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Is the WikiReader the killer eReader app that will transform the developing world?

By Wayan Vota on May 2, 2011

Back in 2009, we were excited about the WikiReader from Openmoko. 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. We proclaimed it an Offline Digital Library of Alexandria that could fit in your pocket. Here is our video review:

The WikiReader comes with the entire Wikipedia as content and great functionality to surf it all, offline. Now the WikiReader also supports the complete Project Gutenberg library of 33,000 eBooks, making it an amazing cheap and long-lasting eBook reader. And since eReaders will transform the developing world, I am wondering if the WikiReader is the killer app for that.


Beyond deep content, the WikiReader is amazingly cheap – just $99 for the device itself, 3 AA batteries that last a year. It is also dead simple to use, with just three buttons that navigate the Wikipedia and eBooks with ease. Give it to a student or a teacher and they can be browsing and learning in seconds.


If you can say anything bad about the the WikiReader is that its just a browser for the Wikipedia and eBooks. The hardware is great, but it has no other use. So is that enough? Would you or have you bought a WikiReader? Have you used it in a project? And if not, what would it need to lure you to buy one?


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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. 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 IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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3 Comments to “Is the WikiReader the killer eReader app that will transform the developing world?”

  1. Tony Roberts says:

    Thanks for an interesting post and links.

    The WikiReader is a great gadget, but in answer to your question, no, it is certainly not going to “transform the developing world”; of that we can be certain.

    Transforming the developing world is not something that can ever be accomplished by some foreign dudes burning a bunch of info onto a read only gadget.

    I am an enthusiastic supporter of the application of ICT in education and development, but I believe that it is counter-productive to sell the illusion that a tech gadget, however great, can be the solution to either.

    Transformational change doesn’t come in a box with batteries and instructions.

    Independent research on other technology-push programmes of ICT4E and ICT4D (e.g. telecentres, refurbished PCs & OLPC) tells us that what is required is long-term engagement in teacher training, content & curriculum & development, and supporting infrastructure. (see for example http://bit.ly/94RY1I). If we are able to secure this long-term investment then we can truly hope to realise the benefits that technology offers.

    In the final analysis securing our shared objective of transformational change is best served by less gee-whizz technology hype, and more focus on the less sexy business of training and capacity development. It is ultimately counter-productive to peddle the illusion that “killer apps” will “transform the developing world”. They cannot.

    There is no quick fix for the task of transforming education systems; there is no silver bullet that can overcome centuries of structural underdevelopment.

    Technical artifacts, by definition, have no agency. Local people, not foreign technology, will prove to be the agency of transformative change.

    If you would like to read the full version of this post you are welcome at http://laptopburns.wordpress.com

  2. Anonymous says:

    Two months ago, one of our 20 year old students had to quit school. Her family had just had another child, her mother had fallen ill, and her father was struggling on his own. As the eldest girl, she felt compelled to return to her family to help out.

    Her family home is in a remote village with one telephone, no postal service, no schools. With just a bit more education she could be a driving force for development and education of her community.

    When sending her off, we plied her with all the books that she could carry.

    A WikiBook and solar battery charger would have been awesome…

  3. Man needs machines and Machines must work for Man. I want to agree with the view that a single tech gadget no matter how cool and cheap may not be enough. Teacher Training is very vital. Teachers themselves must embrace the device and be empowered to deliver and to help. This type of device can go a long way if they are structured into the exact curricula that is used by a standard school and are designed to instruct yu along the lines of your curricula and not to throw the entire wiki at yur face. My idea is that The usage of such device must be structured into an existing working curricula, it may contain the wiki just for further research as the curricula is followed. A type of device I have always thought of is the one that has information on all the step by step guide to training a child and it will support both voice and video clips and a poor parent can be taught on how to use it and later pick it up and use it to train their children if they can’t afford to send their kids to a higher school after primary school.

    Off course I want one Wikireader 🙂