When your goal is to make the sum of all human knowledge available to everyone, 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, censored, or even non-existent—and 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 address: an open-source software that allows people to access a full copy of Wikipedia for offline reading. Wherever you are, wherever you go, you can have Wikipedia with you.
Kiwix was created exactly 10 years ago in Switzerland, with the support of Wikimedia CH (Switzerland). It was initially intended to burn the information onto DVDs. At the time, the alternative for offline knowledge was generally limited to Microsoft Encarta. Times and technologies have changed—Encarta, for instance, was discontinued in 2009)—but Kiwix has endured and prospered. Every year, more than a million people worldwide download and use it to access Wikipedia (in more than 100 languages), other Wikimedia projects like Wiktionary or Wikivoyage, educational videos like TED talks, or play with educative science simulations like PhET.
Connectivity in many places around the world is not exactly simple, something demonstrated recently when Google 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, then copied and circulated offline. After that, people are free to go and carry a piece of internet with them.
We have also developed a Raspberry plug that creates its own local network for up to 25 to 30 users at the same time: nothing to transfer, just bring your wifi-enabled computer or smartphone and access free knowledge like 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 by releasing Kiwix for iOS and Android. For the latter, we went one step further and started making smaller dedicated apps: Wikivoyage has become a fully portable travel book, and we released an app that contains every medical article on Wikipedia—in English as well as half a dozen other languages—with the volunteers at Wikiproject Medicine. We’re told that 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 four billion people out there 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.
Kiwix and Wikimedia CH (Switzerland)