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Wikireader: a Digital Library of Alexandria, Offline

By Wayan Vota on October 19, 2009

No matter how much bandwidth comes via the new fiber optic cables, there still will be massive offline areas in Africa. So there will still be a great craving for the world’s knowledge in classrooms and living rooms from Accra to Lusaka.

Openmoko has just released what might be the killer app to supply a large portion of that knowledge to offline areas – the WikiReader. This $99 device has the 3+ million Wikipedia articles at your fingertips with only a micro-SD card and 2 AAA batteries – no Internet required.

Openmoko has been behind large open-source initiatives such as the openmoko opensource wireless phone, and have a greater purpose for the WikiReader. They say:

NGOs and governments in emerging countries are key to the core value of the WikiReader. We believe an uncomplicated device with long battery life and no strings attached could bring this vast repository of knowledge to many people around the world who otherwise could not access it.

I can see this being an amazing resource for educators in rural schools. They would now have access to the Wikipedia’s wealth of knowledge at a fraction of the cost for computers or Internet access. In addition, with the Parental Control feature, they don’t have to worry about young prying eyes seeing too much.

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Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of his employer, any of its entities, or any ICTWorks sponsor.
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3 Comments to “Wikireader: a Digital Library of Alexandria, Offline”

  1. Horst JENS says:

    looks very interesting.
    i suggest those changes for an version 2.0:

    Supply it with solar energy (in-build like pocket calculator or as extra).
    Then it could really compete with a book (no batteries necessary).

    add a cheap speaker and the “text-to-speech” function as a 4th button.

    offer a (more expensive) model that could also display black//white graphics (animated gif’s)

    offer other popular content like holy books, first-aid / medicine manuals etc.

    think about the price: 100$ is what the One Laptop per child project is aiming at, so the wikireader should be far cheaper.

    re-think about censorship:
    what is “parental control” for western countrys will be “sensible political content” for dictatorships. That is not the idea behind wikipedia. I suggest not even implementing a censorship hook at all.

  2. Hi Horst

    Those are some great comments. I’ll bring these back the team. I’d like to reply to your comment #6. Controls and censorship are two different things. We just provide the option to password protect content that many parents might deem unsuitable for their children. We think it’s a respect thing. That’s it. We don’t remove anything from Wikipedia itself. You can always turn this off if you like.


    Sean Moss-Pultz
    Openmoko, Inc.

  3. andris says:

    There’s no shortage of new gadgets being marketed these days, but few of them catch my attention like this one.

    For ease of use, I’m sure its touchscreen beats the non-qwerty keyboard of my Nokia phone…and without a doubt even at 3G speeds, locally stored content will be quicker to access than live wikipedia on the Internet.

    Great product!