Wikipedia Zero

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photo by Victor Grigas

Wikipedia Zero is an initiative of the Wikimedia Foundation to enable mobile access to Wikipedia free of data charges in developing countries. The objective of the program is to reduce barriers to accessing free knowledge—one of the largest barriers being cost of data usage.

Detailed information about this program, including where it is available, can be found at the Wikimedia Q&A page and in the Wikipedia Zero category of the Wikimedia blog.

Are you an operator wishing to provide subscribers free access to Wikipedia? Email us to get started with Wikipedia Zero!


The Wikipedia Zero initiative is based on partnerships with mobile phone operators, whereby the operator agrees to deploy a version of Wikipedia in such a way that their users do not need to pay for data access. Wikipedia Zero is the flagship partner program for 2013, and is the strategic priority for these partnerships. Additional partner programs will be implemented in conjunction or in advance of Wikipedia Zero in order to provide additional means for an operator's customers to both discover and access free knowledge on Wikipedia.

Purpose and mission

Countries with Wikipedia Zero for all languages (blue) and some languages (green)

We want to enable access to free knowledge for every single person on the planet. For many readers in developing countries, their primary (and often only) access to the internet is via mobile. However, there are known barriers that keep users in these regions from reading Wikipedia and accessing free knowledge on their mobile devices:

Cost: While handset prices have reduced sharply around the world, data costs are still prohibitively expensive for many users. For example, while over 60% of individuals at the economic Base of the Pyramid in Kenya have mobile phones, the cost of mobile services can be over 25% of their monthly income. Additionally, nearly 1 in 5 have reported that they will forgo a usual expenditure (such as food) in order to reload phone credit.[1]

Awareness: In a purely desktop world, many people discovered Wikipedia through search engines, and high rankings on search results provided credibility and brand equity for the site. With mobile, though, sessions originate in a more diverse fashion, be it through apps, bookmarks, or even the ‘old-fashioned’ method of direct domain access to familiar sites. Wikipedia Zero operator partners drive awareness through various marketing campaigns and links through their portals.

We are addressing these barriers because we believe access to knowledge is a fundamental human right. There are two outcomes to this. First, new readers will be encouraged to access free knowledge for the first time, knowing where it is available and that it is without cost. Second, existing readers will not be obstructed from accessing knowledge whenever they need and want it.

Concept and experience

Mobile Version
Mobile Text-Only Version (being phased out)

An operator partner can take part in the Wikipedia Zero program by zero-rating (note here that the term "zero-rate" refers to waiving data charges to access) the mobile version of Wikipedia (located at in each of the most common languages of their country.

Wikipedia Zero itself is not a separate product from the core Wikipedia mobile site. An original version of the Wikipedia Zero program zero-rated free access to a lightweight, text-only version (located at of the Wikipedia mobile site. While several existing partners still offer this version of the program, it will be phased out in favor of the "full version."

As part of the incentive for operators to participate in Wikipedia Zero, there will be a banner atop the zero-rated Wikipedia page showing the operator's name. The contents of the banner will be text only, with exact text to be negotiated with each operator (eg, "Free Wikipedia Access from Partner"). When a user clicks on a link outside of Wikipedia (or, on an image in the case of the text-only version), the banner becomes a warning message confirming that the user wants to proceed.

Benefits to partners

The benefits to users and the Wikimedia movement are clear. For supporting the mission, and undertaking the costs associated with deployment and data, the partner operator can also realize a number of very practical benefits. The first of which is the positive marketing and PR benefit of supporting the program, and the opportunity of offering a unique and distinct service to new and potential customers. Data shows that 28% of existing readers would be more likely to buy services from an operator that provided Wikipedia Zero. Finally, by making it free and easy to access Wikipedia, a new generation of customers will be introduced to the mobile web for the first time—and, for many, will be seeing the true utility of it by learning to navigate Wikipedia.

Development and implementation

Enlisting partnerships

The mobile partnerships team within the Grantmaking & Programs group at WMF works with mobile carriers to sign up for the program, which includes a process of legal, technical, and marketing work. A current list of partners who have launched the program is available here.

Email us to start the process of enrolling as a partner.

Zero-rating traffic

The zero-rating of traffic does not require much technical work on behalf of the operator or Wikimedia. In most cases, the operator can zero-rate traffic based on URL.

Depending on the method of partnership, we provide the partner with a set of URLs that need to be zero-rated. Some partner billing systems restrict the possibility of zero-rating all Wikipedia languages; in these cases, we require that a minimum of the top five most common languages used in the country be zero-rated.

As a matter of practice, the partner runs scenario tests pre-launch to ensure that the zero-rating works and that customers will not be charged for accessing Wikipedia.

Free access banner

Free Access Banner
Warning Message

It is important to communicate to users when a page is free in order to:

  • assure the user that no data charges are being incurred;
  • encourage the user to browse further without fear; and
  • provide a marketing benefit of the "freeness" to the operator.

For those reasons, there will be a small "free access" banner across the top of each zero-rated Wikipedia page. The banner color is customizable and the exact text (example: Free Wikipedia Access from Partner) will be decided with the partner. The text will appear in whichever language Wikipedia the user is on, with translations given by both the partner and community via Translate Wiki. The banner may also have a hyperlink to the operator partner's home portal page.

This banner is only shown to users who come from an IP address of the operator partner (the partner provides these addresses to WMF). The banner will not scroll with the page, and is also collapsible. If it is collapsed, it will not reappear for 24 hours.

Warning message

Since many users will be using Wikipedia because it is free, it is also important to let these users know when they are leaving the free environment (i.e. going to a non zero-rated page). For example, when someone clicks on an external link (either sources or "see also") at the bottom of Wikipedia articles, they are leaving the free environment. With legacy partners using the text-only version, users are also leaving the free environment if they select to view an image.

For users from a partner IP address, we will serve a "warning message" whenever they leave the free environment. This message appears in a red banner along the top (replacing the Free Access banner) and reads "Standard data charges may apply if you continue: Yes or No" (also translated like the free access banner). If the user selects "Yes", they continue on to the linked page and must back-browse to go back to the zero-rated Wikipedia page. If they select "No", they will return to the page they were on previously.


The Free Access banner and warning message should appear in whatever language Wikipedia the user is currently reading. The partner will provide translations of the free access banner in certain local languages. For other language translations, and for all translations of the warning message, we could use community help on Translate Wiki.

Country-specific landing page

Free Access banner and country-specific landing page

In order for Wikipedia Zero to be effective in expanding reach, it needs to drive awareness of local language Wikipedias. Currently, however, there is no Wikipedia "portal" page for each country which can serve as a platform for promoting the existence of local language Wikis. Creation of country-specific portal pages may be on the eventual product roadmap, so the Wikipedia Zero initiative provides a good ground for testing that concept.

The landing page for Wikipedia Zero will present partner's customers with a menu of commonly used languages for the region. It has the following components:

  • search bar, using the primary language of the country by default
  • links to the home page of up to 7 "secondary" languages
  • a selection drop-down for all languages in the usual "alphabetical" order

Wikimedia selects the primary (default) language based on the language most frequently used by Wikipedia users in the country. (See usage statistics by country). The secondary languages are decided jointly with Wikimedia and the partner, based on country demographics.

The landing page will be served to all users within the IP range of a partner operator. Users will be redirected to the landing page when navigating to (or in the case of certain legacy partners).

Proposed features

As we get further into Wikipedia Zero, we have come up with some ideas to improve the functionality and efficiency of the project.

Additionally, to better the Wikipedia Zero experience for feature phone (lower-end phones that are internet capable), a new WAP view is an open enhancement request.

Press coverage

Official Wikipedia Zero Logo
The 11A class of Sinenjongo High School wrote an open letter and began a campaign on Facebook requesting Wikipedia Zero in South Africa after they heard about the program.

Awards and recognition

Additional links and contact information

Email us for information on joining as a partner.

Wikipedia Zero PDF presentation and video from Wikimania 2012.

Wikipedia Zero Programs Team

Wikipedia Zero Engineering Team

Other operator programs

While Wikipedia Zero is the cornerstone of operator partnerships, it is one of several ways in which we may integrate with partners. The objectives of all operator partner programs are to either enable accessibility (reducing barriers or making it easier to access and navigate Wikipedia) and/or discoverability (driving awareness and trial of Wikipedia). For each partner, we are encouraging an integrated program to drive discoverability and accessibility to their users. The range of integrations that operators can potentially deploy are:

  • Wikipedia Zero
  • Android app
  • USSD/SMS article search and limited delivery, see the project page (in development)
  • J2ME app for basic article browsing, see the project page (in development)
  • RSS feed of today's featured article or In the News (on hold)


  1. "Mobile Usage at the Base of the Pyramid in Kenya" from the World Bank