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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Memoirs of impressions of the Offline Strategy Task Force, as it stood in January 2010.

Any discussion of an offline strategy for the Wikimedia Foundation is, essentially, a discussion of technology and infrastructure. There are two primary target markets: those who already have access to WMF products, and those who do not. The largest offline product-consuming market will always be those who already have access to WMF products, but it is a primary element of the WMF mission to provide access to those markets who do not have access.

With the above assumptions, and the reality the Wikimedia Foundation is a charitable organization with finite resources, the primary strategy should be enabling third-party development of technologies and infrastructure for offline WMF-derived products. How the Foundation does so should not be restricted, but there are certain goals we found to be of particularly high value:
  • XML article format, which can support semantics, with project-specific DTD.
  • Create and publish a Mediawiki parser specification.
  • Create and support a reference parser, and companion writer.
Related to these goals we found supporting intra-project standardization, and implementing international information categorization schema, to be important efforts to encourage communities to pursue (and support them in pursuit of) in order to make their output more valuable for offline applications.

When considering how to make WMF published content available to people who do not have regular internet access, the largest potential market could be realized through cellphone platforms. In the most-underserved internet markets cellular phone service has good to excellent availability. Retaining the theme of supporting third-parties rather than investing extensively in technology, it's noted there are already several cellular-based products and projects using WMF content. This second strategy for the Foundation is to focus on the cellphone specifically as the world's most ubiquitous hardware platform, with several goals related to this publication medium:
  • Target upstream from end users: cellular network providers for dynamic content systems, and OEM for static content systems as well as built-in 'apps'.
  • Prioritize support for third-party development: open offline storage standards, readers which use those standards, and finally proprietary products.
  • Where possible, support non-internet distribution systems, for example an SMS article retrieval system.
School systems are a natural partner for WMF in regions under-served by Internet. They are centers for learners, a primary target audience for the Foundation's projects. Schooling systems themselves are the target audience for the Wikibooks project, as well as other more-specific wikiprojects. This tertiary strategy did not develop concrete targets, but rather a laundry-list of desired outcomes including:
  • Work with schools, and support organizations which do so.
  • Customizable content collations.
  • Use multi-project approaches: draw content from any relevant WMF project.
  • Use multiple distribution channels: Internet, static digital, print, &c.
Most WMF published content is general, and targets an adult audience. The offline markets with the lowest internet access rates are disproportionately younger, and content targeting a youth audience should be specifically supported. Third-party publishers tend to have target markets for whom they wish to tailor their content, as do schools and governments. Technologies already exist to provide best versions, as well as semantic tagging to improve article relevance. A fourth strategy focus involves improving the ease of creating custom collations, both through content initiatives and through technology development.

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