about both pop cultural topics as well as more traditional educational articles is a way for people to try it, and later leverage even more benefit.

The full research report Intelecon produced is also available for all to read, along with visualized data from the on-device survey.

Amit Kapoor
Senior Manager, Mobile Partnerships
Wikimedia Foundation.



NOTE: Photos from the research study are on Commons: