Case Study

Advancing Global South Access to Open Knowledge

How one of the world’s leading web platforms sought to better serve new audiences in the Global South.

world map highlighting nigeria and india

With the world’s internet population growing quickly, the Wikimedia Foundation is eager to engage the “next billion” readers and editors of Wikipedia. But with an existing user base heavily concentrated in Global North countries, Wikimedia needed new strategies and features tailored specifically to engage those next billion readers. And the Foundation knew it couldn’t develop those products without a better understanding of how people around the world seek information and use the internet.

Believing that user-centered design was critical to do this well, Wikimedia partnered with Reboot, and together we researched the information and internet needs, habits, and constraints of users in priority countries. Side-by-side, Reboot and Wikimedia staff conducted in-depth design research with over 100 diverse users in India and Nigeria. Based on the findings, we identified opportunities for Wikipedia to grow its reach and impact, including through new features, strategies, and partnerships—and through harnessing the passion and energy of its global community.

Moving forward, Wikimedia is pursuing several of the product, communications, and partnership opportunities surfaced. Our collaboration also helped strengthen the Foundation’s design research capabilities, and Wikimedia is now deepening the use of such methods across its work.

Internet use is growing rapidly around the world, especially through increased mobile penetration. In developing countries, mobile internet use is projected to grow from 28 percent in 2014 to 45 percent by 2020—a total of 2.25 billion potential new users for any internet platform. This is a huge opportunity for organizations working in media, technology, and education. It’s also an exciting indicator of social change potential, as broad access to information is vital to development. To serve the “next billion” internet users, organizations need empirically grounded strategies and products that are uniquely tailored to these new users and their contexts.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts Wikipedia, has a revolutionary mission: To share the sum of all knowledge with every single human being. It is thus eager to engage new users in emerging internet markets. Yet in many countries, Wikipedia awareness and use is relatively low compared to overall internet use. To better serve new audiences, Wikimedia began the New Readers project, which prioritized using design research to deeply understand how best to engage and grow potential readers in the Global South. Building on internal research conducted in Mexico and South Africa, Wikimedia engaged Reboot to collaboratively extend research in and identify opportunities for India and Nigeria. This work would not only help grow readership, but it would strengthen Wikipedia itself; engaging a wider diversity of users and editors into its movement could help address the movement’s self-identified challenges of systemic bias and cultural imbalance in its coverage.