The mobile phone network operator Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation have announced a partnership to offer mobile access to Wikipedia in Africa and the Middle East – with no data charges. This means free access to Wikipedia for the 70 million mobile phone users who have access to the internet in the region.
The collaboration comes after the companies' 2009 partnership, which they say was the first mobile and Internet partnership, which then sought to "expand the reach of Wikimedia's projects through channels on Orange mobile and web portals in Europe.â€ This new Africa and Middle East focused initiative will gradually roll out over the region this year.
This partnership is significant because it demonstrates the power of the mobile market in emerging economies; showing that this is where companies are focusing their efforts to gain customers, and once again illustrates that collaboration between industries is the way forward. The targeting of mobile customers as opposed to laptop or PC customers is for the practical reason that in these emerging economies, people are more likely to have access to a phone than other devices.
In the video on the Orange Innovation TV site detailing the announcement, Olivier Mouangue, Marketing Project Manager at Orange, Asia, Middle East & Africa says that, "In Africa, more people have access to a mobile phone than to a PC and fixed internet. Therefore, offering access to Wikipedia's free content is key. â€ So the rush online that happened in the Western world through PCs and laptops before reaching mobiles is skipping a step in the developing world and going straight to mobile.
But why would Orange partner with Wikipedia as opposed to another site? In the press release, emphasis is placed on the fact that Wikipedia is seen as a source of knowledge, and thus Orange are making knowledge more accessible to people in these countries, which is interesting given the reputation Wikipedia has as an encyclopedia that anyone can write, and therefore there are many issues with the reliability of the content and misinformation.
However, another reason that may have influenced the decision to partner with the Wikimedia Foundation is that, according to Olivier Mounangue, Wikipedia is among the top ten most recognised brands in Africa, and given the amount of press and social media attention devoted to Wikipedia's blackout last week, it's clear that the site is still a major online force, despite its requests for donations on its site.
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