This is great news for the 60 million subscribers of Aircel (India's 7th largest network provider), who now get free access to all wikipedia information via the Wikipedia Zero. This is also great news for the developing world at large. The more popular demand for this, the more local operators will take heed, and offer this free data access to their subscribers.
This brings the number of people with free access to over half a billion! If you are in one of the following 17 countries (and using the right network), you won't need to pay any data rates to access all the knowledge in Wikipedia:
Uganda, Tunisia, Malaysia, Niger, Kenya, Montenegro, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Botswana, Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India
Wikipedia Zero works in the same way as Facebook Zero, offering a minimal (low data) version of their site to specific operators, and covering the data costs themselves. Users can browse on that specific URL, without paying any data charges.
We haven't been able to test the difference is between the "m" and the "zero" sites, but believe that "zero" has no images at all, and is even faster, with a more minimalist design to perform better on low end devices and slow connections.
It is not really possible to estimate the impact of sharing free knowledge with hard to reach areas in the world without getting all misty eyed and coming up with bland generalisations, so I'd rather like to point you to one small story from a shanty town just outside Cape Town, South Afrtica:
Sinenjongo High School is made of old shipping containers, in a township of very poor dwellings, populated by people who really do not have very much going for them, apart from their own energy, and initiative
Staff and kids at the school heard about Wikipedia Zero - which is NOT currently available to them, and set up a petition to the local network providers to sign up.
This made the local press, which caught the eye of the South African wikipedia team, who passed on the message to their global team.
This in turn, helped generate huge online interest. See this fantastic blog post from from Victor Grigas, a wikipedian who was so inspired he made his first trip to Africa to meet the school
The story isn't over yet. South Africa doesn't have Wikipedia Zero. (nor do many other needy countries), but the more voices that are heard, the closer we will get to freedom of information, and rights to knowledge!
Spread the word