Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/No internet ? No problem ! Kiwix celebrates 10 years of offline Wikipedia experience
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- No internet ? No problem ! Kiwix celebrates 10 years of offline Wikipedia experience.
- Wherever you are, take Wikipedia with you.
Kiwix, an open source software which allows users to download a copy of Wikipedia in its entirety for offline reading, celebrates its tenth anniversary this month.
When your goal is to make available the sum of all human knowledge, how do you ensure that people can actually access it ? For many Wikipedia readers around the world, the problem may be that internet access is either slow (think rural areas), censored (China, North Korea), or even non-existent (mountain villages and sea-faring vessels). Without going this far, those with a limited phone plan know that using too much data can really hurt their monthly bill.
These are exactly the kind of situations that Kiwix was meant to remediate: developed in Switzerland with the support of Wikimedia CH, Kiwix is an open-source software which allows people to access a full copy of Wikipedia for offline reading. Wherever you are, wherever you go, you can have Wikipedia with you.
Created exactly 10 years ago, Kiwix was initially meant to be burnt on DVDs : at the time, the alternative for offline knowledge was pretty much limited to Microsoft Encarta - a proprietary content. Times and technologies have changed (Encarta was discontinued in 2009), yet Kiwix endured and prospered : every year more than a million people worldwide download and use it: they use it to access Wikipedia of course - in more than 100 languages - but also other Wikimedia projects (such as the Wiktionary or Wikivoyage). They can also watch educational videos (like TED talks) or play with educative science simulations (like PhET).
Connectivity in many places around the world is not exactly 1-2-3: Google recently released a new Lite mode for some of its Android products to lighten the amount of data transferred, arguing that in countries like India 2G networks still are the norm. With Kiwix, the only limitation is the initial download which is usually done on a USB flash drive (or microSD card), and then copied and circulated offline. After that, people are free to go and carry a piece of internet with them (the best part, we might add).
We also developed a Raspberry plug that creates its own local network for up to 25-30 users at the same time: nothing to transfer, just bring your wifi-enabled computer or smartphone and access free knowledge as if you were sitting in Zurich or San Francisco. These are already very much in demand in West- and Southern-African schools, and we're looking forward to rolling them out in refugee camps across the Middle East.
Last but not least, we've also started to adapt to the growth of mobile and released Kiwix for iOS and Android. For the latter, we went one step further and started making smaller, dedicated apps: Wikivoyage has become is a fully portable travel book, and working with the volunteer at Wikiproject medicine we released an app that contains every medical article on Wikipedia - in English as well as half a dozen other languages. We're told physicians on the Indian subcontinent love it.
After fifteen years of existence, approximately 500 million unique visitors visit Wikipedia every month to learn about pretty much anything, thanks to the work of thousands of volunteer editors. But there remains 4 billion people out there who still do not have a reliable access to internet and cannot benefit from this accumulated wealth. Kiwix turns ten today, and it has already gone a long way to bridging that gap. We're looking forward to doing better over the next ten years.