Cell phones could be Wikipedia's path to global domination, but may also pose a risk to the crowd sourcing culture the online encyclopedia relies on, chief executive Sue Gardner says.
On one hand, says Gardner, who is also executive director of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, cell phones are by far the best way to reach vast new audiences in the developing southern hemisphere where people rely heavily on handheld devices, rather than desktops or laptops.
Right now, "Wikipedia is most popular and most effective in richer countries, because they have fast band, good Internet penetration and people own lots of devices," she told AFP in New York. "In developing countries, people are going straight to the Internet only with mobile phones."
To make Wikipedia take root in Latin America and Arabic-speaking countries, for example, the huge organization wants cell phone companies to offer access without charge.
"Data charges are a big barrier to Internet use in poor countries," Gardner said, adding that a streamlined, text version of the encyclopedia will be built to reduce those phone charges and speed downloads.
Ironically, though, the rise of the smart phone and incremental retreat of larger computers could threaten the lifeblood of Wikipedia, which is the crowd-based, volunteer collaboration between readers in creating content.
People may constantly demand more information at their fingertips, but the question ultimately may be: who takes the time to provide it if they're glued to their smart phone?
"I think a lot about the shift to mobile devices from laptops and desk tops. It looks that the Internet is taking turn towards people using devices for consuming content more than creating it," Gardner said.