According to an official announcement from the Wikimedia Foundation, the Wikipedia Zero program is officially scheduled to end this year. The program was started back in 2012 to enable those in developing nations and other areas of the world to access the crowd-centric online encyclopedia without incurring any mobile data costs. To that end, it has consisted of numerous partnerships with mobile operators that resulted in over 800 million users from across 72 countries and 97 carriers having access to Wikipedia without incurring any data usage on their mobile plans. The organization said the interest in the program has long since peaked and 2016 saw a major decline in its adoption rates. Moreover, participation in the program by users has declined substantially. As a result, the decision has been made to allow the partnerships to expire at their various designated points in 2018 and no new partnerships for Wikipedia Zero will be made.
However, that doesn't mean that the Wikimedia Foundation is giving up on ensuring a wider accessibility of Wikipedia. According to its announcement, research was run alongside the Wikipedia Zero program which has revealed several insights into the site's use. The most critical, the foundation says, is that Wikipedia is just not well-known at all outside of Europe and North America. To address the issue, Wikimedia has experimented with other programs and pilot partnerships in Iraq and Nigeria, having encountered some success with such projects, recording a 30-percent jump in Wikipedia awareness in the former and as many as 15 million users in the latter country.
With consideration for Wikimedia's research findings, ending the Wikipedia Zero program actually makes a lot of sense. The program became ineffective in getting more of the world to join Wikipedia if users in its participating regions aren't even aware of the platform's existence. The foundation won't be ending all initiatives to garner more participation, either. Instead, it will be refocusing efforts on spreading awareness of the platform in general, as well as considering future programs that may be useful in getting more people around the globe to join the service. In the meantime, the spread of AI-driven digital assistants may aid in that endeavor but whether or not the shift in focus is successful remains to be seen.