Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2017-10-23/In focus

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Offline Wikipedia developed at OFF.NETWORK Content Hackathon: Advocates for sharing offline information gather to make content, software, hardware, and social decisions.

IIAB RPi-Zero-W with Android Phone and Battery Aug-2017 curiouslee.jpg
Internet-in-a-box device, August 2017 US$10 version with 16 GB MicroSD card not shown

From 14–18 August 2017 a group of 35 offline Wikipedia enthusiasts convened at the OFF.NETWORK Content Hackathon to advance Kiwix and its distribution of offline Wikipedia in the Internet-in-a-Box device. (See previous Signpost coverage) The goal of the meeting was to develop Kiwix and complementary projects enough to make it possible for anyone to be able to:

  1. load a Kiwix package onto a Raspberry Pi;
  2. deploy that Raspberry Pi to a place without consistent inexpensive Internet access; and
  3. expect that anyone nearby with an Android cell phone should be able to connect to the Raspberry Pi's network and begin browsing offline Wikipedia articles within one minute, with no further instructions except "please connect to the Wi-Fi".

The outcomes of this meeting included technical development of Kiwix software, decisions on device hardware, designing content packages, framing of the social and ethical challenges, and planning for deployment of more devices by the end of the first half of 2018.


KIWIX Faltprospekt Lowres.pdf
Kiwix - Wikipedia Offline brochure offering offline Wikipedia

Kiwix is a software application which provides offline access to Wikipedia and Wikimedia content. To read content in Kiwix, users download the content package of their choice on their device. Being stored locally, they can afterwards check it anytime without having to worry about connectivity (or censorship, in some countries). Various packages of Kiwix exist and vary by the slice of content which they contain. All Wikimedia projects are available for download (in any language), with size ranging from 60 GB for the full English Wikipedia (20 GB without media files) to 0.2 GB for a smaller project like the Haitian Creole Wikipedia. Thematic packages, such as Wikipedia's medical information (51,000 articles in English, 4 GB with media files, 452 MB without) are also increasingly available as more users curate collections of Wikipedia articles sized to match to mobile devices' storage limitations.

But how about sharing content through even more portable means? Current experiments are testing a device called Internet-in-a-Box, which is a Raspberry Pi and a microSD card combo device running Kiwix. Persons with a typical smartphone or laptop within range can access the Internet-in-a-Box network at Wi-Fi speed without having to download anything on their own machine.

Event activities

Internet-in-a-box device, prototype 2017 US$30 packaged with various languages of medical content

Event organizers Martin Walker (User:Walkerma) of WikiProject Chemicals and Adam Holt of Internet-in-a-Box invited all attendees to convene after Wikimania Montreal at nearby SUNY Potsdam. In addition to editing wiki, Martin also is a professor in the Chemistry Department at that university. The event was significant for accomplishing technological fixes and facilitating discussions among offline education advocates, developers, and content experts including health care providers.

Although anyone may package any Wikipedia content in Kiwix, at this event, there was particular enthusiasm to share medical content following a successful pilot deployment of Kiwix in the Dominican Republic earlier in 2017. All attendees at the event took on multiple roles and had conversations with the other attendees regardless of their fields of expertise. This meant that the hardware designers talked with physicians and software developers talked with experts on technology deployment in the developing world.

What follows is more detailed documentation of hackathon proceedings. Each of the four days included an hour of prepared presentations. Video recordings of those presentations are here below with descriptions. Slides are evident in the videos but some original slidesets are also in Commons:Category:Offline Hackathon 2017. All in-person attendees had the option to give statements on video to tell any story about why they cared about the project, what they hoped to achieve, or simply what they were currently doing. Their statements are below, with presenters divided into groups by technical development, content, and deployment for offline access.


Technical team

Kiwix Hackathon 2017 group photo.jpg
Group photo of attendees

The technical developers wanted the Kiwix package to be accessible to the broadest range of users. Their challenges included developing essential features like support for various operating systems, considering requested features like search improvements, and being sufficiently diplomatic in an open source community where tens of volunteer contributors want their requests respectfully addressed.

Accomplishments at this event from this team included configuration of the Pibox installer, enabling search across ZIM files through Kolibri, packaging the readable files with WikiFundi for offline editing, publishing thoughts on "Hacking solutions for offline access", and producing documentation for setting up a Kiwix server.

Content team

The participants who had content wanted it made available to the largest, most relevant audience. Their challenges included limiting the size of the information packages to the capacity of the device's storage, devising ways to explain the device's utility to potential supportive organizations, and choosing non-wiki complementary content which the devices might include – such as Khan Academy materials, research journal abstracts, technical databases, and government medical treatment guideline sets.

Discussion in the content team began with reviewing friendly space policy with emphasis on the rule about "providing a welcoming experience for everyone, regardless of... preferred free license". Accomplishments at this event from this team included organizing debates about what content to include, reviews of what content similar projects like One Laptop per Child included, the circumstances under which we might distribute gratis but not libre content like Khan Academy materials or government-provided resources like medical or agriculture guidelines.

Deployment team

The deployment team wanted the device to reach end users in a way that is both useful and which avoids potential harm. Their challenges included planning to get sufficient user feedback without disturbance or privacy violation, continually describing that users needed easier access, and making plans to send their devices through their social networks when the project matures to the point of general use.

Accomplishments included establishing a group understanding on the challenges of sharing technology in the developing world, reviewing lessons learned from the One Laptop per Child project, publishing "How WikiFundi is helping people in Africa contribute to Wikipedia", and identifying unresolved ethical questions about funding, privacy, fair distribution, and long-term support.


Thanks to speakers, and thanks also to the other participants listed below.